Story: Awards and prizes

Achievement and excellence in the arts and sciences are recognised by a range of awards and prizes. Internationally, New Zealanders have won Nobel and Booker prizes.

Story by Mark Derby
Main image: bro'Town crew, Air New Zealand Screen Awards, 2006

Story summary

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Awards and prizes recognise and reward excellence, and can provide financial support to artists and scientists.

Early literary awards

Until the mid-20th century contests run by newspapers and magazines were almost the only source of prizes for writers. The Labour government elected in 1935 supported cultural activities. The centennial commemorations in 1940 included prizes for literature.

The writers’ organisation PEN NZ established an annual poetry award in 1940 and an annual prose award in 1945. The Esther Glen Award for children’s literature also began in 1945.

Later literary awards

From 1959 the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Award, sponsored by the Bank of New Zealand, was awarded for a short story.

The Sir James Wattie Award was set up in 1968. It expanded and became the Goodman Fielder Wattie Awards, and then the Montana Book Awards.

From 1976 the government presented annual New Zealand Book Awards for fiction, non-fiction and poetry. From 2016 these were the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and covered a wider range of categories.

From 2003 the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement were awarded annually to writers who had made a significant contribution in the genres of non-fiction, poetry and fiction.

Fellowships included the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University and the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, which allows a writer to live in Menton, France.

Other arts awards

Awards were introduced for other arts from the late 1950s.

  • From 1956 to 1970 the Kelliher Art Prize was awarded for a realistic landscape painting.
  • The annual Wallace Art Awards began in 1992.
  • The Mobil Song Quest began in 1956. People went to their local radio station and were broadcast singing. The competition later focused on opera.
  • The first awards for recorded music were the Loxene Golden Disc Awards, from 1965.

Media and film awards

The National TV Awards were held in 1965 and 1966 to promote training. From 1970 to 1985 the New Zealand Feltex Awards covered film and television.

The annual Qantas Press Awards began in 1974. By 2020 they were the Voyager Media Awards. The New Zealand Radio Awards were first held in 1978.

Science awards

The Royal Society Te Apārangi administers a range of funds, medals and awards for science. The Prime Minister’s Science Prize has been awarded since 2009.

General and international awards

Since 1948 Fulbright fellowships have allowed New Zealanders to study or teach in the US.

Since 1997 the Artists to Antarctica Programme has sponsored artists to visit and work in Antarctica.

New Zealanders have also won international awards. Writers Keri Hulme (1985) and Eleanor Catton (2013) won the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction. Scientists Ernest Rutherford (1908), Maurice Wilkins (1962) and Alan MacDiarmid (2000) received Nobel prizes.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Awards and prizes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 October 2014, updated 1 April 2020