3 Jun 2019

'Humbled': New Zealand's newest knights and dames revealed

5:23 am on 3 June 2019

New Zealand's first female Olympic gold medallist and one of the country's most beloved playwrights are among those at the top of the Queen's Birthday honours.

Yvette Williams and Sir Murray Halberg.

The late Yvette Williams, pictured here with Sir Murray Halberg, learned she was to be made a dame shortly before she died in April. Photo: Photosport

This year's list of 183 extraordinary New Zealanders includes seven new knights and dames: Yvette Corlett, Roger Hall, Graham Lowe, Areta Koopu, Fran Walsh, Dr Susan Bagshaw and Paul Adams.

Dame Yvette, who won the long jump in Helsinki in 1952, died at the age of 89 on 13 April, shortly after being told she would be receiving the honour.

Her brother, Roy Williams, told RNZ that three of her children were with her when she got the letter.

"She was quite thrilled and excited about it. It's just sad that she didn't last long enough to have it publicly recognised."

Roger Hall

Sir Roger Hall Photo: supplied

Sir Roger Hall, speaking from Toyko, at the start of a long-planned holiday with his wife, Dianne, said he was delighted by his appointment.

"I like to think it's good recognition for theatre and its importance to the country. So many people are involved in theatre one way or another, professionally or as a pastime, and it plays a big part in our lives."

The 80-year-old paid tribute to his partner for her support throughout his career in theatre and television, especially before he made his name with sold-out public service satire Glide Time in 1976.

"She's been a very loyal supporter for all those years when I was struggling to be a writer and make myself known. When I was teaching, I came home one day, and she was sitting at home with a baby in her arms and I said, 'I'm sorry, I want to give up teaching and go writing full-time.' And she said, 'well, that's what you better do', which was a brave decision."

Sir Graham Lowe says receiving a knighthood can't be compared to anything else in his long career in rugby league. Photo: Supplied

Some of the new knights and dames were struggling to come to grips with their new titles, including Sir Graham Lowe.

"I don't mind [what people call me]. I respond to a whistle at times," the former rugby league coach told RNZ.

"I can't begin to explain to you how it sounds and feels… I'm humbled, I'm proud, I'm grateful.

"I've got a lump in my throat. I can't compare it to anything."

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Dame Areta Koopu urges people to keep te reo Māori alive. Photo: Dame Areta Koopu

Dame Areta Koopu is being recognised for three decades of service to Māori and the wider public, including through the Māori Women's Welfare League, Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand Māori Council.

She had a simple message for those following in her footsteps.

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Dame Fran Walsh Photo: Park Road Post

"Carry on learning our language, it's so good - and I need you to know our world and not leave it behind.

"Just remember the strength that you can have from the Pākehā world beside your own world. They help to fill and strengthen your kete.

"Always remember, there's not an 'I', it's always 'we'."

Academy Award-winning screenwriter and film producer Fran Walsh and Christchurch youth health advocate Dr Susan Bagshaw have also been made dames, with Dame Fran saying she "completely fell off her chair" when she was given the news.

Bay of Plenty businessman Paul Adams has received a knighthood for his services to philanthropy and the community, including as the chairman of IHC's social housing arm Accessible Properties.

Honours list by the numbers

Anyone can nominate someone for an appointment or award under New Zealand's honours system.

The final decisions are made by the 12-person Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee, which is chaired by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. New Zealand First has two seats and the Green Party has one seat, with the rest going to Labour.

Many of those on this year's list are notable for their work in the non-profit sector, with 88 spots going to those who've dedicated themselves to "community, voluntary and local services" and just two marked down for "business and the economy".

Child Poverty Action Group co-founder Susan St John and Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor have been made Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit, alongside Rev John Marsden, Roma Balzer, Scott Dixon, Charles Eason, Judith Aitken, Jane Prichard, Ewan Smith and Yvonne Willering.

Twenty people have been made Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit, including Mike King, David Tua, Radio Hauraki co-founder David Gapes and Ken Clearwater, for his two decades of advocacy for male survivors of sexual abuse.

Outrageous Fortune actor Robyn Malcolm is also being honoured, for her services to television and theatre. She has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, alongside 54 others.

Moving further down the list, two people have been made Companions of the Queen's Service Order and 86 have received the Queen's Service Medal. Three members of the military have received the New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration.