The New Zealand Herald 150th Special
Celebrating 150 Years
Introduction

Who was the greatest of them all? It was a natural question to ask after Herald editors marked the paper’s 150th birthday by retrospectively selecting New Zealanders of the Year for every year since the paper was founded in 1863.

But the editors quickly concluded that, even though Michael Joseph Savage had been the paper’s man of the 20th century, no one person could sensibly be called “the greatest”.

Instead, we chose 10 people whose enormous contributions to national life, in our opinion, make them stand out as being genuinely worthy of the term “great”.

Our criteria included influence in making the nation what it is today. But we also aimed to recognise those who had outstanding ability to inspire the nation, to give voice to the people’s aspirations and, through the lives they led, to embody the ideal national character.

From a shortlist of 25 selected from the original New Zealanders of the Year, we finally arrived at our top 10.

They come from all walks of life and represent a wide range of skills, achievement and endeavour, from politics, to economics, to social reform and culture, as well as including great adventurers and sports people.

They are like 10 great peaks supporting the nation’s idea of itself, and anyone who wants to understand where New Zealand came from and where it wants to go would do well to start by reading their life stories.

Wiremu Tamihana

Wiremu
Tamihana

Vision of Maori destiny in partnership with Pakeha

Greatness does not come from ability alone. It requires vision and, even more than that, achievement of substantial and lasting significance. Courage, too, is an important element of greatness which never shines more brightly than when faced with adversity.

The 19th century Ngati Haua chief Wiremu Tamihana Tarapippi Te Waharoa measured up to all of these standards.

John Gorst, a government official and MP who dealt with many political leaders during a long career in public life in New Zealand and Britain, said not one of them was superior in intellect or character to Tamihana.

He did not lack for vision either. By the late 1850s, having already earned renown as a peacemaker among the tribes, he saw that the rising Pakeha population posed a threat to Maori land and the Maori way of life. To protect them, he took a leading role in forming the King movement.

We feared ... we should soon be lost among the Pakehas, and cease to be a distinct nation.

“We were alarmed at the rapidity with which the Government were buying up the native lands,” Tamihana told a missionary in 1861. “We feared that unless some means were devised to check this, we should soon be lost among the Pakehas and cease to be a distinct nation.

“The land league was a result of these thoughts, of which it was ultimately decided that the King should be head.”

His vision for New Zealand was for a country of Pakeha and Maori at peace with itself but in which Maori remained in control of their own destiny.

But on the Pakeha side, the King movement was interpreted as a threat and an obstacle to establishing British sovereignty over the whole land and to the assimilation of the races.

Despite Tamihana’s attempts to mediate, a large British army invaded the Waikato in 1863, driving the King and his followers away. Adding insult to injury, they declared Tamihana and the Waikato tribes to be rebels and confiscated 1.2 million hectares of their territory.

For the rest of his life Tamihana argued eloquently against the injustice.

“We have done no wrong on account of which we should suffer, and our lands also be taken from us,” he wrote in a petition to Parliament in 1865. “The only cause that we know is that our parent has been provoking us – that is the cause of the trouble that has befallen us.”

Finally ... vindication and an apology

When Tamihana died three years after the invasion, it must have seemed his vision died with him.

Yet he was vindicated when, in the 1990s, the Crown admitted it had breached the Treaty of Waitangi by invading Kingitanga territory and unfairly branding Waikato as rebels.

It apologised unreservedly for “the loss of lives because of the hostilities arising from its invasion, and the devastation of property and social life which resulted”.

Tamihana’s greatest achievement, the King movement, still exists, having played an important role as generations of Maori argued for redress and recognition.

“His vision is still valid,” writes Evelyn Stokes in Wiremu Tamihana: Rangatira. “That of a Maori society in control of its own destiny, under a system of Maori law, working in partnership with Pakeha law, and participating in the benefits of Pakeha settlement.”

Kate Sheppard

Kate
Sheppard

Guiding light towards civic freedom for women

There were five attempts between 1878 and 1892 to pass laws granting New Zealand women the right to vote, before a sixth succeeded in 1893.

Male politicians such as Sir John Hall and Sir Julius Vogel led the early attempts but came to realise the only way to succeed was through a well-directed public campaign to create sufficient pressure to break down the barriers of political resistance.

Kate Sheppard, who joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1885, became the guiding light of the campaign that was to earn New Zealand recognition as the first country in the world where women could vote in national elections.

All that separates, whether of race, class, creed or sex, is inhuman and must be overcome.

She had a clear vision of the kind of society she would like to live in. “All that separates, whether of race, class, creed or sex, is inhuman and must be overcome” was her creed.

And she matched her vision with political skill, accomplished organising ability and boundless energy. She made speeches, wrote pamphlets and newsletters and assembled an army of 600 suffragists to fight for women’s political rights.

But the most powerful weapon in her armory was the political petition. Sir John Hall persuaded her that women would always be stymied by some spurious reasoning or technical logjam in the corridors of power unless they could find a way to make their voices heard loudly enough to be irresistible.

Sheppard famously organised three petitions to support the bills for female suffrage in 1891, 1892 and 1893. The first had 9000 signatures, the second 19,000 and the third 32,000, which was nearly one quarter of the adult women in the country.

The petitions broke like ever more powerful waves on the ramparts of the male bastion of Parliament and eventually broke through, overcoming even the resistance of Premier Richard “King Dick” Seddon, a man who did not like to be thwarted.

It was a great victory for women in New Zealand and also a beacon of hope for women around the world.

“The news is being flashed far and wide,” wrote Sheppard, “and before our earth has revolved on its axis, every civilised community within reach of the electric wires will have received the tidings that civic freedom has been granted to the women of New Zealand.”

The struggle for women’s rights goes on

Despite the justified excitement of the moment, Sheppard was well aware that women still did not have full civic freedom. They may have won the vote but it would be a further 26 years before they could stand for Parliament and 39 years before the first woman MP took her seat in the House.

It was as though the enormous energy expended in breaking down resistance to female suffrage had left the idea of full rights for women becalmed for decades.

But in time the momentum picked up again and 100 years after women won the vote, it was impossible to imagine a Cabinet without women ministers.

“Only now do a significant number of women make sufficient impact in the corridors of power to suggest that one could become Prime Minister,” said a Herald editorial marking the centenary.

It was a prescient comment. For half of the 20 years since that editorial, the country has been led by women Prime Ministers.

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest
Rutherford

Father of modern nuclear physics

Ernest Rutherford’s Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908 was reported briefly and vaguely in New Zealand. He had, said one report, “devoted a great amount of time to the study of radium”.

It was as though both Rutherford – who had been conducting research at McGill University in Canada and Manchester University in Britain – and his work were too remote in the physical and intellectual sense for ordinary people to even begin to understand.

It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.

But by the mid-1920s, when he returned home for a visit, he was a national hero; everyone knew who he was and that he had done great work in the field of nuclear physics, even if they did not fully grasp what it was about.

What set Rutherford apart from the many others studying radiation was that he made three great discoveries.

The first, for which he won the Nobel Prize, was to show that radioactivity derives from the spontaneous disintegration of atoms.

The second was to establish the model of the atom, so well recognised today as a nucleus with electrons revolving around it, like a minute solar system.

The discovery came from a famous experiment in which particles were fired at a sliver of gold foil. According to accepted theory at the time, the particles should have passed straight through, but instead many bounced back.

“It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you,” said Rutherford. It took him more than a year to solve the riddle and realise the true structure of the atom.

Ernest Rutherford with the two scientists who split the atom in the 1930s, John Cockcroft (left) and Ernest Walton.
NZ Herald Archive

His third great breakthrough came when he succeed in transforming nitrogen into an isotope of oxygen.

The impact of his research was huge and it was no exaggeration to say that he was the father of nuclear physics.

But there was something more to Rutherford’s greatness. He was not only a great scientist but a great leader and a great teacher. As head of the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University, he mentored and directed some of the greatest scientific names of the 20th century.

They included Nobel Prize winners Neils Bohr and James Chadwick, as well as John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, who were the first to split the atom.

Down-to-earth side of a brilliant mind

Throughout his brilliant career – in which he was showered with honours and made a baron in 1931 – Rutherford never lost two essential qualities of the ideal New Zealand character: pragmatism and modesty.

“By the exploits of pure science those of applied science multiply, in the service of life, and even to push back a little further the veil over Nature is to fulfil a wholesome human instinct,” said the Herald when he died in 1937.

“And all can in this day of remembrance of a great man’s labours nobly done recall how delightfully human he himself was. He bore all that weight of learning lightly as a flower ...

“One other recollection: to his mother, on the proudest day of all, he telegraphed – ‘Now Lord Rutherford. Honour more yours than mine. Love Ernest’.”

“There spoke a man New Zealanders are deeply glad to know their country gave to the world.”

Apirana Ngata

Apirana
Ngata

Politician, scholar and campaigner for Maori rights

Apirana Ngata had the range of abilities and interests of a true renaissance man. He made his career in politics as a great social and economic reformer, was also a scholar and lawyer with a profound grasp of agriculture, and was fluent in two cultures.

But his renaissance was not something that happened in Europe centuries ago, nor was it something that he followed. It was occurring in his own time and his own place and he was very much the leader.

He grew to manhood when the Maori population was at its lowest ebb in the 1890s and many in the Pakeha community were predicting extinction. In his long life of public service – he was MP for Eastern Maori for 38 years — he devoted his many talents and skills to the work of reviving the fortunes of his people.

We have survived to maintain some of the old traditions.

As a politician and minister, he organised and worked on inquiries into Maori land grievances. One of his greatest achievements was a bold scheme to help and encourage Maori to develop their land. And he was instrumental in setting up the Maori Pioneer Battalion and the Maori Battalion, which fought with such distinction during the first and second world wars.

He also encouraged a revival of Maori art and culture, setting up the Board of Maori Ethnological Research and a school of Maori art in Rotorua. He took more than just an administrative interest; he was a famous exponent of the haka and his scholarly work included an annotated collection of waiata, Nga moteatea.

“We have survived to maintain some of the old traditions,” he wrote to his old friend, the anthropologist Sir Peter Buck, “chiefly because back in those days was a small remnant who prized the tribal traditions and folk-lore, kept up the interest in the whakapapa, performed the old time hakas and carried on many of the crafts. Can we in our turn supply that background?”

Underpinning it all was the need to set Maori society on a solid economic foundation, and that meant developing their land.

Sir Apirana Ngata devoted his many talents and skills to the work of reviving the fortunes of his people.
NZ Herald Archive

“The Native-land question could not be dissociated from the wider question of the welfare of the Maori race, a satisfactory solution of it was fundamental,” he wrote in a report to Parliament on his ambitious development schemes in 1931.

Colossus of the twentieth century

“The efforts to educate the youth of the race, to improve the hygienic conditions of the villages, to correct the malign influences of certain elements in European culture—all these would fail to produce enduring results unless they centred round and assisted in an industrial development based principally upon the cultivation of land.”

When he died in 1950, the Herald said he was a leader “whose like, in the nature of things, will not be seen again”.

It was a view echoed in the 21st century by the historian Michael King, who described him as the colossus of Maori affairs in the 20th century.

“He bestrode the complex nexus of Maori politics, culture and society like nobody before or after him,” said King. “It is difficult to believe that there will ever again be a single figure of such influence and stature.”

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

Literary giant of the twentieth century

Of all the great writers in the world, Katherine Mansfield’s body of work is perhaps the slightest. Only three collections of her short stories were published during a life cut tragically short by tuberculosis, and two more came out posthumously.

When she died in 1923, the great “what if” question was on the minds of many critics. What if she had lived, they asked?

“In the opinion of many English, French and American critics, Miss Mansfield had before her, had she been spared, an exceptionally brilliant and successful future as a novelist of the first rank,” was how the question was answered in an obituary published in the Herald.

But New Zealand is in my very bones. What wouldn’t I give to have a look at it!

It was an obvious question and one that keeps recurring. And yet it was the wrong one to ask; it is not what she might have been that made her great, but what she achieved in her brief and troubled life.

Both Bliss and Other Stories (1920) and The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922) were published to unreserved critical acclaim.

“She sees everything much more vividly that we do,” said a review of Bliss in The Times. “Reading her stories is like wandering at dusk through a garden we vaguely know, accompanied by a guide carrying a little searchlight. We know everything the guide points to, but we never saw it so clearly before.”

And when The Garden Party came out two years later, the Telegraph reviewer said that in Mansfield’s hands, “the English short story fulfils its perfect function – a single situation, an incident, even a fleeting impression, is suddenly irradiated with a suggestion of the inevitable, the universal”.

Katherine Mansfield’s writing was acclaimed around the world, though she had only published three collections of short stories when she died of tuberculosis aged just 34.

To observe Mansfield’s ability to clothe the ordinary in universal significance has become so commonplace it is easy to lose sight of how new and fresh it was when she first did it. Genius is often its own worst enemy because once the new ground has been broken, people take it for granted.

Mansfield’s genius also has to compete with the unrelenting focus on her troubled private life and her struggle with tuberculosis, which led her on a restless, wandering quest in search of a cure.

Added to that was her ambivalent relationship to the country of her birth. On one hand she found it intellectually and socially stultifying. On the other, she recognised it was part of her and she drew on her experiences in New Zealand for many of her stories.

Yearning for peace of mind

In March 1922, as her life was ebbing away, she wrote a letter to her father that seems like a reconciliation with her homeland.

“The more I see of life the more certain I feel that it’s the people who live remote from cities who inherit the earth,” she wrote. “London, for instance, is an awful place to live in … There’s no peace of mind – no harvest to be reaped out of it.

“And another thing is the longer I live the more I turn to New Zealand. I thank God I was born in New Zealand. A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to recognise it. But New Zealand is in my very bones. What wouldn’t I give to have a look at it!”

Sadly her wish was never fulfilled. She died at Fontainebleu, Paris, a year later.

Jean Batten

Jean
Batten

First solo flight from London to Auckland

One Friday afternoon in October 1936, Aucklanders descended in their thousands on Mangere aerodrome to see a slice of history being made.

Pioneering New Zealand aviator Jean Batten was due to touch down at the end of her epic flight from London. On cue, her little silver Percival Gull aircraft appeared in the sky overhead. It looked “a picture of speed and grace as it approached the aerodrome with the sun glinting on its wing and fuselage,” the Herald reported.

Pioneering aviator Jean Batten was the first person to fly solo from London to Auckland in 1936.

When Batten landed the plane 10 days and 21 hours after leaving Britain, she had etched her name on the honour board of aviation history. Not only was she the first person to fly solo from London to Auckland but she had beaten the previous record for a transtasman crossing by 1hr 28min.

“She stepped from her machine fresh and smiling, with no sign of fatigue or strain visible after her momentous flight,” reported the Herald.

Her plane was besieged by the excited crowd and the nation’s mood was expressed in a telegram from Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage: “The world recognises you as one of the most famous airwomen and New Zealand is proud to claim you as one of her own.”

But Batten, like a typical Kiwi hero, was unruffled by the fuss. “I find it hard to believe that I do not have to go on somewhere else,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Herald.

“But there doesn’t seem anywhere else to go to,” she added, “unless to the Antarctic. But one thing I do know: When I travel for a while after this I am going by train or road transport. I have had enough of the air for the time being.”

As for the flight, I think my main impression was the utter loneliness

And she told the story of her 10-hour crossing of the Tasman in which she dodged storms, flew for a while with an albatross and spotted whales far below in the sea.

“As for the flight, I think my main impression was the utter loneliness and the immensity of the vast blue stretch of water. Still, I had the utmost confidence in my machine, which is the one I used when I flew across the Atlantic to South America.”

On the day that she landed, said the Herald, the name of Jean Batten was supreme in New Zealand’s heart.

Masses of passengers in the slipstream of greatness

“Whatever may yet be done, by herself or others, nothing can erase the renown that is hers because of this first direct linking of England with New Zealand by one scheduled flight.”

Jean Batten in her silver Percival Gull surrounded by excited fans.
NZ Herald Archive

Yet with the passage of time, deeds that once required great courage, exceptional vision and finely tuned skills can – like the work of literary or scientific genius – become so commonplace that they are taken for granted.

To prevent this kind of amnesia, Batten’s silver aircraft now dangles from the ceiling of the arrivals hall in the international terminal named after her at Auckland Airport.

But how many jaded passengers from London, lamenting the effects of jet lag, glance up at the little plane and reflect that it once took real courage and greatness to make the journey that has taken them about 24 hours, with hot meals laid on and numberless channels of in-flight entertainment?

Michael Joseph Savage

Michael
Joseph
Savage

Architect of the welfare state

It is probably the greatest paradox in New Zealand history that Michael Joseph Savage – a beloved leader seen as epitomising all that is good in the Kiwi ideal – was originally an Australian.

The point was made by a Herald editorial writer who sang Savage’s praises after he led the first Labour Government into office in 1935.

Michael Joseph Savage at his desk in 1938.
NZ Herald Archive

“An Australian by birth, but a New Zealander by 28 years’ adoption, Mr Savage has none of the easy optimism and irresponsibility with which popular belief endows the typical ‘Aussie’.

“In temperament he so far conforms to the accepted New Zealand pattern that he has been able to win the almost instinctive respect and liking even of those to whom his political creed is anathema.”

In contrast to many a modern politician, there was nothing flamboyant about Savage. Old photos and films show a bespectacled man dressed in a conservative dark suit with a round face. When he spoke, it was quietly, but his message was clear and his vision for his adopted nation was great.

“I can promise the people of this country,” he said in 1938, “that before very long they will have reached a condition of social security unsurpassed in any other country in the world.”

I can promise the people of this country that before very long they will have reached a condition of social security unsurpassed in any other country in the world.

The measure of his greatness as a leader and a man is that he lived up to his promise. Under his guidance, the first Labour Government transformed the economic, political and social landscape of the country.

They introduced the 40-hour week, a state housing scheme and the Social Security Act of 1938 which was the cornerstone of the welfare state, providing universal free health care, maternity care, a means-tested old-age pension at 60 and universal superannuation at 65.

He acknowledged the government was not without its critics. “We are told that many of the things for which we are striving cannot be done, but I am telling the people in the name of the Government that they can be done and they are going to be done.”

And so they were. The framework of the welfare state set up by the Savage government in the late 1930s is with us still in the 21st century, even though it is sometimes the subject of political debate and controversy.

The crowning glory of a people’s love

Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage addressing a meeting at the Orakei Pa, 1936.
NZ Herald Archive

That is the measure of how great Savage was. And it was something the people knew at the time and have never forgotten. His death from cancer in 1940 brought the greatest outpouring of public grief and the longest funeral procession in the country’s history.

After lying in state at Parliament House, his coffin was taken on a gun carriage through the streets of Wellington and then transported by train to Auckland. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out along the way to pay their last respects.

Savage was buried at Bastion Point in Auckland and nothing captures his greatness as a New Zealander better than the epitaph inscribed on his memorial: “The crowning glory of a people’s love.”

Whina Cooper

Whina
Cooper

Tireless marcher in quest of justice

One of the indelible images on the landscape of New Zealand history is of an old lady holding hands with her mokopuna and walking down a dusty road. The old lady was Dame Whina Cooper and she was following the road on foot far over the brow of the hill and all the way to Wellington in a quest for justice.

Dame Whina Cooper had a long and distinguished career of leadership and service to her people.
NZ Herald Archive

It was a thousand kilometres from Te Hapua, the tiny settlement in the Far North where she set out with 50 others, to the capital; the long, hard road was a metaphor for the struggles of many past Maori leaders – such as Wiremu Tamihana and Sir Apirana Ngata – who had fought to preserve their culture and their land.

In her eighties at the time she set out, Dame Whina was a living link to that history. But her campaign had a vision very much for the future, which was represented by the child in the photograph, her mokopuna Irenee. They called it Te Ropu Matakite or Those with Foresight.

The aim of the marchers was to prevent further alienation of Maori land. And like Tamihana and Ngata, Dame Whina emphasised the crucial link between land and the Maori way of life.

“They talk about the Maori language as part of our heritage,” she said before embarking on the march. “But if our language is to survive and the people to survive, our land must survive also.”

There was much sympathy from the Pakeha people. They know deep down.

It took 29 days for the hikoi to reach its destination. The marchers’ chant along the way was, “Not one more acre of Maori land”, and they collected a petition of 60,000 signatures.

With every step, the hikoi gathered strength and when it reached its destination at Parliament, it was about 5000 strong. Speaking afterwards, a weary Dame Whina declared that it had been a great success.

“I would suggest to the young people that through the march they should revive the pride of race – their spirit of Maoritanga,” she said, with her eye on the future.

But she was also pleased the hikoi had driven the message home to a different and larger audience: “There was much sympathy from the Pakeha people. They know deep down.”

One of the indelible images on the landscape of New Zealand history – Whina Cooper and her granddaughter on a hikoi across the North Island.
NZ Herald Archive

Greatest achievement in a long life of service

Dame Whina had a long and distinguished career of leadership and service to her people before the hikoi.

From the humblest of birthplaces in the tiny rural settlement of Panguru in the Far North, daughter of a chief of the Ngapuhi, she had become wife and mother, school-teacher, postmistress, shopkeeper and farmer, president of the North Hokianga Rugby Union and of Federated Farmers, and a founder, and first president, of the Maori Women’s Welfare League.

But the march was her greatest achievement, arguably doing more to make Pakeha aware of how deeply Maori felt about the land and history than any of the petitions and protests of preceding generations.

It set the scene for bringing Maori concerns and issues back to the very centre of national life and politics.

Edmund Hillary

Edmund
Hillary

Ultimate figure of a nation’s pride

News of Ed Hillary’s ascent of Everest broke in New Zealand on the same day as the papers were full of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. Even before he emerged from the Himalayas, the new Queen had turned Ed Hillary, the ordinary New Zealander, into Sir Edmund.

The humility of his reaction to all the post-Everest adulation endeared the beekeeper's son to the world. Over time, he cemented his position as the ultimate figure of a nation's pride precisely because he embodied the values and way of life to which most New Zealanders of his, and any other generation, aspire.

It’s not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves.

His determination and his down-to-earth outlook were reflected in his often-quoted remark when he came down from the mountain: “We knocked the bastard off.”

But he came to regret those words and later, on reflection, rejected the idea that Everest had been conquered. Rather, he would say, the mountain relented: “It’s not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves.”

Ed, as he liked to be called, and Tenzing Norgay had surmounted one of the great challenges remaining to man. Fifteen previous expeditions had tried and failed. The achievement placed him in the company of the renowned explorers and adventurers who had gone where no other had gone before — the likes of Columbus, Livingston, Amundsen and Lindbergh.

But reflecting on his life, he declared his most worthwhile achievements had been the building of schools, hospitals, medical clinics and airstrips in Nepal.

“I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest and my trips to the Poles. But there’s no doubt, either, that my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics.”

Sir Edmund Hillary relaxing in a chair presented at a civic reception, 1953.
NZ Herald Archive

It was as though conquering Everest had merely laid the foundation for a life's work on behalf of the local Sherpas. "That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain," he said.

Even when the thin air of the Himalayas curtailed his visits there, Sir Edmund remained an inveterate fundraiser for health and education projects in Nepal. His reward was a mana that led to his being hailed in that region as Burra Sahib, literally "Big Sir", but also translated as "big in heart".

Qualities of an ideal New Zealander

Throughout the tumultuous changes of the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, his standing among New Zealanders never wavered. Young and old, Pakeha and Maori, recognised him as the nation's flagbearer. A survey in the late 1990s named Hillary as the top choice of men and women of all ages and across all ethnic groups as the person who best embodied the “spirit and essence” of New Zealand.

“In some ways I believe I epitomise the average New Zealander. I have modest abilities, I combine these with a good deal of determination, and I rather like to succeed.”

And he was right. If his fame was won because he had trodden where no man had been before, his greatness came because of what he did afterwards. He is one of the 10 greatest New Zealand because he had an unblemished career of service and high endeavour and came to personify the nation’s ideal character – brave, pragmatic and, above all, modest.

Richie McCaw

Richie
McCaw

The manner of a New Zealand hero

The tenth of our all-time New Zealand greats is All Black captain Richie McCaw — chosen for his outstanding ability to inspire the nation and for the way he embodies the ideal national character.

All Black skipper Richie McCaw is joined by his cousin Alex McCaw as they prepare for a flight at Omarama.
Otago Daily Times

In his brilliant rugby career, McCaw has won everything that there is to win and it may seem he is blessed with such prodigious talent that it all came easily. But he has had more than his fair share of adversity to overcome.

No moment was more despairing and no place darker than Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in 2007, when France ended the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign in the quarter-finals.

McCaw had to shoulder his share of the blame for that. His captaincy was not up to it, said the critics. He did not think on his feet and change tactics when plan A was obviously not working. Where, they demanded to know, was the drop goal that would have sealed victory?

A lesser character might have been crushed by the combination of the bitter defeat and the harsh criticism. But McCaw seemed only to grow stronger and more assured. And when it came to choosing the greatest New Zealanders, it was his inspirational captaincy, rather than his unquestioned brilliance as an openside flanker, that ensured his name was among the top 10.

We’re here now, we can’t change it, it’s what we do from here on that matters.

The decisive moment came on the night of 26 October 2011 when an injury-plagued All Black team again faced their World Cup nemesis in a battle for the greatest trophy in rugby.

They were leading 8-0 early in the second half when suddenly the world seemed on the brink of tipping upside down again as the French discovered their inner genius and scored a converted try, making it 8-7.

The ghosts of past nightmares were rising, but this time McCaw was more than equal to the task as he orchestrated a change of tactics to meet the new challenge.

“Worry wasn’t the right thing,” he said later, reflecting on the final 20 minutes of that game in an interview with Herald sports writer Dylan Cleaver. “What was going through my mind was, ‘We’re here now, we can’t change it, it’s what we do from here on that matters’.”

Instead of the open, running rugby that had been the key to so many victories in the previous four years, the All Blacks went on the defence and tackled their hearts out. As the clock ran down, they resembled a great black blanket that smothered and then extinguished the bright flame of French brilliance.

Richie McCaw is both a hero of rugby and of New Zealand.
NZ Herald Archive

Inspiring victory lifts the nation’s spirits

It was a sweet victory to take the one international trophy that had eluded the All Blacks for 24 years. But as often happens with the All Blacks, it had an influence beyond the playing fields and the chatter of sports fans.

It gave the nation a great lift in spirit after a dark period in which it had grappled with the consequences of natural disasters and a global financial crisis.

“Richie McCaw represents not only the epitome of the All Black character, playing through the World Cup on a foot injury more painful than he let on,” said the Herald in declaring him New Zealander of the Year for 2011. “He has the manner of the New Zealand hero, another in the mould of Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Peter Blake and Colin Meads.”

How we
celebrated the
anniversary

Today’s special commemorative edition of the New Zealand Herald, edition number 45,659, has been 150 years in the making. The newspaper turns 150 today, and is celebrating in style – in print and here on our fast-growing online platforms.

Our special wraparound cover is a specially commissioned Dick Frizzell artwork of five of the 10 New Zealanders selected by Herald editors as the greatest of the past 150 years.

You have the chance of bidding for the separate Frizzell artworks – with all proceeds to charity – by going here.

Inside the paper, you’ll find an 108-page magazine, devoted to the greatest New Zealanders of each of the past 150 years.

They are a mix of the brilliant, the brave, the inspiring and the surprising – from an 11-year-old girl who saved the lives of two other children, to an 80-year-old tireless marcher, in quest of justice.

You can also browse them digitally at NZ Herald.

Dick Frizzell's Cover Art

Dick Frizzell:
The NZ Herald 150th cover

Watch here to learn more about the creation of Dick Frizzell’s wrap cover for the New Zealand Herald’s 150th birthday commemorative edition.