Sir Richard Taylor named New Zealander of the Year

MICHAEL DALY AND CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 00:01 17/02/2012
NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR: Sir Richard Taylor with some of the props from Lord of the Rings.
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
NEW ZEALANDER OF THE YEAR: Sir Richard Taylor with some of the props from Lord of the Rings.

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Oscar winner Sir Richard Taylor, who helped New Zealand forge a role in the global film industry, last night won yet another public accolade, named Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year at a ritzy awards dinner in Auckland.

Sir Richard is co-founder of the special effects company Weta Workshop, which has worked on world-beating films such as The Lord of the Rings and Avatar.

He has shared in winning four Academy Awards for two of The Lord of the Rings movies, and was knighted in 2010 for services to film.

Sir Richard had set a shining example by being a global player in the international movie industry, yet chose to base himself in New Zealand, the award announcement noted.

Weta employs more than 1000 people and has annual revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sir Richard was an extraordinary New Zealander who demonstrated exceptional achievements while remaining true to his Kiwi values, it said.

"But most importantly, Richard is a passionate and articulate New Zealander, committed to this country, and committed to showing New Zealanders that we can do it here.''

Sir Richard was selected ahead of World of Wearable Arts founder Dame Suzie Moncrieff and Dr Sharad Paul, whose Skin Surgery Clinic in Auckland gives free skin cancer checks and who also funds literacy programmes in low decile Auckland schools.

Sir Richard said his greatest pride was being part of proving that a career in the creative industries were a viable option for New Zealand's young people.

Twenty-five years ago there was a belief that there was no future in the arts, he said.

Sir Richard also paid tribute to his partner Tania Rodger who, though runnning half the business, always seemed to fall under his shadow.

He wanted to keep carrying the torch for New Zealand into the future. "I hope I can do you proud."

The Young New Zealander award this year went to Sam Johnson, the founder and leader of the Student Volunteer Army, which helped Christchurch residents recover after earthquakes battered their city.

Mr Johnson created a Facebook page that brought students, carrying shovels and wearing gumboots, onto the streets of Christchurch to help with the earthquake cleanup.

He worked with Japanese students to help them set up a similar scheme when their country was devastated by tsunami and earthquakes.

Mr Johnson said that far from being "drunken hooligans" Christchurch's student army showed that they were able to carry on the country's tradition of innovation and a number eight wire mentality, "except we build it with computer code and put it on Facebook."

He paid tribute to many of his student colleagues who helped him on organising the thousands of students during the earthquakes. "You are my heroes."

However, he said it was still a long road ahead for Christchurch.

"It's a struggle down there and our hardest work is yet to come."

The Senior New Zealander of the Year, for those aged 60 and over, is Malcolm Cameron of Dunedin.

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He is the founder of the Malcam Charitable Trust, which provides youth development and transitional support programmes in Otago.

Paeroa was named Community of the Year, recognition for work by large numbers of volunteers to develop a safe and vibrant community.

District councillor Julie Bubb said the award belonged to all community's volunteers who did so much to keep Paeroa vibrant.

"This will mean so much to our small country town," she said."It's a huge honour."

The Local Heroes Award went to Hastings man Henare O'Keefe, for his extraordinary work with at-risk youth and family violence prevention.

"The special thing that unifies all the nominees is that they make you feel proud to be a New Zealander, and none more so than Sir Richard,'' Kiwibank chief executive Paul Brock said.

Each winner received a custom-made New Zealand trophy and $5000 towards their work.

The awards were presented in partnership with Fairfax Media, TV3 and The Radio Network.

- Fairfax Media

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