Pioneering Women

This collection celebrates women and feminism in New Zealand — the first country in the world to give all women the vote. We shine the light on a line of female achievers: suffrage pioneers, educators, unionists, politicians, writers, musicians, mothers and feminist warriors — from Kate Sheppard to Sonja Davies to Shona Laing. In her backgrounder, TV veteran and journalism tutor Allison Webber writes how the collection helps us understand and honour our past, asks why feminism gets a bad rap, and considers the challenges faced by feminism in connecting past and present.

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Sheilas: 28 Years On

Film, 2004 (Full Length)

Twenty eight years after featuring in landmark feminist documentary series Women, five interviewees reveal how their lives have changed. Donna Awatere Huata, Miriam Cameron, Sandi Hall, Aloma Parker and Marcia Russell candidly discuss work, sex, the media and Māori in this 70 minute documentary. Artist Cameron recalls how feminists were seen in the 1970s: "she was a braless, hairy, fat hag". Journalist Russell remembers not being allowed to work past 11pm because she was a woman, while psychologist Parker felt liberated by feminist Germaine Greer's refusal to wear a bra.

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Annie Goldson on Sheilas: 28 Years on

Interview, Camera and Editing – Andrew Whiteside

Annie Goldson talks about the origins of award-winning documentary Sheilas: 28 Years On, which she co-directed with Dawn Hutchesson. Goldson talks about her commitment to feminism — a word her students often find problematic — and how Sheilas reintroduced audiences to five of the "interesting and powerful women" from gutsy 1977 series Women.

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What Really Happened - Votes for Women

Television, 2012 (Full Length)

In September 1893 New Zealand became the first country to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This fly on the wall docudrama reimagines this major achievement, following Kate Sheppard (played by Sara Wiseman) throughout the final push of her campaign. The 70-minute TV movie follows the template set by director Peter Burger and writer Gavin Strawhan in their 2011 docudrama on the Treaty of Waitangi, with key characters directly addressing their 21st century audience. At the 2012 NZ TV awards, Wiseman won for Best Performance by an Actress.

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Votes for the Girls

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

This documentary was made to mark the centenary of New Zealand women winning the right to vote, on 19 September 1893. It traces the history of Aotearoa’s world-leading suffrage movement, and interviews contemporary women in politics. They chart how far things have come, and reflect on the enduring double standards that women still face. Interviewees include Helen Clark (then leader of the Labour Party), Jenny Shipley, Dame Cath Tizard, Wellington Mayor Fran Wilde and visiting President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, plus mothers and high school students. 

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The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

Film, 2009 (Trailer and Excerpts)

Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their 'coming out' to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice award for favourite documentary at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.

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Standing in the Sunshine - Work

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Four-part series Standing in the Sunshine charted the journey of Kiwi women over a century from September 1893, when New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This third episode, directed by Melanie Rodriga, looks at women over a century of work — plus education, equal pay, family, art, and Māori life. Interviews are mixed with archive material – including a mid-80s 'girls can do anything' promotion – and reenactments of quotes by Kiwi feminist pioneers. Writer Sandra Coney also authored a tie-in book for the series.

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Pioneer Women

Television, 1983–1990

The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.

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Dame Cath Moves Up - A Personal Portrait

Television, 1990 (Full Length)

Dame Catherine Tizard has been many things: mother, marriage celebrant, civic leader and Her Majesty's rep in NZ. Here Tizard takes reporter Marcia Russell through her life, from a Waikato town (where she was wary of becoming a farmer's wife); through marrying her uni lecturer; leading Auckland as mayor; to her Governor-General role. Her front-running story parallels societal changes that presented increased opportunities for Kiwi women. A roll-call of Governors-General outlines how for over 100 years the position was held exclusively by white British males.

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Bread & Roses

Film, 1993 (Excerpts)

Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens and got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.

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Queer Nation - Marilyn Waring

Television, 2004 (Full Length)

The episode opens with a story about the Maxim Institute, an international think tank that has been linked to anti-gay fundamentalist groups. The main feature focuses on Marilyn Waring, an MP from 1975 until 84. She talks candidly about the personal cost of being in parliament — especially when she was outed as a lesbian. Waring also shares her opinions about the Civil Unions Bill and why she is opposed to it. The show finishes with a gay literature review and an interview with James Hadley, the incoming programme manager of Wellington's Bats Theatre. 

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The Nineties

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Made to mark the Women’s Suffrage Centennial in 1993, this documentary features seven women in their 90s. By telling their own personal stories, the women give an insight into NZ history in the 1900s. The women speak frankly about their lives, with often very moving stories of losing boyfriends and family members to the world wars, having small children die from illnesses that would now be easily treatable, getting married with no knowledge of the facts of life, and dealing with illegitimate babies from liaisons with American soldiers.

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It's in the Genes Girls

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

In this documentary for TV One, director Aileen O'Sullivan turns the camera on three sets of mother/daughter artists, and asks whether art is in the genes. Interviewing each other about their creative lives are actor Kate Harcourt and actor/acting teacher Miranda Harcourt; weaver Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and weaver/painter Veranoa Hetet (née Hauwaho); and painter Jacqueline Fahey and performer/sculptor Augusta McDonald. Frank yet loving discussions abound, like when Hetet tells her mother "sometimes you come up with silly things".

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Inquiry - Nothing Venture, Nothing Gain

Television, 1974 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of the 70s current affairs show sees reporter Joe Coté investigating women in politics. A potted history of the trailblazers — from suffragist Kate Sheppard to Māori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan (first to have a baby while in office) — leads to wide-ranging conversations with contemporary women in politics. Future Christchurch mayor Vicki Buck (here a 19-year-old council candidate) and others from across the spectrum, talk about ongoing struggles for equality: education, empowerment, abortion, childcare support, and the ‘old boys’ network.

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Face to Face with Kim Hill - Germaine Greer

Television, 2003 (Excerpts)

Australian feminist author Germaine Greer tells Kim Hill that “it’s time to get angry again”. She’s angry that female health treatments for breast and cervical cancers are forms of control that are actually out of control. Greer opines that women are over-medicated, in fear of their bodies and deeply insecure about the way they look. She talks about the grassroots feminist revolution that never happened, and the totemic feminist text – her “lucky book” – The Female Eunuch.

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Sunday - Media Women

Television, 1986 (Full Length Episode)

Lindsay Perigo and TV producer Allison Webber have a heated discussion about the portrayal of women in the media in this 1986 current affairs show. Webber says females are sick of being portrayed as sex symbols or tidiness-obsessed housewives. Webber was representing Media Women; the organisation was campaigning for better media coverage, and running its first NZ conference. Also interviewed are Dominion journalist Judy Pehrson, advertising guru Terry Christie, and Mr Wrong director Gaylene Preston (who talks about double standards in casting movie roles).

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Three New Zealanders: Janet Frame

Television, 1975 (Excerpts)

This fresh, unhurried film is drawn from a substantial interview with renowned writer Janet Frame by Michael Noonan; filmed largely at at Frame’s then-home on Whangaparoa Peninsula. It was part of the Three New Zealanders series made to commemorate the 1975 International Year of Women — an early John Barnett production. The rare footage of Frame — here aged 50 — presents a confident writer in her prime, and negates any stereotypes about Frame's inarticulacy or shyness. Note: the segments from the programme dramatising some of Frame’s work are not included here.

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Radio with Pictures - Women Songwriters

Television, 1988 (Full Length Episode)

A NZ Herald assertion that women’s music is just “gentle, political folk songs” leads off this report for TVNZ’s mid-80s rock show. It’s presented by Dick Driver from a showcase for women songwriters at Auckland’s much loved and missed Gluepot in Ponsonby. Featured musicians are singer/songwriter Mahinarangi Tocker, blues singer Mahia Blackmore and then member of When the Cat’s Away Dianne Swann. Those sensitive folksongs are in short supply but the same can’t be said for the obstacles encountered in dealing with a male dominated music industry.

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Newsview - Shona Laing profile

Television, 1973 (Excerpts)

This NZBC profile finds singer/songwriter Shona Laing as a 17-year-old in the seventh form (now year 13) at Hutt Valley High, distracted from study by an impending music career. Laing had shot to national prominence with her performances on the Studio One talent show, had a hit with her Henry Fonda-inspired single '1905' and supported American singer Lobo. She is already a guarded interviewee while her school mates are unsure what to make of her success. Lobo is effusive in his praise and there are performances of '1905' and Roberta Flack's 'Killing Me Softly'.  

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The Write Stuff - Sonja Davies

Television, 1997 (Excerpts)

This excerpt from the 22nd episode of Kiwi literature series The Write Stuff features unionist and peace campaigner Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005). Davies had just released Marching On, the follow-up to her acclaimed 1984 autobiography Bread & Roses. Presenter Alison Parr asks Davies about her experience in Parliament, as well as personal tragedy and gardening. Davies reflects on achieving change, her dislike for the aggression of the debating chamber, and the values her grandparents taught her: "compassion and responsibility, caring for others more than you care for yourself …" 

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Three New Zealanders: Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Television, 1978 (Full Length)

Visionary educationalist and novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner is interviewed by leading educationalist of the day, Jack Shallcrass, in this documentary about her life and work. From her home in Tauranga the film explores her educational philosophies (“organic teaching” and her “drive to diffuse the impulse to kill”) and her “divided life” between woman and artist, as she plays piano and interacts with children. It is the only interview she ever made for television, and was the first of the Three New Zealanders documentaries made to mark International Women's Year.

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Our People Our Century - Cradle to Grave

Television, 2000 (Excerpts)

This episode of the Kiwi social history series explores the importance of the ‘cradle to grave' beliefs about education, health and social welfare that have underpinned NZ governance since the 1930s. But radical reforms toward the end of the 20th century were more focused on individual opportunity than the wider social contract. Excerpts here use influential unionist James ‘Big Jim’ Roberts and generations of his family to chart social change. Written by feminist Sandra Coney, this episode also provides an overview of the monumental change in the lives of women.

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Celia

Film, 2018 (Trailer)

Directed by award-winning current affairs journalist Amanda Millar, this documentary celebrates the life of equality advocate Celia Lashlie. The first female prison officer in a male prison in New Zealand, Lashlie fought to get people the tools for making responsible decisions, from female prisoners to fatherless boys to impoverished children. Lashlie had a particular focus on empowering mothers. The documentary was filmed over the last months of her life, following a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Celia premiered at the 2018 New Zealand International Film Festival.

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Three New Zealanders: Ngaio Marsh

Television, 1977 (Full Length)

Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).

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Jean Batten - The Garbo of the Skies

Television, 1988 (Full Length)

In the 1930s Jean Batten broke solo distance flying records and achieved international fame. Directed by her biographer, Ian Mackersey, Garbo of the Skies chronicles Batten's life through archive footage, interviews, narration from her unpublished memoirs and reconstructions of her epic flights. The documentary also reveals a lonely private world: a domineering mother, romantic tragedy, a fall into obscurity, and death in a Majorcan hotel (a mystery finally solved during the film's making). Garbo of the Skies screened on TVNZ, the Discovery Channel and the BBC.

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Nola - Our Own New Zealand Girl

Television, 1985 (Full Length)

Nola Luxford was one of the first Kiwi actors in Hollywood and a fondly remembered wartime club hostess. This documentary — made before renewed attention thanks to Carole Van Grondelle's definitive bio Angel of the Anzacs — sees Luxford bypass troubled times and adoration from author Zane Grey to recall decades in America. These encompassed pioneering radio work in the 30s and 40s, a film career, and most poignantly, her legendary World War II Anzac club that welcomed 35,000 soldiers to New York. There are also clips from her 1925 silent film The Prince of Pep.

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War Stories

Film, 1995 (Trailer)

In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".