It's a turn up for the books when a profiler profiles a profiler but that's

Our People

's lot today.

The profiler is Dr Laurie Morrison, whose book featuring those in on the ground floor when the Te Arawa Women's Health League was founded 80 years ago is to be launched next Friday .


It's a slice of Rotorua social history that had its genesis under a ngaio tree at Taheke where, in 1937, district health officer, Nurse Robina Cameron, gathered a group of Maori women to discuss how best to eradicate illnesses decimating iwi, hapu and whanau.

Laurie's pukapuka (book), entitled Autauhinera- Sisterhood, features pen portraits on the founding members' dedication to bettering harsh daily lives, for many running water and sanitation were unknown luxuries.

The author considers her work payback to the league for starting her on the academic career that's gained her a BA, Masters and PhD, followed by post-doctorate studies.

These were no straight-from-school achievements, Laurie was in her 40s when it was suggested she go to university.

"I said 'no way, I'm too dumb'."

Ohinemutu kuia (older women) had other ideas, making an application to Maori Affairs for a mature tertiary students grant.

With it secured, Laurie's first paper was written during a course at the Tunohopu health centre, founded by league president Inez Kingi on land gifted by her kaumatua husband Pihopa, whose tangihanga's under way at Te Arawa's paramount marae Te Papaiouru.

Laurie salutes both for their unstinting commitment to Maori health.


Scoring a B+ for her Tunohopu paper, Waikato University was a natural progression, where her BA studies centred on psychology and Maori development.

All of which is a million academic miles away from her school days.

"At MacKillop (College) the nuns saw it as pre-ordained Maori girls became domestics or worked in factories."

Laurie's carpenter dad, Sindu Morrison, wanted more for Laurie and her twin sister, Jennifer (she died two years ago).

"Dad said one of you will go to the post office, one to the council."

Laurie chose the borough council, working as a receptionist before 'graduating' to accounting machines.

"Then I did the stupidest thing, got pregnant, married the baby's father."

The couple moved to Hastings, his home territory, Laurie hated it.

"His family were very supportive but I felt isolated."

Back home a second daughter was born.

Dr Laurie Morrison. Photo/Stephen Parker
Dr Laurie Morrison. Photo/Stephen Parker

"After five years my marriage came to an abrupt full stop, I left my husband for another woman, I'd been a tomboy, had always been attracted to women."

She moved to Wellington to join her twin. Laurie's the elder by four minutes. "In Maoridom I'm the younger, because it's considered the second-born does all the work pushing out the first."

Her kuia's death brought her home. "I was working in Brents [hotel], never wanted to be a solo mother on a benefit."

Restless, she joined friends apple picking in Nelson; next stop Melbourne, where her twin and another sister were living. Handling grenades in an ammunition factory became this dynamic woman's daily chore.

Her transtasman pay packet stunned her. "In Nelson it was $65, there $123.37 for a 37.5 hour week." The year was 1975.

But her new riches couldn't compensate for being apart form her daughters.

Once more she was back in Rotorua, managing Hamills sports store, however Melbourne's magnetic pull drew her back.

"I took my girls, learnt to be a proper mum with my partner."

When her mother Robyn Morrison became unwell she came home, joining the post office as a counter clerk.

"I'd hear all this laughter out the back, the mail room sounded such a fun place I transferred there.

"I began to reconnect with my Maoritanga (culture). Until then the only time I went to the marae was when whanau died, as kids it was where we threw stones on the roof then hid in the bamboo."

Laurie took te reo lessons with the late Reverend Hapai Winiata.

When the post office restructured she joined a cousin in Hamilton who was running a decolonisation workshop; "mapping the legislation imposed on Maori since te tiriti (Treaty of Waitangi), it blew me away."

Cue the start of more meaningful work than she'd previously pursued.

"I was asked if I'd train to be a kai whakaharere, [Maori marriage guidance counsellor]. I was straight up about my sexuality, it wasn't a barrier, there were no other Maori in the field."

With "amazing" Maori and Pakeha mentors guiding her, she established a Rotorua-based agency embracing an area extending to the East Coast's Lottin Point.

This is where Laurie's story loops back to that "I'm too dumb" statement of hers. It had been her instantaneous reaction to a family court co-ordinator's urging that she acquire a degree.

She makes no bones about struggling at times in the academic world; statistics stumped her.

"This Pakeha student and I traded, I gave her Maori pronunciation lessons, she instructed me in stats."

Securing a Masters in social science, then a doctorate, became a logical progression; "encouraged by my partner and marae kuia."

Concerned about the social impact of gambling on Maori women, her thesis centred on the addiction of many to cards and housie. Her doctorate dissertation widened to include casinos.

Laurie's interest in gambling issues stemmed from a hui discussing establishing a casino in Rotorua.

"There was no word on the social impacts, only the economic benefits."

Like Nurse Cameron before her, Laurie saw an urgent need for intervention in a major issue eating into Maoridom's whanau structure.

Nurse Cameron's influence on her tipuna (ancestors) had always fascinated her. Compiling Autauhinera apart, Laurie's been instrumental in reviving the Arawa Health League.

Activities range from health and fitness programmes to making preserves sold at the Sunday Farmers' Market to fund cultural activities for kuia and kaumatua.

"I owe it to those early kuia, our tipuna to keep the kaupapa of healthy living alive."

Autauhinera's launch is at the Rotorua Lakes Council's galleria at 10am, December 1. A photographic exhibition of kuia featured will be on display into next year.
Born: Ohinemutu, 1951.
Education: Rotorua Primary, St Michael's, MacKillop College (foundation pupil), Waikato University, graduating PhD.
Family: Partner Heather Leary; two daughters, nine mokopuna, three moko tuarua (great grandchildren).
Iwi affiliations: Ngati Whakaue, Te Arawa.
Interests: Whanau; women's health; has revived Te Arawa Womens' Health League. "I set myself challenges, last year I did 143km of Spain's Camino walk." Travel, lectures overseas on gambling-related issues. Member Sunrise Rotary (worked on Taveuni, Fiji housing project with fellow women club members)."Walking my kuri (dog) Oliver".
On Rotorua: "It's home, I always knew I'd return, settle."
On her life: "I've had the most fantastic opportunities, experiences and I'm going to continue having them."
Personal philosophy: "Be opportunistic, fearless, have a great sense of humour."