The Kiwis who made a big impression in 2018

8:14 pm on 31 December 2018

A handful of remarkable Kiwis stood in the limelight for all the right reasons in 2018. RNZ takes a look at some of the people who made a big impression in the past year.

Kristine Bartlett was the public face of a long-running court battle to secure pay equity for aged care workers

Kristine Bartlett was the public face of a long-running court battle to secure pay equity for aged care workers. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

Equal-pay advocate Kristine Bartlett was named New Zealander of the Year in February.

Ms Bartlett won a case in the Employment Court in 2013, arguing that aged-care workers were underpaid because the sector is dominated by women.

As a response to Ms Bartlett's court case, last year (2017) the government announced a $2 billion settlement, which boosted the wages of about 55,000 workers by 15 to 50 percent.

Ms Bartlett said seeing people struggle on low pay inspired her to take action.

"We've all struggled in this sector - some worse than others - and it's been terrible and that was what really boosted me to (say) 'yes, something's got to be done'," she said.

The 68-year-old, who has worked in rest homes for 24 years, was in shock when she found out she had been chosen as New Zealander of the Year.

"I'm just a simple girl who likes to go to work and care for my old darling older person," said Ms Bartlett.

She hoped the win for aged-care workers would set a precedent for other women in low-paid occupations to "go for what they're worth".

"Women workers have obviously been left behind for too long and this is a great opportunity for them to get that gender pay gap closed," she said.

Marlon Williams - Vampire Again

For Kiwi musician Marlon Williams, 2018 was a winning year. Photo: YouTube Screenshot

Musician Marlon Williams hit one high note after another this year.

Often compared to legendary singer Roy Orbison, Mr Williams won best solo artist and album of the year at the NZ Music Awards for his second solo album, Make Way For Love.

He also won the country's top songwriting award, the 2018 APRA Silver Scroll, for his ballad Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore.

To add to his winning streak, Mr Williams took this year's prize for best music video for Vampire Again at the New Zealand Music Artisan Awards.

His winning album, Make Way for Love, charts his heartbreak and includes songs featuring his ex-partner, musician Aldous Harding.

He said after singing together for years, it wasn't that strange to put their voices together on an album about their break-up.

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Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie at an Academy Awards ceremony. Photo: 2018 Getty Images/ AFP

New Zealand actor Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie shone bright in the American independent film, Leave No Trace, released this year.

The 18-year-old's performance in the film has seen her nominated for a best supporting actress award at the Independent Spirit Awards, which will be presented in Los Angeles in February 2019.

Ms Harcourt McKenzie comes from a long line of actors.

She's the granddaughter of Kate and Peter Harcourt and daughter of Miranda Harcourt.

She was reluctant to become an actress until she played a young Louise Nicholas in the film Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story.

The film, about Ms Nicholas' experiences as a rape survivor, "made me realise that through acting you can tell a proper story and teach people things," she said.

Luke Willis Thompson / Gallery view of Luke Willis Thompson's Autoportrait

Artist Luke Willis Thompson and his winning work, Autoportrait. Photo: Supplied / Andy Keate

New Zealand artist Luke Willis Thompson made waves in the art world by winning the £30,000 Deutsche Börse photography prize.

His winning work, Autoportrait, is a silent film portrait of American woman, Diamond Reynolds, who livestreamed the moments following the shooting of her partner, Philando Castile.

After a traffic-stop, Mr Castile - a black 32-year-old school cafeteria worker - was shot dead by police. The officer who shot him was acquitted of manslaughter.

Mr Thompson, who is of Kiwi and Fijian heritage, said his film aimed to act as a 'sister-image' to Ms Reynold's livestream video.

Now living in London, Mr Thompson, took out New Zealand's top art award, the Walters Prize, in 1994, with a work that took gallery visitors on a mystery taxi ride.

For his Autoportrait, the 30-year-old has made the shortlist for the United Kingdom's most prestigious art award, The Turner Prize, run by the Tate Gallery. The winner will be announced in December.

Pip Adam

Pip Adam's winning novel was described as giving readers an "electric shock". Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw

Pip Adam came to the forefront of the literary scene when she won New Zealand's top literary prize for her novel The New Animals.

The book, which offers a parody of Auckland's fashion scene, won the $50,000 fiction award at the Ockham NZ Book Awards in May.

Judges said the novel held up a mirror to contemporary New Zealand culture.

"In (the fiction) category in 2018, it's the book with the most blood on the page. It will give you an electric shock," judges said.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous, New Zealand Winter Olympic bronze medalists.

Snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and skier Nico Porteous both won bronze for New Zealand at the age of 16. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The youngest member of New Zealand's Winter Olympics team, 16-year-old snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, did New Zealand proud by winning a bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February.

Her medal in the women's big air competition was New Zealand's second Winter Olympics medal ever, coming 26 years after skier Annelise Coberger won silver in 1992.

Another 16-year-old, Nico Porteous, won a second bronze for New Zealand in the freeski halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

Both started young.

Zoi learned to ski as a pre-schooler, then switched to snowboarding when she was nine.

Nico began skiing as a 4-year-old and started training and competing internationally when he was 13.

Mathematician Rod Downey.

The research of award-winning mathematician Rod Downey has some surprising applications. Photo: Victoria University of Wellington

The country's top science award, the Rutherford Medal, was won by a mathematician who says maths is not about numbers.

Professor Rod Downey from Victoria University, who scooped the $100,000 award, said maths is about abstract ideas.

"You take that abstraction and you seek to understand it.

"When you understand it very well, then you can develop better algorithms, or you can develop better models for what you're trying to do."

He works on computability, at the interface of maths and computer science, and has a particular interest in algorithms.

His research has surprising applications.

"I was interested in some fairly abstract things, and they turned out to be useful for, like, cancer research, distribution of products in New South Wales, and understanding Aboriginal ear infections in the Northern Territory, believe it or not," Prof Downey said.

A keen surfer, the mathematician also uses his skills to invent Scottish country dances.

Writing a dance was like proving a theorem, he said.

"The kinds of problems I think about are dynamic problems, where I try to imagine what an algorithm will be doing in time.

"When you're dancing it's somewhat similar, because you have to visualise where you'll be and where other people will be," he said.

Michaela Blyde of New Zealand in action. Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Rugby Sevens, Robina Stadium, Gold Coast, Australia. 14 April 2018 © Copyright Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung /

Black Fern Michaela Blyde in action. Photo: Photosport NZ

Michaela Blyde was the only Kiwi to pick up a major award at the World Rugby annual awards in November.

Ms Blyde won the title of women's sevens player of the year for the second year in a row.

The 22-year-old from New Plymouth scored 37 tries during the World Series.

Ms Blyde's Black Ferns teammates Sarah Goss and Portia Woodman were the two other nominees for the title.

The Black Ferns Sevens won gold at the Commonwealth Games, won the World Cup and finished second in the 2018 World Series.