What a weekend it’s been with the Dees winning the AFLW Grand Final (well done Daisy!), Labour once again in power with the state election and for me a very busy weekend on the back of a very busy week in Wellington in Aotearoa New Zealand. I celebrated a successful work trip with Mr Rosanna on Saturday night at a friend’s party where we had the opportunity to dance to soul music curated by the one and only PBS radio DJ Miss Goldie (who to my surprise is a brunette with glasses not a blonde as I had imagined her to be).
I flew into Wellington on Tuesday afternoon and it is known for being windy – while we didn’t hit any turbulence with our very fast landing – we did have a moment flying out back to Melbourne so a warning if you are a nervous flyer. A team of 10 of us from ANZSOG including our new Dean and CEO Adam Fennessy PSM had been assembled to look after two cohorts in Years 1 and 2 of the Executive Master of Public Administration (or EMPA as it’s known) comprised of 200 students in the Wharewaka function centre (below) on the waterfront with its beautiful views.
After checking into our hotel, getting a very late lunch at nearby St John’s Bar and Restaurant, my staff member Nataly and I then did a reccy of the function centre where we met our colleagues who’d arrived earlier on the weekend. Our photographer Sav Shulman had recommended both Courtenay Place and Cuba Street in Wellington for dinner so we had a lovely meal at Lulu Bar and Restaurant, which specialises in local ingredients and traditional Pasifika cuisine. We ended our first night sharing a hot waffle from The Little Waffle Shop because why not!
The highlight of our trip was early morning the next day where we distributed lyrics to 100 students outside Wharewaka and were treated to a traditional powhiri (pronounced ‘poferi’) welcome by Maori who sang to us and we responded in return before being allowed to ascend the stairs into the rowing club. Elders spoke in te reo and English to welcome us with other First Nations people, people of colour and other migrant backgrounds invited to go up and speak in return. It was an incredibly moving ceremony and I was wiping the tears away when four of our ANZSOG students got up of their own accord to thank the Maori and speak about their own cultural backgrounds – at its simplest level, I think the desire to connect as human beings is a unifying force for good in the world.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind escorting the first 100 Year 1 students back to the function centre to watch the Year 2 students present their final work-based project in small groups where they were assessed by two people (including alumni I had engaged and faculty) in three different rooms. Nataly and I had our work cut out for us having 100 Year 2 students then be photographed in 17 different groups followed up with 10 different jurisdiction photos (students had come from all over Australia and New Zealand) in just 45 minutes before the graduation ceremony. Somehow with the help of our very skilled photographer, we got it done including some memorable moments such as one student doing the splits for their fun group shot!
I had also engaged First Nations alum Dave Samuels to speak to students at the graduation ceremony, after our CEO had presented them with their certificates, with photography and videography taking place at the same time. Dave Tokohau Samuels is an impressive and interesting person whose back story includes being ex-army, similar to a number of other ANZSOG alumni, and it was inspiring to hear.
My long day turned into night with me and Nataly hosting 10 alumni and other guests including last year’s Dean’s Prize winner and a number of Chief Executives and Deputy Chief Executives at the EMPA celebration dinner at Shed 5 on the waterfront. It was nice to have had a quick shower to freshen up before glamming up for the dinner and it’s a privilege to spend time with people who are at the highest level in their careers – it’s not something I’ve ever taken for granted.
While the EMPA students went on to let their hair down at karaoke after dinner, I was happy to call it a night and go back to the hotel to sleep before we flew out on Thursday afternoon. Before catching a taxi to the airport, Nataly and I popped our heads into the Te Papa Store at the Museum of New Zealand – there is another smaller store at the airport, but it was definitely worth a visit for souvenirs.
It was beyond my budget but some of the greenstone pounamu pendants and jade carvings, conch shells, bone combs and flax baskets made by local Maori artists were absolutely beautiful although I’m not sure about wearing the pendants in particular if you’re non-Maori due to their cultural significance and meaning.
Aotearoa was definitely a cultural experience that left an indelible mark on me. Maori (and Pasifika) people make up a greater percentage of the population and te reo has been embedded into everyday life on TV and in signage on the streets of Wellington. In many ways, I think New Zealand is ahead of Australia in its treatment of First Nations people. It was an experience I will always remember – nga mihi Te Whanganui-a-Tara – I will return.