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Pacific book award recognises achievement

Tuesday 17 September 2019 4:38pm

(From left) 2018 Heilala Book Prize recipient Lydie Leurquin, Pacific Island Centre Community Liaison Officer Christine Anesone, 2019 recipient Shani McMullan, Dr Claire Matthewson and Languages and Cultures French programme teaching fellow Dr Christiane Leurquin.

The Heilala Book Prize in Humanities was presented to Shani McMullan at the Dunedin campus last week.

Shani said she was “very humbled” to receive the prize, which recognises the highest-achieving Pacific woman taking 200-level Division of Humanities papers.

When receiving the award the French, Politics and Law student also thanked the Pacific Island Centre for its support.

“The Centre’s staff provide incredibly helpful tutorials, and also provide a family community for me while I'm away from home. There aren't many Pacific Islanders in law, and this support, particularly as a first-year, goes a very long way.”

Dr Matthewson, Shani McMullan and Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Ballantyne.

Shani says this sense of community also carries over into her French studies.

“I am really enjoying my studies here at Otago, and French in particular is something I really love and am passionate about – coming here I was surprised by the size and accessibility of the French community in Dunedin and how supportive it is.”

The Heilala Book Prize was established by the family of Dr Claire Matthewson and was awarded for the first time in 2017.

“The award was a present to me from my children for my 70th birthday because they asked ‘what’s important to mum?’. They knew I had been involved with the University of the South Pacific and had worked to support the cause of young women and feminism in the region. While the prize is a modest one I’m very pleased it recognises the splendid achievements of these wonderful students, and it might be a small item to add to their CV.”

Dr Matthewson chose the name “Heilala” for the award because it is evocative of the vibrant flower of the same name, which is “full of colour and fragrance, and which often appears on lay at ceremonies because it is something special.”

Dr Matthewson's career at Otago began in 1980 with a job as senior tutor in the English department. In 1984, she was appointed programme officer and the first staff member in what later became the University's sizeable distance teaching unit. She subsequently headed that unit and served as assistant director for University Extension. She retired from her role as Director of Otago’s Summer School programme in 2011.

Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Ballantyne thanked the Matthewson family for their continued support of the Prize, which contributes to the Division's goals of supporting Pacific student achievement in a range of disciplines.