Liz Mellish. PHOTO/PETE MONK
HAYLEY GASTMEIER and ELISA VORSTER
Featherston’s Liz Mellish and Carterton’s Professor Elisabeth McDonald have been named members in the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday honours for their services to the community in two different lines of work.
Mrs Mellish has been recognised for her services to Maori and governance, having made significant contributions to mentoring Maori business in Wairarapa, greater Wellington, and Nelson regions.
She has based her eventful life on manaakitanga, a Maori concept about caring for others which has helped her become successful in business as well as helping others along the way.
Prof McDonald has been recognised for her services to law and education, making substantial contributions to the review and reform of evidence-based law in New Zealand.
She is a legal researcher and writer with 28 years’ experience as a university lecturer, but said it was important she was recognised mainly for the contribution she made within the community, especially the services she dedicated on a pro bono basis.
“I though quite carefully about accepting [the honour].
“I have always been concerned that you shouldn’t be on there just for doing a good job.”
Mrs Mellish, 67, is a Wairarapa girl through and through.
She was born in Masterton, raised and schooled in Carterton, moved on to study in Greytown at Kuranui, and then married her high school sweetheart, Graham, in 1970 and settled in Featherston.
Of Te Ati Awa, Mrs Mellish started her working life with ANZ Bank.
From 1975 to 1997, she and her husband owned a milk run in Featherston, and the pair started Hoki Smoke, a business smoking fish, which they ran for 16 years until 2012.
The couple have three daughters and nine mokopuna, who all live close by.
Mrs Mellish holds senior roles on many trusts and organisations, including chairwoman of the Palmerston North Reserve Trust, which was worth less than $1 million when it was handed over to Maori from the crown in the late 1980s.
The trust is now worth $94m.
Mrs Mellish is passionate about helping indigenous people succeed.
“Colonisation was a huge thing in the 18th and 19th centuries that affected indigenous people dramatically, and we’re starting to climb out of that, which is good for the nation – what’s good for Maori is good for the country.”
She is currently mentoring Australian indigenous leaders in business.
Her wide-ranging list of responsibilities keeps her extremely busy, but she says she wouldn’t change a thing.
“You know that old song? I’m just a girl that can’t say no.
“I love it, and I’ve always been involved in things and helping Maori in particular but raising and supporting people and helping give a hand up.”
She said she had no idea she had been nominated for the accolade, so it was somewhat of a surprise to receive the good news.
Mrs Mellish was nominated by the Federation of Maori Authorities chairwoman, Traci Houpapa.
She said good business principles were the key to enabling people to reach their aspirations.
“My role is influencing decision-making processes in local and central government and particularly in Maori business.”
The only goal Mrs Mellish hasn’t achieved is writing a book.
“I want to tell stories about Aotearoa, certainly about our tribe, I just want to write a book, but I haven’t got time.”
Mrs Mellish said that the spirit of “looking after our community” was something her parents “instilled in me from the day I was born”.
“We have a responsibility not just for ourselves but for our community in which we are active.
“It isn’t just about you and your immediate family, it’s about taking care of everyone in your community – it’s called manaakitanga.”
Prof McDonald moved to Carterton 18 years ago after she fell in love with the beauty of Wairarapa.
“I made a deliberate choice to move here.
“I used to come here for the weekend – it took a load off my shoulders and I still feel that way.”
Her work has seen her hold several teaching and administrative positions at Victoria University’s Law School for several years and was appointed a Professor at the University of Canterbury’s Law School in 2016, where she currently works.
In the late 1990s, she contributed the Law Commission’s Women’s Access to Justice Project and on reform of evidence law in New Zealand.
From 2009 to 2011, she researched new approaches to the prosecution and punishment of rape in New Zealand in collaboration with the Law Commission – an area in which she said there was a constant need to do better.
She produced the book ‘From “Real Rape” to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand’ which influenced the commission’s recommendation of new processes and is considered the country’s most authoritative text on the subject.
She hoped the Queen’s birthday honour would help expose her work to groups outside the legal profession and raise more awareness on the topic of rape.