WHETU TIRIKATENE-SULLIVAN
Politician
1932

Trailblazing Labour politician and working mother

Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan was thrust into politics in 1967 after the sudden death of her father, Sir Eruera Tirikatene and within a short time she was blazing trails.

In 1970, she and husband Denis Sullivan had a baby daughter, making her the first sitting MP to give birth.

A few years later, she was the first Māori woman Cabinet minister and then the first Cabinet minister to give birth. She held the portfolios of Tourism and Environment.

She cut a striking figure, often wearing flowing kaftans of her own design.

She was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest honour, in 1993.

Tirikatene-Sullivan grew up in Ratana Pa, and went on to study at Victoria University and was studying for her PhD at the Australia National University when her father died.

He had been the Ratana MP for Southern Maori since 1932, the year Tirikatene-Sullivan was born.

By the time her political career ended, when she lost in 1996 to New Zealand First, the seat had been held by the pair for 64 consecutive years.

Tirikatene-Sullivan was not a complete political novice, however, having stood for Labour in Rangiora in the 1963 and 1966 elections.

She was descended from Ngāi Tahu on her father's side and Ngāti Kahungunu through her mother.

At the time of her death in 2011, Tirikatene-Sullivan had been the longest serving woman MP but that record has since been surpassed by Dame Annette King.