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Aotearoa New Zealand has a long history of wāhine toa making their mark on the world. Here are just some of their groundbreaking firsts...


Penning poetry from the age of 12.
Tobacco picker, postie, millworker, whitebaiter.
Crafting stories of isolation from her octagonal West Coast shelter.
First debut novelist to win the Booker Prize for Literature.


From her aunty’s garage in South Auckland to the Superbowl.
A dance disrupter with an audience of billions.
Hearing, breathing and living music andmovement.
First choreographer to win the World Hip Hop Dance Championship three times.


Swapping office shoes for army boots and a pack of bricks.
Running up stairs and hills in her lunch hour.
Leaping her way into the history books.
First woman to long jump 6.28m.


Teacher, mission worker, campaigner.
A PhD achieved before approaching the altar.
She fought the hierarchy to deliver change.
First woman Bishop of an Anglican Diocese in the world.


Libraries ignited a passion for discovery.
The shelves a gateway to the world.
Knowledge a treasure to be shared.
First woman in the world to head a national library.


Heading alone into the wilderness at 14.
Climbing the planet’s highest peaks.
Making it to the top of the world.
First woman in the world tosummit Mt Everest without supplementary oxygen.

Dame Naomi James

Raised on a sheep farm, miles from the coast.
Discovering a yearning for the sea.
She circled the globe …alone.
First woman to sail single-handed around the world via Cape Horn.

Georgina Beyer

From sex worker and drag queen.
To rural mayor and MP.
A formidable force against prejudice and discrimination.
First openly transgender Member of Parliament in the world.

Beatrice Tinsley

At 14 she knew she wanted to be an astronomer.
She saw stars in a different way.
Casting light on the fate of the our universe.
First astronomer to determine how galaxies evolve over time.

Lydia Ko

Arriving young from the city of Seoul.
A teen protégé startling the golfing circuit.
By 17 she was the best in the world.
First World No. 1 professional golfer under 18.

Neroli Fairhall

Paralysed in a motorbike accident.
She found glory with an archer’s bow.
Taking on standing competitors to go for gold.
First paraplegic athlete to take part in the Olympic Games.

Naomi Ballantyne

Attending university a family first.
She swapped marine biology for business.
And matched passion with bravery to lead the way.
First woman to found a life insurance company.

Ellen Dougherty

Inspired by Florence Nightingale.
Making medicines, setting bones, amputating limbs.
She became a pioneer of Victorian nursing.
First registered nurse in the world.

Dame Jane Campion

She brought an angel to our table.
Delivered a piano to a black sand beach.
Showed us the power of the dog.
First woman filmmaker to receive the Palme d’Or.

Jean Batten

Swapping the piano for flying lessons.
Braving crash landings, eruptions, sandstorms.
She guided her bi-plane 10,000 miles across the world.
First person to make a solo flight from England to New Zealand.

Helen Thayer

Childhood climbing with Edmund Hillary.
A life spent testing herself against the extremes.
From frozen tundra to scorching sands.
First woman to travel solo on foot to the magnetic North Pole.

Merata Mita | Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāi Te Rangi

Sibling of eight, mother of seven.
The lens her tool to shape the stories of her people.
Decolonising the screen.
First indigenous woman to write and direct a drama feature.

Dame Jenny Shipley

Travelling from the rural classroom to the corridors of power.
The first female Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Championing opportunity on the world stage.
First woman in world to chair an APEC Leaders Conference.

Barbara and Michele Cox

A football matriarch and her daughter.
Carrying the legacy of the Football Ferns.
Into an equitable and progressive future.
First parent & child to take the field together in a football international.

Anne Audain

Bone deformities in each foot, reconstructed at 14.
Paving the way to running glory.
Medals and records her triumphant reward.
First professional female distance runner in the world.

Helen Clark

From rural roots to the debating chamber.
A powerhouse leader ranked 20th by Forbes.
Fighting for sustainability, health and equality.
First woman Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

Debbie Hockley

Putting bat to ball to win the supreme award.
Before rising to lead New Zealand Cricket as President.
A champion on the pitch and at the board table.
First woman to score 4,000 One Day International cricket runs.

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