Deeply honoured

Carolyn Burns
Carolyn Burns
They brought back Buck, they gave two Southern identities the ultimate accolade, and they honoured farmers, educators, intersex advocates and business leaders.

As always, the annual Queen’s Birthday Honours did a fine job casting the net across Aotearoa New Zealand and catching a lot of people — 170, in total — doing all things great and small.

Some "famous", some very low-profile, all well deserving of an honour from the Prime Minister and Her Majesty.

We rejoice in the South in the elite honours bestowed upon Prof Carolyn Burns and Grahame Sydney, both of whom have made a significant impact in their respective fields.

Dr Burns, made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, has a list of achievements in the field of ecology as long as one of her beloved lakes — perhaps Wakatipu. How fitting, at a time when the protection and restoration of our waterways has become so pressing an issue, to give her this honour.

Grahame Sydney
Grahame Sydney
So, for his own advocacy for the environment and for his spectacular contribution to the arts over a long period, does Sydney become a worthy addition to the ranks of the knighted.

You do not have to understand the difference between egg tempera and etching to know the work he does is meaningful, thought-provoking and timeless.

The other main gongs are shared by a smorgasbord of interesting Kiwis from diverse backgrounds.

Many recall Hinewehi Mohi’s stunning decision to sing the New Zealand national anthem only in te reo Maori at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, a moment that created some short-term backlash but sparked a big shift in attitudes, to the point now it is inconceivable to have the anthem only in English.

Perhaps fewer realise the impact Mohi (Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tuhoe) has had in the world of music therapy, as well as te ao Maori. As Dame Hinewehi, she will no doubt continue her fine work.

Another pioneer for Maori wahine is Ruia Morrison, the great tennis star of the 1950s who also becomes a Dame, while Judith Kilpatrick gets that honour for 47 years in the field of nursing education.

And we must not forget about Buck.

Buck Shelford
Buck Shelford
Some 30 years after his dumping as All Black captain led to a national outcry and the emergence of "Bring back Buck" banners that would never really go away, Wayne "Buck" Shelford becomes Sir Wayne (Sir Buck?).

The great loose forward added mana to the All Black jersey — and restored integrity to the haka — but took his contribution to New Zealand society to another level through his tireless work promoting men’s health and his community service.

Some have lamented in the past how easy it was for sporting high achievers to get a national honour "just" because of their efforts on the field. With Shelford, there is absolutedly no question he is deserving of the highest praise.

Elsewhere, there is the poignant presence of the late Dave Cull, the former Dunedin mayor made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit on April 26, the day before he died.

Cull’s service to, and impact on, his city, and contribution to local government in general, made him a worthy recipient, and we hope that honour will bring much pleasure to his grieving family.

The South was well represented, from Wanaka public servant John Ombler to Dunedin swimming legend Mary McFarlane, from southern netball stalwart Colleen Lyons to South Otago community heroine Betty Steel — and many more whose good deeds have been acknowledged. To all of them, we say: thank you.

New Zealand honours had a pleasing split — 52% went to women, 47% to men.

The missing 1% is Mani Mitchell, who identifies as non-binary, potentially breaking new ground for the honours. Mx Mitchell is made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to intersex advocacy and education.

There is, indeed, a healthy sprinkling of people throughout the list in the education sector, and there are 14 members or supporters of the Pacific community, showing the honours are doing much better at recognising New Zealand’s diverse society.

It is the Queen celebrating her birthday this weekend. But we join our team of five million in celebrating the lives and achievements of 170 great New Zealanders.

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