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April 9, 2018

#suffrage125, or the day I went to Government House in dinosaur socks

Metal History, Metalheads Who Read, Steff

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A few weeks ago I got an email from the office of the Governor General. At first, I thought it was a spam email. “Oh, sure, the Governor General of Nigeria wants to tell me I inherited $100,000,000.”

I read the email three times but couldn’t see any signs of a scam. It was an invitation to attend a reception at Old Government House to celebrate 125 years of Women’s Suffrage in NZ.

I checked the name at the top. Yep, definitely addressed to me. What the hell? Why on earth was I invited to such an illustrious event? You’ve heard talk about how all artists feel a deep sense of imposter syndrome – let me tell you that there’s nothing like being a smutty writer attending a prestigious event by the Governor-General to make one feel like they’ve been stuck on the list by accident.

The mystery remains, but when the Governor-General invites you to such an amazing event, you do not decline.

I flew down to Wellington and stayed with a lovely writer friend and her family. My nerves were allayed by a lovely dinner and an evening of board games.

The next day, Wellington put on some beautiful weather – a torrential downpour and gale force winds. With 20 minutes before I needed to leave for the reception, I showered, threw on my pretty purple dress, and went to pull on the lovely Black Milk warm leggings I’d packed … only to discover they weren’t in my bag.

Ah, of course, they were on the floor in our bedroom, where I’d left them so I’d remember to throw them into my bag before I left.

Right. Goodo.

I had two options – go bare-legged in the appalling weather, or wear my black dinosaur socks, the only other legwear I’d packed.

Five minutes later, clad in a pretty dress, a warm and smart-looking military-style coat, and my dinosaur socks, I hopped on the bus.

I sat up the front so the driver could tell me when we reached the venue. After a couple of stops, another woman got on, asking for the same stop. “Are you going to Old Government House for the reception?” I asked.

“Yes!” she replied, throwing her bag down in the seat behind me. “Oh, I’m so relieved to find you. I don’t know my way around at all.”

This remarkable lady turned out to be a historian of woman’s history. Fortuitously, she also had an umbrella. We exited the bus at the correct stop and shuffled up the hill to the reception, chatting about the writing life. I was starting to feel as though maybe this day was going to turn out fine.

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I entered the ballroom and gasped. This amazing space with an elaborately-carved ceiling was absolutely PACKED with women. Wait staff circled around, carrying trays of delicious-looking canapes. Conversation and laughter wafted above the group, and as I walked around to scope out the place, I caught snatches of talk about activism and social media and #metoo and diversity.

What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here. Everyone already knows everyone else. Are they judging my dinosaur socks?

I went to the bar, which turned out not to have any alcohol but a selection of strange and wonderful juices. I had a fruity … something … and made a beeline for the first woman who appeared to be standing on her own.

That woman turned out to be Rebecca Kittredge, who among other things was the Secretary of the Cabinet 2008-13, and is now the director of our Special Intelligence Service. She was bright and bubbly and highly intelligent and had led the most interesting life. She asked me a million questions about my books and a few of my nerves started to dissipate. She also gave me the insider tip that Government House makes the best egg sandwiches (can confirm. I had about ten of them).

The Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy, opened the celebrations, which will be continuing for the rest of the year. She highlighted the progress we’ve made toward equality in the past 125 years but reminded us all how far we still have to go. Her speech is available to read online.

Other speakers included Julie Anne Genter, Minister for Women, 2017 Young New Zealander of the Year Rez Gardi. Lizzie Marvelly sang the National Anthem in English and Te Reo.

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Listening to the speeches and doing some of my own reading about suffrage made me both so proud to be a New Zealander and determined that I will contribute my own #suffrage125 project or event. I’m still thinking about what that could be, but I’m starting to put together a few ideas. Stay tuned!

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After the speeches, it was time for the most dreaded part of any event for an introvert – mingling. I walked around the room, trying to find women who looked to be on their own, and breaking the ice by telling the story of how I ended up wearing dinosaur socks. I spoke to so many amazing women who’ve accomplished such incredible things, I couldn’t even list them all.

I started thinking about heading home and felt a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to meet Helen Clark or Dame Patsy. Helen Clark especially is an inspiration of mine. I used to always watch her on TV when I was little, and I loved the way she argued with eloquence and elegance and put other (male) politicians in their place. I always wanted her to be Prime Minister.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Rebecca. “Are you enjoying the reception?” she asked with a smile. I told her yes, very much. She asked if I wanted to meet Dame Patsy. Oh hell, yes.

And then this happened :)

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Here I am with Dame Patsy Reddy (Thanks Rebecca for the photos and the intro!)

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Here I am just chilling with Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of NZ and Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

I went home in a total buzz. What an incredible thing to be invited to and involved in. I have no idea how I ended up on the guest list but thank you thank you thank you! Being surrounded by leaders of the past and present have cemented to me how much I want to be one of the leaders of the future.

No one judged my dinosaur socks.

I’m so proud to be a New Zealand woman. History has shown us that this country of stubborn, troublesome ladies get things done, improve the lives of those around them, and make sure their voices are heard. Standing in this room, surrounded by these remarkable ladies, I feel a tremendous sense of comfort. The future is bright. We’re going to be sweet as. We’ve got this.

Images via the Suffrage125 Facebook page.

Here’s a video from the event from TVNZ.

When I’m not swanning around at amazing events, I write science fiction and paranormal romance novels. My latest book, The Castle of Earth and Embers, is available now in ebook and paperback.