It includes ‘the obvious suspects’ of politics. For example, the first woman MP was Elizabeth McCombs. elected for Labour in Lyttelton in 1933. Also, the first Maori woman MP, Iriaka Ratana, stood for Labour in Western Maori. Both won by-elections after the deaths of their husbands, who had previously held the seat, both with increased majorities.
New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, plants trees with Auckland schoolchildren. Helen Clark, our first elected Prime minister, appears in Karangahape Road late on the night of her election in 1999. The first woman Cabinet minister, Labour MP Mabel Howard, dances with pop star Johnny Devlin. The first Maori woman Cabinet minister, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan, is still at work when two days past the due date for her first baby; four years later she became the first Cabinet minister in the world to give birth.
Dame Cath Tizard was the first woman governor-general, in 1990, having been the first mayor of Auckland. However, the first woman mayor in the British Empire was Elizabeth Yates, elected in Onehunga in the local body elections of November 1893.
Some of the women featured were first in their field in New Zealand. Others are the first New Zealander to have achieved internationally in their field, like Keri Hulme, first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize, and Jane Campion the only New Zealander to win the Grand Prix at Cannes.
Also included are rugby player Farah Palmer, referee Nicky Inwood, Bishop Penny Jamieson, cultural safety activist Irihapeti Ramsden, jockey Linda Jones, firefighter Anne Barry, Olympian Yvette William, television documentary maker Shirley Maddock, painter Frances Hodgkins and writer Katherine Mansfield, among others.
The title comes from singer Dinah Lee. When she became the first New Zealand woman to have a number one hit overseas in 1964, the men in the band told her ‘not to get a big head. To them the girl singer was just a fill-in. But I changed all that. All of a sudden I was going out on my own tours’.
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