New Year 2021 Honours: Constellation of Kiwi stars shine bright

Many of the people lauded in this year’s New Year honours will come as no surprise – they are already ousehold names.

One of those is musician Dave Dobbyn, whose classic tunes are well known to many and will more than likely be on the playlist at many New Year gatherings tonight.

Dobbyn is one of four people to be made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

READ MORE: New Year Honours: The full list

Then there’s public health expert Professor Michael Baker who frequently appeared in the news offering his expertise as the Covid-19 crisis consumed New Zealanders throughout the year. Baker has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to public health science.

There are also names like Rob Fyfe, former Air New Zealand chief executive, publisher Roger Steele, and Burton Shipley – the husband of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

But, there are other names many people will have never heard of. Many of the 154 people honoured today are not household names. Two – serving members of the Defence Force – cannot even be named.

By far the greatest number of honours have been awarded for contributions to the community, voluntary and local services.

They include men and women from every region of New Zealand.

At the zenith of today’s honours are Maori health visionary and leader, Professor Emeritus Sir Mason Durie of Feilding, and Dame Anne Salmond of Auckland.

Both have been made members of the Order of New Zealand, joining Richie McCaw and Helen Clark. Past members include Sir Edmund Hillary and Dame Whina Cooper.

Durie and Salmond have earned accolades in careers over decades. Their achievements cover many fields, and space quickly runs out when describing their work.

Salmond, a Pākehā who learned Te Reo Māori in the 1960s when it was far from fashionable to do so, is a mould-breaker.

Perhaps Dobbyn is too. His musical output has covered decades and different genres, providing a soundtrack to some of Aotearoa’s brightest and darkest moments.

Dobbyn told the Herald his celebrated 1986 hit Slice of Heaven didn’t really belong anywhere when it was released.

Despite the song’s defiance of convention, Dobbyn was confident.

“I knew it was a winner.”

And Salmond, who has praised her fellow New Zealanders, says our achievements as a country this year should give us all pride.

Defying the doomsayers, Kiwis in 2020 buckled down for a lockdown, and embraced the concepts of kindness and aroha as a brutal pandemic loomed.

That success makes Salmond hopeful about 2021.

“In so many ways when I think about the future I am really optimistic about what we can do here in Aotearoa.”

Arise Sir Dave, Loyal knight

David Joseph Dobbyn, KNZM
For services to music

Songwriter Dave Dobbyn reckons he’s at a loss for words. It’s not glamour at Rhythm and Vines or the frantic rockstar lifestyle that has him stumped.

He’s just arrived from a motel by van, he’s sober and, barely an hour before he’s due to play, he chats on the phone from a house near the Gisborne festival stage.

It’s the impending knighthood that has him in something of a pickle. Will his arm be sliced off in an archaic royal ceremony? Is he to be presented with a knightly warhorse to replace the van?

“I don’t know what to say. It’s all new territory. I’m not quite sure because I can’t quite believe what I’m reading. So I have to have my wife interpret it.”

Along with politician David Carter, broadcaster Ian Taylor and professor of reo and tikanga William Te Rangiua Temara, Dobbyn is to be a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

That’s a long-winded way of saying you can now call him Sir Dave.

Dobbyn says his children responded to the news with hilarity and looks of disbelief.

“Then I started bossing them around — but it didn’t work.”

Dobbyn sounds like an old friend you bumped into after some years, or your favourite uncle, the one you only see once every few Christmases but who instantly disarms you with funny anecdotes.

He says tonight he’ll be removed from the stage before 8pm like some “old bugger” the organisers don’t want hanging around.

“They like to get us a cup of tea by 8 o’clock.”

He jokes that he’ll then be replaced with “doof-doof music” and crowds waving their hands in the air.

For some boozers, this month is No Remember December. Last year, Dobbyn stopped drinking during the alcohol-free cancer fundraising campaign called Dry July.

He stayed off the turps, and 15 months later says ditching alcohol was the best thing he’s ever done.

“You can finish sentences and construct them better and stop beating up on yourself. I kind of hated who I was and how reactive I was and how unreasonable I was.

“I limited myself to beer — that was one way of trying to pretend I wasn’t a drinker or an alcoholic. The whole circle of partying and hangovers and stuff, it just gets in the way of music.”

Many New Zealanders likely have a favourite Dave Dobbyn song, even if they don’t know they do.

Given his vast contribution over decades (with Th’ Dudes, with DD Smash, with Herbs, and during his solo career), you might hate some of his songs but adore others.

Without Dobbyn, there’d be no Bliss, no Be Mine Tonight, no Loyal, no Slice of Heaven, no Devil You Know, no Whaling.

For 40 years, he’s been entwined with some of New Zealand’s most poignant and divisive moments.

He was blamed for inciting the 1984 Queen St riot, later cleared of wrongdoing.

Loyal was used in an early 2000s America’s Cup campaign, where New Zealanders were urged to buy $10 car aerial flags of the same colour.

In 2004, he joined musicians to raise money for Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui’s family.

After the Pike River tragedy, he recorded the tribute This Love with Orpheus Choir of Wellington and Wellington Young Voices in 2014.

Back at R&V, Dobbyn says songwriting drives him, as does the pursuit of happiness — in his words, creating something really great and making people happy. He says the same pursuit propels a craftsman making a special piece of furniture.

Wanting your creation to stand the test of time is one thing. But how do you know when you’ve nailed it? When Slice of Heaven was released in 1986, did he know how good it was?

Yes he did, Dobbyn says without hesitation. He could feel it.

Others could feel it too.

Da da da, bu bu, da da da, bu bu, da da da, bu bu, da da da da da.

Dobbyn says Slice of Heaven didn’t fit any mould. It stood out. He says one radio host who had an egotistical grudge refused to play it for six weeks. The song was in trailers for box-office smash hit Footrot Flats, and huge popular demand forced the DJ’s hand.

Dobbyn is playing at more festivals this summer and isn’t worried about getting overseas anytime soon.

He knows it’s hard to say how the global Covid-19 pandemic might play out and after hearing from relatives in California, he’s in no rush to get to the States.

“I’d be quite happy to just play in New Zealand the rest of my life. I get a great deal of joy out of it.”

Meanwhile, that desire to get another slice of heaven motivates him, as do the smiles on people’s faces when they sing along.

“You’re always aspiring to a purpose greater than yourself.”

Scholar is upbeat about New Zealand

Distinguished Professor Dame Mary Anne Salmond, ONZ
For services to New Zealand

Much of the world is unravelling when Dame Anne Salmond picks up the phone at her eco-sanctuary outside Gisborne.

Covid-19 is ravaging dozens of countries, including many of the world’s wealthiest. Some are in their third wave of mass death and chaos this year.

But the anthropologist, historian and TV host is upbeat as 2021 approaches.

Along with Professor Emeritus Sir Mason Durie, Salmond has been made a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest tier in the country’s royal honours system, where she’ll join Richie McCaw, former prime ministers and Murray Halberg.

Sure, she’s happy about a major New Year honour, but New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has her in good spirits.

Aotearoa is one of few places where crowds can safely cheer fireworks or laser shows, and where the day after, the bleary-eyed can dance and sing together at festivals.

Salmond says the country should consider how it might share its lessons with the rest of the world.

She says our ability to temper a grab-it-all neoliberal philosophy is one reason New Zealand did well this year, whether assessing the epidemic or the economy.

“Since the 80s, we have had an economic cult of the individual. In New Zealand we went very strongly with that philosophy for a time and you see the effects of it in our current rates of inequality. But at the same time, we’ve always had this really strong value of the fair-go.”

Salmond also credits the Māori concept of aroha.

“Aroha’s a lovely concept because it’s really about fellow-feeling, care for others. I think it’s about looking after other people but also looking after other living systems and lifeforms.”

She says that worldview benefits people not just during pandemics, but could help us tackle the ecological crisis the world and its 7.8 billion humans now confront.

For years, the University of Auckland Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology has earned accolades for her work on intercultural understanding.

She seems genuinely interested in how to make the country better, and in how learning te reo Māori can help us better understand the past, present and future.

Salmond says enthusiasm for learning te reo now is significant. It was a different story in the 1960s.

“When I was young and very fascinated by te reo and started to learn it … it wasn’t all that common for Pākehā to be interested in te reo or tikanga Māori or those things.

“In fact, it was regarded as pretty eccentric and not always a good thing.”

Some bigots, she says, brashly disregard te reo despite knowing so little about it.

But Pākehā culture is not static, and views of our indigenous language have improved.

As Salmond and her neighbours in Tairāwhiti prepare for 2021’s first rays of sun, she’s hopeful New Zealand can learn from this wild, brutal year and build a better future.

“In so many ways when I think about the future, I am really optimistic about what we can do here in Aotearoa.”

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