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Oral History Awards Tell Our Stories

Media release: 18 July 2017

Sporting traditions, Māori history, and the experiences of children and women with a disability are just some of the stories that will be made more accessible due to this year’s New Zealand Oral History Award (NZOH) recipients announced by Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

“These awards enable people tell their stories and ensure they are recorded and are available to both current generations and those who follow,” says Manatū Taonga Chief Historian Neill Atkinson.

“They make a significant contribution to opening up our history and the experiences of those who lived through different times.

“This year 16 oral history projects have received a total of more than $96,000 in funding. The projects chosen will make a significant contribution to understanding New Zealand’s history and the experiences of our diverse communities.”

The awards were set up in 1990 with a $1 million gift from the Australian government to commemorate New Zealand’s sesquicentennial of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Since then more than $2 million has been given to around 400 community groups and individuals to gather oral histories.

The projects to be funded are chosen by a committee which includes staff from Manatū Taonga, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, academic and public historians, and a representative from the Alexander Turnbull Library Oral History Centre, where the completed projects are archived.

The committee considers the contribution projects would make to our understanding of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s history and the applicant’s experience and ability to complete it.

Projects to receive funding this year include:

Women in a disabling world

Judith Aitken will use her oral history award to gather the stories of six women with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen field of work.

The result will provide a description of how the social, economic, intellectual and cultural context within which the individual women live and work impacts on and exacerbates the challenges they face.

The histories will enable a better understanding and respect for the history of those who challenge and in many cases reform their environment.

South Island Rowing

South Island Rowing Inc (SIRI) was established 41 years ago by combining four South Island rowing regions. Its history is tied to the history of the upper Waitaki hydroelectric development. Ministry of Works engineer and rowing enthusiast Max Smith, who was working on the development, decided to build a rowing lake, now Lake Ruataniwha, without official sanction.

Once the lake existed South Island rowers joined forces to develop it into a world class rowing facility which now alternates with Lake Karapiro to host the National Rowing Champs, Maadi Cup and as a training venue for elite rowers.

Linda Hepburn’s oral history will record memories from SIRI members from the 1940s through to more recent times.

Mapping our Stories

This project is one stage in a larger project to record the stories of nine leading Māori navigators, waka builders, master carvers and kaikōrero connected to Tai Tokerau.

It is particularly significant as it is the first time the selected group of kaikōrero have shared their tribal knowledge.

The resulting oral histories will make an important contribution to a wider understanding of Māori settlement in New Zealand, as well as balancing existing, largely European world view, narratives about the first meetings between hapū/iwi and Europeans. The material will add to our national understanding of our heritage and aims to create a legacy for others to build on.

Children of the Revolution: Communist Childhoods in NZ

The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 had an impact on people involved in the early Communist movement in New Zealand – and on their families.

Oral histories gathered from the children of the early activists will reflect on the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideology which meant their childhoods were variously radical, subversive and factionalised in the service of world revolution. Their reflections, observations and experiences have much to tell us about the interrelation between global events, New Zealand and individuals.

He Puna Maumahara no Te Unga Waka Marae: an enduring source of stories, 1966 – 2016

Te Unga Waka was one of the first ‘urban marae’ and was built by Catholic Māori. It still functions as a marae and a place where the Catholic Māori community can come together to pray, socialise and conduct hui.

Te Unga Waka concert, ca 1960s. Image is courtesy of Te Unga Waka.

While the marae has a photographic history,  the stories behind those images are missing.

Melissa Matutina Williams and Whina Te Whiu aim to redress this by collecting oral histories from the men and women who helped established Te Unga Waka and those who have been involved since. The result will be an inter-generational perspective of how the functions and uses of Te Unga Waka have changed over time.

Further information about the awards and a full list of this year’s recipients can be found at:

Media contact:

Christine Seymour

Senior Communications Adviser

Manutū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Phone 4966176, email:

Updated on 9th January 2018