The South's most inspirational

We continue with part three of the Otago Daily Times' five-part series to name the South's 20 inspiring people this year. 

Dunedin singer/songwriter Lani Alo. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Dunedin singer/songwriter Lani Alo. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Lani Alo


In a year in which we have all been weighed down by Covid-19, the Delta variant and more lockdowns, Lani Alo made a great attempt at lifting our spirits and some of that stress off our shoulders.

The 27-year-old Dunedin singer-songwriter collaborated with Vainalepa Agaseata Livingstone Efu to create Tua I Manu - a gospel song which peaked at No 6 on the New Zealand singles charts earlier this year.

The song is about faith and how important it is to support each other during difficult times, Alo said.

"In our lives, it is inevitable that we will go through tough times, and so we wrote the song in the hope it would be a source of healing and encouragement for anyone who listens to it - especially in the climate that we’re in with Covid and dealing with the lockdowns and everything that’s going on around the world in politics."

To get a song in the top 10 New Zealand singles charts is one thing, but to be able to get a song sung in Samoan to No6 in the charts is very rare, he said.

"I’m really stoked because it’s not your normal mainstream song.

"Only a few have been able to successfully make it to the top of the charts with a non-English song.

"And for it to be there up alongside bands like Six60 and a lot of these other local and international artists ... "

The song’s music video also helped raise Dunedin’s profile because it featured many of the city’s landmarks and local people from the Pasifika community.

The song has proven popular with overseas listeners as well, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.

"It’s a real testament to the power of music, regardless of what language or cultures are involved."

— John Lewis

All Black halfback Aaron Smith celebrates his 100th game for the side with his son Luka following...
All Black halfback Aaron Smith celebrates his 100th game for the side with his son Luka following a Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park on August 7. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Aaron Smith

All Black

He is possibly the only Manawatu hairdresser who will play 100 games for the All Blacks.

Actually, that’s a pretty safe leap.

Aaron Smith’s rise from apprentice hairdresser to All Blacks great seems pretty unlikely when you look back.

Here was this tiny bloke from Feilding who was maybe, maybe 80kg dripping wet.

Halfbacks of that era were more like a fourth loose forward and the 1.71cm Smith was never going to fit that mould.

No matter, they had thrown out the mould with Smith.

He had stood out for the New Zealand Maori in 2010 and made his way south to Dunedin to join the Highlanders the following year as a back-up for Jimmy Cowan.

The competition brought out the best Smith. He had traded in the scissors and hair dryer and, with the speed and accuracy of his pass, it was soon clear he was a cut above - boom, boom.

He was selected in the All Blacks in 2012.

The game plan was pretty simple. Get the ball to potent backs and get it to them quickly.

Smith was perfectly equipped for the role and rapidly established himself in the side.

Despite being at the top

for 10 years, he has not tapered off. If anything, he may have even got better.

And, other than one notable off-field incident, he has been the model professional athlete.

His preparation is meticulous and his attention to detail has helped his longevity in the sport.

This year Smith became the 10th man to bring up 100 games for the All Blacks.

He also captained the side in the game against Fiji at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

— Adrian Seconi

Associate Prof James Ussher has been outspoken on the misinformation surrounding Covid-19. PHOTO:...
Associate Prof James Ussher has been outspoken on the misinformation surrounding Covid-19. PHOTO: ODT FILES
James Ussher


Covid-19 has dominated news for another year, from viral modelling and vaccination research to managing misinformation and mandates.

At the forefront of it all in Dunedin is Associate Prof James Ussher, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Otago.

After a 2020 spent researching Covid-19 vaccines, Prof Ussher has been active in publicly debunking misinformation about the vaccine and wider pandemic throughout 2021.

On several occasions throughout the year, Prof Ussher publicly denounced the spread of misinformation by groups such as Voices for Freedom, which, in April, dropped "inaccurate and alarmist" flyers purporting to tell the "truth" about the Covid-19 vaccine.

The group had made a range of claims, including that vaccine-related deaths and serious injuries were being reported at an alarming rate, and that it was unknown if the vaccine would cause cancer, sterility or mutate cells.

Prof Ussher’s message had been consistent thereafter— there was more than enough data available to show that the vaccine was effective at preventing the spread of Covid-19, and close monitoring of the Pfizer vaccine had shown it to be extremely safe.

Prof Ussher’s credentials also included clinical microbiologist at Southern Community Laboratories, science director of Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand - Ohu Kaupare Huaketo (VAANZ), director of the Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases, and previously, member of the Government’s Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce.

Prof Ussher continues to lead a team of two laboratory staff and seven postgraduate students at the University of Otago.

— Courtney White

Groundswell New Zealand co-founders Bryce McKenzie (left) and Laurie Paterson. PHOTO: SHARON...
Groundswell New Zealand co-founders Bryce McKenzie (left) and Laurie Paterson. PHOTO: SHARON PATERSON
Bryce McKenzie and Laurie Paterson

Farming advocates

Southern farmers Bryce McKenzie and Laurie Paterson had never been involved in any sort of protest during their lengthy farming careers -until now.

The pair went in to bat for the farmers, co-founding Groundswell New Zealand, a group set up to oppose what they called unworkable government regulations.

Mr McKenzie, a semi-retired West Otago farmer, and Mr Paterson, a fourth-generation farmer at Greenvale, near Waikaka, have been responsible for the biggest protests some towns have seen.

Their motive was simple: they wanted to see change which would ensure protection of family farms for future generations which they saw as being under threat.

Both successful in their own farming right, they are always quick to deflect attention from themselves, instead saying they were surrounded by a group of common-sense people.

Mr McKenzie was "overwhelmed" to be included in the top 20, saying recognition was not why the pair did things.

"It’s because we want to see change," he said.

To get big turnouts for both Groundswell’s protest events, Howl of a Protest, in July, and Mother of All Protests, in November, was "pretty unreal", he said.

- Riley Kennedy


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