Having slaved away for the past four years working on her doctorate, television and film personality Ella Henry says the best part of the experience is simply getting it done.

"That's it - just finishing," she says with a smile. "Everything is hard. But the more you care about a topic, the less onerous it is. But yes, finishing is the best part."

The 57-year-old, originally from Kaitaia, graduates today with a PhD in Maori Development.

This is her third degree, having picked up a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology and a Masters of Commerce from the University of Auckland in the 90s. She will join hundreds of students graduating from the Auckland University of Technology today and tomorrow.


Henry - who from this morning will be known as Dr Henry - has had a long history working in film, television and radio in New Zealand. She was a part of a group who established Nga Aho Whakaari - the association of Maori in film, video and television. While a university student she organised the first on-campus Maori film festivals.

Dr Henry has also worked at Radio Waatea and has appeared in Maori Television's Ask Your Auntie programme. Others will recognise her as Aunty Queenie on Shortland Street.

She is the chairwoman of the Association of Women in Film and Television NZ and was awarded the Mana Wahine award at the Mana Wairoa Film Awards last month. She is also a popular lecturer at AUT's Faculty of Maori Development.

She credits her success to a will to do better than those who had gone before her.

"I was the first person in my family to go to university, let alone graduate. I was the first person in my family not to work at a factory.

"This is for them," she said.

Her PhD thesis looked at Maori working in the business of screen and film production.

She said international audiences continued to be captivated by Maori people and culture and credited overseas film successes to the idea of Maori telling Maori stories.

"If you look at some of the top films that have made it overseas they include Once Were Warriors, The Whale Rider and Boy. All of them are about Maori."

Her research included speaking to a range of different Maori involved in the film business and looking at what drove them. The overriding motivators were a passion for story-telling, whanau and community support, places and the desire to take control of their respective careers and to ultimately do well.

Ask Dr Henry what motivates her to do what she does and the answer is immediate - whanau.

She has three daughters, two of whom now hold degrees. Her youngest daughter, in Year 12, loves media studies and aims to continue that passion at tertiary level.

"I started university when my eldest girl was 2 months old. She came with me to lectures and everything. The same with my middle child - they were always at university.

"My children grew up thinking it was normal for everyone to go to university."

Dr Henry said she would continue her passion of teaching young people.