Collection

Pioneering Women

Curated by NZ On Screen team

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.

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. 

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.

Funny Girls - NZ Suffragette Special

Television, 2018 (Full Length Episode)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shows off her comedy prowess in this Funny Girls special, celebrating 125 years of Kiwi women attaining the right to vote. Ardern corrects the blatant lies of "Pauline the producer" (Jackie van Beek), and puts up with Pauline kissing her. This episode is a who's who of female Kiwi comedians, featuring (for the first time) live stand-up alongside the sketches — including Justine Smith and Billy T winners Melanie Bracewell and Angella Dravid. The Suffragette Special followed series three. 

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 also 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.

Richard John Seddon - Premier

Television, 1973 (Full Length)

This award-winning 1973 TV drama follows the career of PM Richard 'King Dick' Seddon from the events leading to his premiership in 1893, until his death in 1906. Writer Michael Noonan intersperses speeches and cabinet discussions with vignettes of Seddon's interaction with pressure groups and voters. Tony Currie (Close to Home) won a Feltex Award as the colourful Seddon, who forced through groundbreaking legislation. Listener reviewer Roger Hall praised it as New Zealand's "best historical documentary" to date. Watch out for broadcaster Brian Edwards as an opposition MP.

The Early Days

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.

For Arts Sake - Parliament Art

Television, 1996 (Excerpts)

Parliament’s art collection is showcased in this excerpt from the mid 90s arts series. Curator Jane Vial and Parliamentary Services Deputy Manager Beth Bowen are tour guides to some of the paintings and objects making up a then 1000 strong collection, which began in the 1870s. They include gifted works, like a portrait of the first Northern Māori MP Ihaka Te Tai Hakuene, and commissioned works from artists. Artworks are shown from John Drawbridge, Cliff Whiting, Robin Kahukiwa, and Guy Ngan (whose large-scale hangings adorn The Beehive’s Banquet Hall). 

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.

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.