Cat Amongst the Pigeons book launch

Speech to launch Dame Catherine Tizard's memoirs, Government House Auckland
16 Sep 2010


May I welcome everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the evening (Sign).

I then specifically greet you: Dame Catherine Tizard, author, former Governor-General and the reason for us gathering this evening and her family; Nicola Legat, Publishing Director of Random House; Rt Rev and Hon Sir Paul Reeves and Lady Beverley Reeves; Lady June Blundell; Your Worship Len Brown, Mayor of Manukau; Distinguished Guests otherwise, Ladies and Gentlemen.  It is a matter of great pleasure to welcome you here to Government House in Auckland this evening for the launch of Dame Cath’s book “Cat Amongst the Pigeons: A Memoir”. 

My wife Susan is not able to be here.  The Satyanands have a 13 day old new granddaughter and grandmother, mother and granddaughter are this evening in close and necessary proximity.  I will, in a short time, officially launch the book.  Things need - the moreso in your presence Dr Graham Bush - to be transacted “decently and in order” and there is first an invitation to Nicola Legat, the Publishing Director of Random House, to address us.

Launch Speech

I have the privilege of officially launching, and just before I do I would like to speak a little of our guest of honour and her public service.

Dame Catherine is of course, first, a distinguished predecessor as Governor-General from 1990 th to 1996.  She has long been a role model for New Zealand women nationally, as a University teacher, local government participant, Mayor and Governor-General – often as the first person in role.  It is worth noting that it was not until 2008, that the Commonwealth of Australia appointed its first female Governor-General, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce.

Part of Dame Cath’s legacy lies in the way she relates to those around her - both in her public and personal lives.  I have had the pleasure of reading a pre-release copy of the book and did so with anticipation of what I knew would be both entertaining, but a ‘to-the-point’ account of her life, as she would like it told.

And so it has proved to be .  Dame Cath, you have a legendary red blooded approach to life and all that it throws up – a sterling example having occurred on this morning’s Television One’s Breakfast Programme when you answered a question with three words in a way that no one else could ever quite do as effectively.  You said Dame Cath – with pause pitch and precision “Good Lord No!” – which sent your questioner scuttling.

Biographies and memoirs and autobiographies all carry an innate risk.  The well known risk of tedium will not trouble the reader with this book.  Oscar Wilde, the 19th century author and playwright wrote with foresight and wit that:-“Biography lends to death a new terror.”

By getting in first, you may well have avoided that terror, Dame Cath.  By publishing a detailed account of your life, from your own perspective rather than someone else making judgements will stand you in good stead.

There is an excerpt from the book to which I would like to draw attention without spoiling the read on page 217.  Its elements of broken ankle and mistaken identity are deftly dealt with and seem to sum up the humble and humorous way you have with people that underpins your status as one New Zealand’s most loved matriarchs.

It of course refers to the shopping expedition for socks in the store that some call Smith and Caughey.

In a later time I too have broken an ankle, whilst wearing the jersey - on a footpath in Christchurch, and have been referred to in a welcome as the husband of Mrs Baragwanath.  The two incidents were thankfully not related but if they had been, I can only hope that I would have dealt with the predicament in the admirable and funny way that you did!

The book does not contain my own favourite Dame Cath anecdote which I can tell shortly without spoiling anyone’s read of the book.  It relates to the Governor-General of the day being required to consider and assent to legislation passed by the House of Representatives.  Every Governor-General has the spectre of the specially coloured blue copies of the Bills arriving for attention and signature so that they may become an Act of Parliament.  It is a core business activity and it would be a big call to refuse assent, the last recorded instance of refusal having been in the United Kingdom in 1709.  The cover sheet contains a certificate by the Clerk of the House saying that the Bill was passed by a majority of Members present and a certificate from the Attorney-General saying that there is nothing in the law standing against signing and lastly a formal request from the Prime Minister for the Governor-General to provide assent – in the name of the Sovereign.  Well - the story goes that a particular piece of legislation did not appeal to Dame Cath at all.  She asked the question of her responsible official and asked the question of herself and finally said (apparently).  “All right, I will sign my assent, but I will do it in black ink!”  A special bottle was obtained and used for the purpose!

The memoir captures the essence of your rich and extraordinary life, Dame Cath.  An only child of Scottish immigrants, born during the Depression in Auckland, you have served this country in public office positions with integrity, passion and commitment. Even now, you continue to be an active Patron for a number of charitable organisations throughout the country.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer aptly concluded, at the conclusion of your office as Governor-General saying:- “She has been a powerful, yes a presidential public presence. She has been part of New Zealand growing up.” 

I agree entirely with that sentiment.  I want to congratulate you, for your work in sharing your life by way of this memoir and Random House for publishing it. 

It therefore gives me great pleasure to declare Cat Amongst the Pigeons: A Memoir officially launched.  I will launch it by asking you to come forward and to receive this package on which I will cut the ribbon.

And on that note I will close in New Zealand’s first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours.    No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.

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