There’s nothing much in fronting radio or television shows that Stacey Morrison can’t do. Or hasn’t done. And that’s in Māori as well as in English. As a presenter, host, co-host, interviewer, interviewee, compere, commentator. From kids’ shows all the way through to heavy-duty current affairs. It’s been a sparkling and accomplished display of warmth and brains and versatility for well over 20 years.
Here she talks with a broadcasting colleague and admirer, Dale Husband.
Kia ora, Stacey. These days we all know you as Stacey Morrison. But perhaps there’s a Māori name somewhere in the middle.
Yes. There is. I’m Stacey Larissa Pirihira Morrison. I was named after one of my taua from Ngāi Tahu. But I don’t want to sound sort of born again and make everyone use my Māori name. If they want to call me Pirihira, though, that’s fine.
Okay, Pirihira. Let’s hear a little more about the origins of that name.
Well, my koroua, my pōua, Monty Daniels, was a whāngai. He was actually a Robinson. And that’s why I’m close cousins with Melodie Robinson and Piri Weepu. We’re all Robinsons basically, but my pōua was adopted by James Daniels whose first wife was Pirihira, from the Robinson line. Then he married again, to Hilda, who became a stepmother to Monty.
We feel like we’ve all known you since you were a kid because, in a sense, you’ve grown up in public, in broadcasting. Any regrets about that?
Once my dad got into radio, that was part of my life. It’s something I’ve been tuned to since I was a child because my father had this public role. He went into broadcasting just before I went to school. He was a Radio New Zealand intern, so we moved from Christchurch to Timaru — and my first school was Waimataitai Primary when I was five. Then we went to Blenheim, all for his internship.
My dad was part of that heyday of radio, so a lot of people still see me as James Daniels’ daughter. That was a significant time for him and Ken Ellis (his morning co-host on 3ZM and then More FM). They were big personalities. So there’s an element of a public profile being normal for me. And then I ended up marrying Scotty who has a public profile too.
But it’s not a major. Perhaps I have more people talking to me because they feel like they know me and I feel like I know them. But there are circles where people might know us and others where they don’t know me at all.
I guess that, almost by osmosis, you would’ve picked up your dad’s strong communications skills. He was such a prominent and successful broadcaster in Ōtautahi.
I think that what you’re exposed to as tamariki becomes part of your perception of what’s possible and what’s natural in your world. As a child, I’d go into my dad’s workplace and there were people like Mike McRoberts and Steve Parr and Simon Barnett. And they were just people. That was all part of my existence and I felt like I was fine in that world.
So, as for feeling I could participate, my dad definitely opened that door in my mind. But perhaps there was a whānau trait in me anyway. Ward Kamo has written a story where he said that when my pōua, Monty Daniels, used to do a whaikōrero it was more like a stand-up comedy routine.
And there’s definitely something in my family, as communicators and orators, that goes back to before my pōua as well. My kuia is not one to sit back either.
Your grandad Monty was a really significant identity. I wonder what other impact he had on you.
He had a number of interesting characteristics — including being slightly cantankerous. There was a staunch, stroppy aspect to him that I see in others, and I love it. It’s not a sweet, Hallmark card version of a koroua Māori, but I love it for that reason. People have said to me: “Oh, your pōua, he should’ve been a Māori All Black but he just couldn’t hold his temper.”
But he had a social conscience. He was an iwi man. And, as he was lying at his tangi in Rotorua last year, I was thinking about what he and others did for the Ngāi Tahu claim 20 years ago this year.
Their work was never about their own benefit. It was for our iwi, for our descendants. And so I hope that I can emulate that aspect of his social conscience and be someone who can help our people thrive.
I really respect not only my pōua’s mahi, but also the work of those who went before him. It was a big road for Ngāi Tahu. And then there was the change of hands once the settlement was made — a change in the corporate structures since then. It’s not a linear process. It’s a process that has its mamae and controversy. But I understand my pōua’s role and I can relate to it, for sure.
Tell us a bit more about your wāhine lines. What about your mum and your nana and the influence of these wāhine on the sort of person you’ve become.
I should mention my kuia from Te Arawa, Katerina Daniels. Scotty says he sees a lot of her in me. You might want to take that up with him. And I’ve seen, occasionally in my actions, that I do have some of her characteristics.
But my mother was Sue Walmsley. Her whānau came out from England in the 1950s. So we’re only second generation Pākehā on my mum’s side. And she was only 17 when she gave birth to me. I wasn’t planned. Dad was 18. They broke up when I was eight, so she ended up being a single mother for quite a lot of my childhood.
My mum is very much my moral compass and, I guess, my hero. To have lost her 15 years ago, when she was only 45, was a huge thing in my life. And, because of who she was, I’ve worked with the Breast Cancer Foundation since then because I have a sense of responsibility that she instilled in me — that, if I can help one whānau avoid that, then I should.
We know of at least one woman, a 32-year-old, who read an article that Tash (my sister) and I did, and then checked herself. And she discovered she did have breast cancer and is alive as a result of that early treatment.
When you talk about having a public life, to make sense of it, you have to utilise the opportunity and responsibility that you have. And definitely, as a Māori broadcaster, you have more responsibility than when you’re just yourself and not representing your people.
You’ve mentioned the performing genes you’ve inherited from your dad’s side. But what about the influences through your mum?
Well, my mum’s dad was also a performer. He played the ukulele. And it was actually through my Pākehā grandparents from England getting into kapa haka that my parents met. I don’t think they expected that I’d be the outcome.
That was in New Brighton, Christchurch. My grandfather, Frank Walmsley, performed in amateur theatre. He loves that kind of thing. My nana, Joyce, was a dynamic woman who could do everything — including sewing and weaving. On my wedding day, I was presented, by my grandfather, with a korowai that she’d made that I never knew existed. So, I’m the kaitiaki for that for our whānau.
And this is my English grandmother who came over from London. So they obviously felt this attraction and love for waiata Māori. They used to tour around with our whānau, which Dad says he finds quite embarrassing now when he thinks about it. He says: “Who did we think we were? We were hardly the crème de la crème of haka.” I think it was called Te Waipounamu Māori Club. But that’s how my parents met.
Of course, when you lose your mum — and her still so young — it’s like your world collapses. What helped you to come out of the darkness?
I wasn’t in a very good place after that. A lot of my friends are just losing their parents now, and I see them understanding that it’s the end of a chapter in your life when your parents die. But one thing I’m grateful for is the empathy that was born of having that experience.
Even though it was hard, I’m grateful for that experience and I know that Mum would be proud of how we stuck together as a whānau and how we’ve rolled with everything that came with nursing someone who was desperately sick. I couldn’t ask her to stay anymore. She was just too ill. It was horrific to watch. And, when you love someone, you can’t ask them to stay in pain.
I have a sense of peace that I did what I wanted, and needed to do, for my mum. And what she did for me. I still feel her wairua. I felt it on our wedding day. She woke me up and she kissed me and the whole day was this golden light. So I know that my mum’s okay. She had a short life — but a happy life.
Not to say that she did everything perfectly. Not to say that she had the whole white picket fence life at all. But she was really quite unforgettable. I still get people saying: “Your mum was so beautiful. She was a person who touched my life.”
Getting through that? I just had to mature. I had to find out what really mattered in my life. Luckily, maybe three years later, I got together with Scotty.
I’d felt the pain. I’d felt my world falling apart. I’d wanted to know how the world could keep turning when mum was gone. That’s how big it was for me.
But it’s good to know you can get through things like that. People do. And you build empathy for others and an understanding of the breadth of life when you experience things like that.
I imagine that, in the course of an exceptionally busy life like yours, you’ve had a hand from all sorts of teachers and mentors.
We’re really a family of teachers. Both Scotty and I have a lot of teachers in our whānau. Both my grandparents were teachers. And, at heart, we’re actually teachers, which helps our work in broadcasting, because teachers take information, make it digestible and pass it on. And that’s what broadcasting does, too.
I’ve been lucky to have had teachers who’ve been strong influences for me. Like Phil Harding, when I was at intermediate, and David Chambers, who was our drama teacher at Aranui High School. That’s why I got my first job at What Now?, the kids’ programme.
And then there’s been Hinewehi Mohi, one of my best friends and a mentor. She’s shown me how Māori women can be an influence with the power to draw lines in the sand and make a stand, but in a feminine, beautiful way. In terms of the reo, our mentors have been Wharehuia Milroy, Pou Temara and Timoti Karetu. They’re not only mentors, but father figures too.
But I’m especially proud of having a lot of strong women in my life. I’m a girls’ girl more than anything and my relationship with my sisters is extremely close. I adore women. I adore the company of women and I think I’m really good at choosing beautiful friends who’re more like sisters. They’re important to me and I spend time, thought and effort on my friends — they’re a great source of sustenance for me. And they reflect the world back to me how I want to see it.
It’s not a matter of excluding men, but I think it’s important that, as a sisterhood, we support each other with our shared experiences.
Thanks very much, Stacey. Now let’s glance back to your early days in broadcasting.
Well, I started when I was still at high school by making it into What Now? Then, I followed that up after I’d done a year’s study in Japan as an exchange student. I wanted to work in TV rather than go to varsity. That’s when I learned to hustle. And that’s what you need to do in broadcasting. You need to be good at networking and good at hustling.
I wasn’t aware of the Japanese experience — how did that influence you?
Japanese brought me to te reo Māori. Here I was learning someone else’s language and not being able to speak my own. I didn’t feel good about that. So I wrote a letter to my kuia and told her that, when I came home, I was going to learn te reo. And I did. So Japan was a huge influence.
There are similarities in the languages and, strangely enough, once you build language pathways, it’s easier to get more languages on board. People who are trilingual, quad-lingual and more can see the shortcuts to take. So it’s helped my acquisition of Māori for sure.
Soon after, you ended up on Mai FM and Mai Time. They were very important vehicles in those days. How important do you rate them in developing a rangatahi pride?
At the time, we were often told we were too American. I think those criticisms were valid and it’s still important that we’re not devaluing our culture and becoming too much like someone else. But to be entertaining, you can’t be too heavy. And sometimes, we get a bit like that. Rangatahi want to have fun. So you have to make it engaging for them — as well as seeing that, in a sense, they’re eating their veges too.
It’s important that we learn to express ourselves in all sorts of artistic formats. Our tūpuna have always done that. Very adaptive. Very quick to take on board what will work for them.
I don’t think we’ve quite unlocked the value of expression of our wairua Māori and how that relates to our entire wellbeing. To me, they’re completely related. If you can express your intrinsically Māori idiosyncrasies, that’s us acting as our best selves. And when we stop any of that, or we can’t reflect ourselves or see ourselves in different forms of media or art expression, I think it’s stunting our growth.
I see that in my kids’ kapa haka — it lets them really express who they are. There’s just these little moments of tuakiri Māori, real Māori identification. If they don’t express it, they’ll know that there’s something that they can’t quite do. They feel it, but they can’t express it.
I believe that Māori language gave me a means to express feelings I almost didn’t know I had. It’s like opening up a creative highway, but also a spiritual channel of expression. And I love seeing our people do that. When they’re on point, there’s only one type of person in the world who would express it that way — and it’s Māori.
You’re a very strong advocate for the reo. Inspiring too. Many of us sense that Stacey didn’t used to have that confidence. But now she does. And, if she can, we can. You’ve really grown in confidence, haven’t you?
I talk to people about how my experience is that learning the reo isn’t just an academic procedure. It’s emotional and spiritual as well. It’s very hard when you want something that is part of you and you can’t just acquire it. It feels like hearing the reo from behind a really heavy, closed door, but you can’t open that door and it’s so frustrating.
The mamae comes from that situation. You see that in our people and, of course, sometimes they just give up. I completely understand why. So I think that we need to approach the reo with aroha, in a similar way to broadcasting, and make it fun. Make it engaging and make it relevant. Or else there is no point.
I have this analogy that the reo is like me he maunga teitei. Never bow down except to the loftiest mountain. But I think the reo is more like skiing down a mountain. When you first start trying to ski, you go: My gosh. How could this be so difficult? It’s so hard. It feels weird. And there are little kids skiing past me. Beautifully. I hate this. I’m cold. I thought I’d be able to do this. But I’m useless. I hate being useless. And it’s embarrassing. Maybe I’ll just take my skis off and walk away. I don’t need to do this. Who cares anyway?
But the thing is that, if you do stick at it, you start getting some momentum. And soon you’ll be able to ski a little bit. It’s not pretty. But you can actually move. Then it gets easier. And starts to become fun.
It’s just tough that we have to work so hard for something that should’ve been our birthright. And that’s what I want to do for our tamariki. It’s to give them their birthright. Give them their mother tongue. And I want to support other mothers in other whānau to do that.
Scotty and I have a new book Māori At Home coming out next month, and that’s an up-and-go survival guide for whānau who want to use the reo at home, because that‘s really the life force of our reo. It’s te reo ūkaipō — the language that’ll bring us comfort when we feel like we’re coming home. I want our kids to know that the reo is their home as well.
No doubt motherhood has changed you. Or has it? There you and Scotty are with three beautiful kids. So perhaps they’ve rearranged your priorities for you.
They’ve changed everything. They are our inspiration and our motivation. The kids have had a completely different childhood from mine because we didn’t want them having to spend years learning their own reo. Scotty was a fluent speaker already. I was probably an intermediate speaker. But you couldn’t have told me 11 years ago that we’d be able to do this, to bring them up in the reo.
It’s been hard. But what we’ve been able to do is create what started as a playgroup, with Māori for grown-ups. From that, we built more communities around supporting people who want to speak Māori at home. My kids being able to express who they are, both as Māori and Pākehā, is extremely important to me.
And, even though I was more tired than I’d ever been in my whole life, that’s why I’d search for those words and ensure that I gave them a quality of language. Scotty and I both agreed to do this. We’ve been united in this vision that we have, not only for our whānau, but for other whānau as well. It means that our relationship can transverse all these different whakaaro. Different ways of expressing who we are.
I’m not saying that we agree on all aspects of parenting, like him on sugar and spoiling our children. But we have these core values that work together and that’s a very important thing for a relationship.
And we believe that the reo has a real transformative power — which is why I want to encourage people to be part of it. I know it’s enriching because I’ve experienced it. It’s not about this being an elite thing. It’s about how this can enrich your life, your whānau, and how you can express who you truly are as a Māori, as a New Zealander.
Finally, as well as juggling a host of radio, TV, reo, health and family commitments, you’re also lending a hand to the Mana Trust as a trustee, so that this e-Tangata website can grow and flourish. What’s prompted that commitment from you?
It’s really important that we have a quality, authentic voice about our experiences as Māori and Pacific. In the media, we don’t always have that because it’s not what sells. I know what drives the media financially. I’ve been around too long to be naive about that. It’s often just fluff.
But we need a clarity and an independence of voice. That’s what e-Tangata delivers. And it tells stories that we don’t hear elsewhere. It’s a valuable option and that’s why I’m involved.
Stacey Morrison (Ngāi Tahu, Te Arawa and Pākehā) was born in Christchurch and has been a broadcaster, working in TV and radio, for more than half her life.
She got her start on the children’s television programme What Now? when she was still at Aranui High School. Since then, Stacey has worked in front of and behind the camera — as a presenter, host and producer, on a range of shows — including Mai Time, In Focus, Marae Test the Nation, Celebrity Treasure Island, Showstoppers, Let’s Cook, Sportscafe, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, and It’s in the Bag.
Her most recent TV credit is Whānau Living, which includes the whole Morrison family on screen, offering lifestyle ideas and projects, all while speaking te reo Māori.
Stacey is currently the co-host of the drive show on The Hits. She's also worked on Mai FM and Flava.
In 2016, Stacey won Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori’s special champion award for her advocacy of te reo Māori. She co-founded the community group Māori 4 Grown Ups with her husband Scotty, and together they’ve authored a new book, Māori at Home, which is being launched next month. Both are graduates of Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori Centre for Māori Language Excellence. They live in Auckland with their children Hawaiki, Kurawaka and Maiana.
Stacey has been a rape crisis volunteer, trustee of the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, a two-term representative on the NZ Family Planning council, and a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive health in Aotearoa.
She's now an ambassador for the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation and Water Safety New Zealand, and has just joined the Spark Foundation.
Stacey is also a trustee of the Mana Trust, which runs e-Tangata.