They've fought for New Zealanders, for justice and for the truth. They've made us laugh and made us proud. They're the Kiwis who make up the 10-strong shortlist for the annual Herald New Zealander of the Year award.

The shortlist was drawn up by senior editorial figures at the Herald. As with most years since the award began a quarter of a century ago, there was rigorous discussion about the merits of these candidates, and others who didn't make the cut.

But we believe this group epitomises the values we hold dear - as a news organisation and a nation. Some are everyday Kiwis who have acted tirelessly for the benefit of others. Some, more used to the spotlight in entertainment, business or sport, have excelled on the world stage.

We'll announce the winner on Saturday, on nzherald.co.nz and in the final Weekend Herald of the year.

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"The list of finalists could have been twice as long," said Herald weekends editor Miriyana Alexander. "That shows that while there has been debate around our future through the flag referendum and more, we can be confident there's no shortage of people who embody what it means to be a New Zealander."

Helen Kelly

It was Pike River Miners' family spokesman Bernie Monk who encapsulated what former Council of Trade Unions head Helen Kelly meant to those she had worked for all her life.

"She was on our doorstep the first day. And she never left our doorstep," he said after her death from cancer in October. "You get to a stage of 'where do we turn to next?' And she always knew where to turn."

Kelly fought hard for workers' rights - campaigning on work safety for forestry and farm workers, taking prosecutions when the Government would not act, and forcing change until her last days.

Helen Kelly. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Helen Kelly. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Whether her stand was popular or controversial, such as the dispute over the rights of people working on the

Hobbit

films, Kelly stuck to what she believed was right.

Her own life was cut short. She had more to do. But even as her own time counted down, she fought to improve the lot for others facing terminal illness, taking a public stand on medicinal marijuana.

But to those whose lives Kelly entered, she will most of all be remembered for her personal commitment - the families of forestry workers and miners killed on the job, who recalled Kelly turning up on the doorstep to offer her shoulder and her voice.

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She gave the union movement a compassionate, titanium backbone.

- Claire Trevett

Jason and Major Timms

Major Timms. Photo / Mike Scott
Major Timms. Photo / Mike Scott

Major and his son Jason personified community spirit when they threw open the doors of Takahanga Marae to help locals and stranded tourists affected by the November Kaikoura quake, despite their own home being severely damaged.

For a week the marae became a refuge for safety and camaraderie serving more than 10,000 meals, giving out 1700 care packages and providing a roof for more than 100 people to sleep under.

Many of those meals came from chef Jason, who immersed himself in cooking for up to 1200 people and working 18 hours a day.

Major, who is also the local school bus driver, spent his time checking on some of the community's most vulnerable and offering support.

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"We've done a hell of a job, because that's who we are, that's our way," Major Timms said, speaking about the marae and its people.

"We're here to help, we'll help anybody. We're not here to give up."

The Timms have yet to move back home, choosing instead to continue helping at the marae .

- Sarah Harris

Professor Patria Hume

Patria Hume. Photo / Supplied
Patria Hume. Photo / Supplied

In the end, the professor won.

After years of barely concealed frustration, in August Hume had the most important of her findings from a study into the health of retired rugby players published in online journal Sports Medicine.

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The snappily titled paper - A Comparison of Cognitive Function in Former Rugby Union Players Compared with Former Non-Contact-Sport Players and the Impact of Concussion History - revealed a definitive link between concussion in rugby players and cognitive difficulties following retirement.

Players who experienced one or more concussions during their career were found to perform worse in tests that measure cognitive flexibility, complex attention, executive function and processing speed.

It was not easy to get to this point. In June the Herald used the Official Information Act to reveal a disconnect between Hume's team and rugby authorities over the significance and meaning of the findings, leading prominent neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart to tweet: "Why research needs peer review + to avoid conflict of interest."

During Herald research for the story, New Zealand Rugby revealed it had partnered Statistics NZ to try to determine whether the lasting impacts of concussions while playing rugby increases the risk of dementia.

Hume's doggedness finally led to the publication of the ground-breaking paper and she also received the 2016 International Society of Biomechanics in Sports Geoffrey Dyson Award. It is the most prestigious award of the ISBS, a recognition of an individual who embodies and carries out the primary purposes of the society.

- Dylan Cleaver

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Leisa Renwick

Leisa Renwick. Photo / Alan Gibson
Leisa Renwick. Photo / Alan Gibson

The maths teacher didn't intend to become the public face of a campaign to get more public funding for melanoma treatment drugs.

But a year after being given a cancer diagnosis and told she had weeks to live, Pharmac was funding two of them. The shift is predicted to save 120 lives a year.

Renwick was spurred to act after being diagnosed days after going to hospital on Mother's Day 2015 with abdominal pain.

"I remember quite clearly the day the troupe of doctors marched in to give me the diagnosis," she said in August. "I also remember clearly my husband asking what the treatment plan was to be. There was none. When would we be able to see an oncologist? We would not be seeing one - there was no point, there was nothing they could do."

There was no funded effective treatment for advanced melanoma. So Renwick fronted a campaign that culminated in her handing over a petition for funding signed by 11,000 people to Health Minister Jonathan Coleman on the steps of Parliament.

Her conversation with Coleman was reported by journalists and captured by TV cameras.

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Two months later Pharmac got a $39 million funding boost.
Renwick survived after self-funding breakthrough drug Keytruda. Her efforts ensured others won't have to do the same.

"Unless we make positive changes to our pharmaceutical purchasing model so that it steps into the 21st century with us, as a country we are going to be left behind and you can expect many more petitioners to arrive on the doorstep of Parliament House," she told Parliament's health committee in August.

- Jared Savage

Peter Boshier

Peter Boshier. Photo / Paul Taylor
Peter Boshier. Photo / Paul Taylor

After just a year in the job, Ombudsman Peter Boshier has already transformed his role to one of agency and advocacy for the people who need it most.

The former principal Family Court Judge has been outspoken on the use of seclusion against mental health patients, finding practices such as long-term isolation or a lack of access to sunlight "cruel" and "degrading".

He has pledged to undertake further work on the use of restraints on elderly patients with dementia after inspectors raised issues about its use.

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Boshier also launched an investigation into the use of "time out" rooms in two special schools after children were found to have been locked up alone.

He has committed to improving transparency of government agencies and the way they deal with public requests for information in a bid to ensure more timely and open responses.

This included gaining more than $500,000 for a proactive investigation how agencies use the Official Information Act; forcing former Prime Minister John Key to release his text communications with a gossip columnist; and clearing the 650-case backlog of complaints to his office.

- Kirsty Johnston

Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi. Photo / Supplied
Taika Waititi. Photo / Supplied

When you reach the top, the only place to go is down. Taika Waititi obviously didn't get the memo.

Although it's true that 2016 was the year that Boy, his smash 2010 dramedy, was toppled from its spot as the highest-grossing New Zealand film of all time, the film-maker and actor no doubt found comfort in the fact that it was his latest movie, the unstoppable Hunt for the Wilderpeople, that did so.

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Waititi's odd blend of good-natured absurdism, rose-tinted nostalgia, spiky contemporary humour and exaggerated bravado all gel to create films that reflect, celebrate and poke fun at our New Zealandness while not glossing over our societal failings.

His films are so steeped in shared cultural experience that they're instantly identifiable to Kiwis of all walks of life. His skill and craftsmanship so great that audiences around the world can relate to them as well.

It's little surprise that Disney-owned Marvel snapped him up to work on the latest instalment of their blockbuster superhero franchise Thor.

It's also worth mentioning that he's very funny on Twitter so, ya know, he's got that going for him as well ...

-Karl Puschmann

Te Whanau O Te Puea Marae

There was great hand-wringing at the plight of the homeless this year.
But at Te Puea Marae, in Mangere, overlooking Auckland's Manukau Harbour, there was no time for that.

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As news of families sleeping in vans shocked the nation, Te Puea Marae offered help to those in need. And those in need came. The youngest person needing help was seven days old.

As the whanau of Te Puea rallied, so did the community. Donations poured through the doors. And kept coming.

The marae offered more than sticking-plaster solutions. In the glare of publicity and amid claims of a lack of central leadership over housing, government agencies formed links with the marae and housed those who had been homeless.

After three months in the spotlight, Te Puea Marae stepped back. There was little grandstanding. Through deeds, not words, the marae made a difference to the lives of many - not just those who turned up on its doorstep, but the many who benefited from what some saw as the Government's change of attitude.

- David Fisher

Eliza McCartney

Eliza McCartney. Photo / Greg Bowker
Eliza McCartney. Photo / Greg Bowker

There are some in this world who hold to the belief that second is first loser, third is second loser and so on. Those people have clearly never met McCartney, who won bronze in the pole vault at Rio de Janeiro as a wide-eyed and even wider smiling 19-year-old.

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A classmate of Lorde at Takapuna Grammar, McCartney is the daughter of a high jumper and a gymnast. She took this genetic alchemy to pole vaulter and coach Jeremy McColl at age 14 and has been soaring to new heights ever since.

Tokyo 2020 was meant to be her Olympic debut but so quickly did she develop that she was selected to the Rio team in April. After qualifying for the final she cleared 4.50m, 4.60m, 4.70m and a personal best 4.80m on her first attempts, her grin stretching further every time. Only two jumpers went higher.

Upon winning bronze, McCartney gave a delightfully incoherent interview that was frequently interrupted by staccato fits of laughter. It further endeared her to a nation that knew in an instant that third, on this occasion, felt as good as a win.

- Dylan Cleaver

Peter Beck

Peter Beck. Photo / Michael Craig
Peter Beck. Photo / Michael Craig

Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck is propelling New Zealand into the space race.

The 39-year-old scientist is only months away from realising a decade's worth of work and a lifelong dream when his company launches a 1 million-horsepower machine into orbit.

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Provided it and two other test missions are successful, Rocket Lab plans to lead commercial flights from its launch pad on a remote part of the East Coast. If that happens, it will be the first company in the world to launch a commercial rocket from a private site.

Rocket Lab aims to be small and nimble in the commercial launch business, which last year was estimated at being worth $9 billion. High frequency machines - like the one Rocket Lab has built - launch for less than US$5m apiece, compared to others valued at closer to $200m, which come with years-long waiting times.

"The real prize here is when we start flying commercially. We're building up to commercial flights, not up to this one launch - the things that excite me are when we enable customers to do something very cool," Beck told the Herald in September.

- Grant Bradley

Anonymous mother

When a Wellington mum discovered her autistic child had been locked in a cell-like seclusion room at his primary school, she could have done as the officials wanted and kept it quiet.

Instead, she took her story to the media to raise awareness about an archaic practice that horrified the nation. In the face of criticism from other parents and friends, this mum - who would dislike this nomination and who has remained anonymous to protect the identity of her son - stood strong.

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An investigation sparked by her complaint later revealed children as young as six had been placed in the room.

Her son was locked up 13 times in nine days. As a result of her choice to go public, many other such rooms were uncovered. The Ombudsman started an investigation and public outrage eventually led to Education Minister Hekia Parata moving to make the use of "time out" rooms illegal.

While it was an incredibly difficult time for the mum and her family, her actions ensured that other parents had a right to transparency. "I just wanted children protected," she said.

" Yes, [my son] is challenging but he's also beautiful and amazing and he deserves to be treated like a human being."

- Kirsty Johnston