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They've connected us to our culture, improved our health and helped our youngest and most vulnerable.

Today, five New Zealanders are our newest dames and knights, among 178 Kiwis whose contributions - across the arts, health, business, sport, science, technology, education and community services - have been acknowledged in today's Queen's Birthday Honours.

New Zealand has five new knights and dames, from left, Jane Harding, Derek Lardelli, Karen Poutasi, Robert Elliott and Aroha Reriti-Crofts. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand has five new knights and dames, from left, Jane Harding, Derek Lardelli, Karen Poutasi, Robert Elliott and Aroha Reriti-Crofts. Photo / Supplied

Among the highest-profile recipients are Oscar-winning film-maker Taika Waititi and former All Blacks captain Kieran Read, made officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM), while trailblazing former MP Georgina Beyer and former Black Sticks captain Kayla Whitelock are made members of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).

Former Black Sticks player Kayla Whitelock has been acknowledged in the Queen's Birthday honours list. Photo / File
Former Black Sticks player Kayla Whitelock has been acknowledged in the Queen's Birthday honours list. Photo / File

But the highest honours among the 88 women and 90 men were reserved for five Kiwis whose collective efforts have improved the lives of thousands.

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Among them was Gisborne-Tūranganui-a-Kiwa professor Derek Lardelli, best-known as the composer of the All Blacks' haka Kapa O Pango, but also a tireless champion of Māori arts here and overseas.

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Sir Derek, one of the country's finest tā moko designers as well as being a carver, composer, educationalist, cultural consultant and kapa haka champion, said the honour was not his alone.

Derek Lardelli's knighthood isn't just for him, he says. Photo / Supplied video still
Derek Lardelli's knighthood isn't just for him, he says. Photo / Supplied video still

It was his family's - and that included the wider Tairāwhiti community and Māoridom.

"Whānau. And that's whānau whānui, the extended family, which is the whole of the Tairāwhiti region, and in fact Māoridom, because the award recognises first and foremost Māori and Māori art."

Our second new knight is Auckland professor Robert Elliott for services to medical research. Sir Robert has been a pioneer and entrepreneur in life sciences for decades, including co-founding the foundation which would become Cure Kids, the largest funder of child health research outside the Government.

His method for testing for cystic fibrosis in babies has been internationally adopted, and he's also worked to help develop cell-based products to treat life-threatening diseases.

Fellow Aucklander and health champion, distinguished professor Jane Harding, is one of our three new dames for her work in neonatology and perinatology.

A world-leading neonatologist at the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute, Dame Jane's research has helped babies and their mothers around the world, including when she identified the impact of low blood sugar levels on premature babies' brain development.

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Her response was to develop a simple, cheap dextrose gel, changing the treatment of babies worldwide.

Aroha Reriti-Crofts has been made a dame for services to Māori and the community. Photo / Supplied
Aroha Reriti-Crofts has been made a dame for services to Māori and the community. Photo / Supplied

Dr Karen Poutasi, of Raumati Beach, is a dame for her services to education and the state, including 30 years in the health sector and, for more than a decade, as New Zealand Qualifications' Authority chief executive, during which time both public confidence in the authority and school qualifications assessment performance increased.

Aroha Reriti-Crofts has also received our third-highest honour for services to Māori and the community, encompassing almost two dozen member or leadership roles of a swathe of Canterbury organisations, trusts and groups, including stints as national and international president of Māori Women's Welfare League.

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No one was appointed a member of the Order of New Zealand, our highest royal honour and only granted to 20 living New Zealanders at one time. There were also no recipients for our second highest honour, dame or knight grand companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Twelve Kiwis were appointed to our fourth-highest royal honour, companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, including former police commissioner Mike Bush, horse racing titan David Ellis, authors Dr Tessa Duder and Elizabeth Knox, and International Olympic Committee stalwart Barry Maister.

It's been a good year for Kiwi film-maker Taika Waititi - he also won his first Oscar. Photo / File
It's been a good year for Kiwi film-maker Taika Waititi - he also won his first Oscar. Photo / File

Joining Waititi and Read among the 35 newly appointed officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit were personal finance journalist and Herald columnist Mary Holm, high-profile TV writer James Griffin, whose lengthy credits range from Gloss to Outrageous Fortune, and former Whakatāne district mayor Tony Bonne.

Read told Newstalk ZB the honour was "right up there" with other accolades he'd received, including World Rugby Player of the Year.

It also reflected on those who had supported him throughout his rugby career, including his parents.

"I don't think you ever expect these honours. I'm pretty chuffed … [it's a] pretty massive honour."

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Former All Black captain Kieran Read made officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

There were also 68 recipients for the member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, one for the Queen's Service Order , 56 for the Queen's Service Medal and one for the New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration.