Rosalia Coll is a graphic designer who lives in Palma, the capital of the popular Mediterranean tourist island of Majorca.

Though she loves to travel, the 46-year-old Spaniard has never been to New Zealand and - up to a year ago anyway - knew almost nothing about us.

But next Tuesday she will go to a cemetery in the centre of Palma and lay flowers on the grave of one of this country's most famous daughters.

Coll's interest was piqued a year ago when a colleague happened to mention that there was a famous aviator buried in the local cemetery.

The famous aviator, Jean Batten, died an infamously obscure death in Palma 27 years ago. Tuesday is the centenary of her birth in Rotorua on September 15, 1909.

"I went to Google and found her name in the website of Ian Mackersey, her biographer," says Coll. "I was very interested in her story, and thought she was a very atypical woman of her time.

These days what she did would not be so important but the life she lived in her time shows that she was a woman of great character and, above all, very brave.

"My curiosity led me to contact Ian Mackersey and also the Batten family, who I hope to meet one day in person. But New Zealand and Spain are antipodes [at opposite sides of the world]."

They sure are, Rosalia; and it seems tragically fitting that the reclusive Batten, in her determination to avoid New Zealand, should not only have settled as far away from here on Earth as it was possible to get, but also die a lonely death there.

That story - the story of how she dropped out of sight completely in 1982 and was eventually found five years later, buried in a communal grave in Majorca - has been memorably told in Mackersey's 1990 book, Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies.

Together with wife Caroline, and with a bit of help from New Zealand Herald reporter, now editor, Tim Murphy, Mackersey was instrumental in solving the mystery of Batten's final whereabouts.

She still lies in that communal grave but since 1987 it has been landscaped into what Coll calls a "very green little garden, a fresh haven".

In the middle of it is a bronze plaque, unveiled by then Women's Affairs Minister Margaret Shields in 1988, with a sculpted image of Batten and a small commemorative text in Spanish and English.

That's not all. In the Palma suburb of La Bonanova, not far from where Batten died, there's now a newly rechristened street called Carrer de Jean Batten, or Jean Batten St.

It came about this way. After becoming New Zealand's ambassador to Spain in 2005, Geoff Ward visited the grave and laid a rose on it; on a second visit in 2007 he called on Palma's new mayor, Aina Calvo.

She suggested naming a street after Batten, and he agreed that would be a "terrific honour".

So it happened, just a couple of months ago, and the Spanish ambassador to New Zealand, Marcos Gomez, who happened to be back home on holiday at the time (he comes from Majorca), attended the unveiling of the street-name plaque.

True, there was some local objection to the change, according to Coll, because the former name was a traditional one. But as far as Batten is concerned, she says, it could turn out to be "a very good opportunity to rescue her memory from the dark and show the Mallorquins that there is an extraordinary lady resting in our land".

So in their own small way, the Spaniards are acknowledging Batten. But what about back here?

It would be fair to say that Batten has always stood at a slight angle to New Zealand history. We have never taken her to our hearts in the way we have Sir Edmund Hillary or, say, Katherine Mansfield.

She was the toast of the nation in the mid-1930s when she made her pioneering solo flights, but thereafter she pretty much turned her back on New Zealand - and, unlike Mansfield, didn't immortalise it in writing. That may explain why she remains relatively unhonoured in the land of her birth.

She is remembered in some ways, quite forgotten in others. Around the country, there's a couple of statues, several streets, a park and a school named after her, and even a couple of mountain peaks. Not bad going, you might say.

But the government building named after her in downtown Auckland at the height of her fame has become a victim of facadicide - the retention of an old building's facade while a giant new building (in this case the Deloitte Centre) smothers it; and although every time you fly internationally from Auckland you're using the Jean Batten Memorial International Terminal, how would you know?

That has been its official title since 1990 but there is no external sign saying so.

"Indeed," as Caroline Mackersey says, "all the references are to Auckland International Airport." Or, ironically, the City of Sails - not the City of Wings.

The problem, says an airport spokesperson, is that only the international terminal is named after Batten, not the whole airport, and that "caused confusion with many travellers, because they would most commonly associate the name of the airport with the name of the city".

The idea of naming the whole airport after her was indeed promoted in the late 80s, not least by the Herald. It was here, after all, that Batten landed in triumph in 1936, having just made the first flight from England to New Zealand.

The spot where she touched down, out at the eastern end of a taxiway, is marked; and Anthony Stones' dramatic statue of Batten still stands outside the terminal, though further from the main entrance now.

There's also a display of memorabilia on the second floor, and her Percival Gull monoplane hangs high above the duty-free concourse, usually unnoticed and unidentified by the hordes purchasing their liquor and perfume below.

"It is only because I know about Jean Batten and we look for signs relating to her that anyone would be aware of her significance to New Zealand aviation and to the airport," says Caroline Mackersey. "It is certainly not publicised where the mass of people go."

Mercifully, though, the infelicitous monicker "Jean Batten Food Court" has been quietly dropped.

Batten still has the power to inspire, though. More than 20 years after her death Ian Mackersey says he gets emails at least once a month from people "fascinated by the romance and the tragedy" of her life. She has certainly inspired Coll, who says: "I believe that the work women like her did is very important, in times when feminine values and aptitudes were relegated to oblivion.

"These women opened the doors to equality that men and women are able to live with in the 20th century."

Caroline Mackersey echoes that: "I remember a distinguished aviator whom we interviewed said that for young New Zealanders particularly in the 1930s she was one of the motivations to learn to fly - after all if a "mere girl" could fly across the world, it couldn't be hard to learn to do, and for young New Zealand women she was a role model that women could be just as good as men, and even outperform them at times."

By the same token, in the highly patriarchal world of the 1920s and 1930s, many men were dismissive of the "mere girl", ostensibly because - well, let the report of an Otago Harbour Board meeting in the late 1930s tell the story.

When the idea of awarding Batten 50 guineas in recognition of her feats was discussed by the all-male board, one member objected, saying it would only encourage other women to do such unwomanly things. Another member concurred, saying, "I agree with Herr Hitler that a woman's duty is in her home".

Thankfully, they were outvoted and Batten got the 50 guineas.

Significantly, though she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1936, she never got the damehood one would have thought automatic in such cases.

One suspects that many males resented her not just for breaking the gender rules of the time but because her daring and determination showed them up as somehow less than manly.

But there was also her standoffishness, her secretiveness, her affected way of speaking, her unusual relationship with her mother, "under whose sway she was totally," says Ian Mackersey.

All the evidence we have suggests that there was something odd and hard to love about Batten - and that's all right, she probably never would have achieved what she did if she'd been Miss Ordinary - but it helps to explain why we haven't gone overboard with honouring her.

Margaret Shields regrets that. "Talk to the average schoolgirl or schoolboy in New Zealand about Jean Batten and they won't know," she says. "It's a pity."

But one school will never forget: the Jean Batten Primary School in Mangere which, to this day, still pays for speech and music competition prizes out of money left to it by Batten.

The children have been working on projects about her, says principal Geoff Bruce and on Tuesday will have a cake and release balloons.

Happy 100th, Jean.

Thanks to Diana Burns for the translation of Rosalia Coll's replies.