Go Girl

Go Girl

In Dunedin, for the first time, Farah saw a women’s rugby team. Could she try that? She was fairly small for a rugby player. But Farah simply had to give it a go.

By Barbara Else

The following excerpts from Go Girl by award-winning children’s author Barbara Else, introduce three inspirational New Zealand women who strove for their goals, weren’t afraid to step-up or speak-out, and blazed a trail for others to follow. 

These stories (plus many more in the book) offer a powerful and positive message for Kiwi girls about successful women who’ve achieved in a range of pursuits. Some are household names; others will be a wonderful discovery for many readers.

Every girl can have an awesome story. Reach high and go, girl!

Margaret Mahy


1936 – 2012:  Born in Whakatane, New Zealand

Her powers were revealed
— she could write stories
that carried readers to
fantastical worlds.

Once upon a time a baby with mysterious powers was born in Whakatāne. Her name was Margaret. It was some years before her powers were revealed – she could write stories that carried readers to fantastical worlds.

When she was little, Margaret wanted stories to be true so badly that she tried to convince other children that she spoke the languages of animals.

Although she wanted to be a writer, she thought it would never earn much money. She had better make a living at something else. First, she tried nursing. She tried hard. But it didn’t suit.

So she went to university while she thought about what to do next, and loved learning about philosophy and folk tales.

At last Margaret decided the best thing would be to get a job with books. She became a librarian. Margaret saw everything as an adventure. For example, she said that librarians dance on a ridge – on one side there is order, on the other lies chaos.

She never married, but had two little girls. After a busy day at the library, she’d race home to cook for her daughters. She fed the dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and whatever else was around at the time. Then she tucked her girls into bed.

Finally, she could rush to her desk. There, until late at night, Margaret wove her word-enchantments.

An American publisher saw some of Margaret’s stories from the School Journal. Like a fairy godmother with money rather than magic, the publisher flew to New Zealand to examine everything Margaret had written. “The Lion in the Meadow! And this one, and these, must be published as books,” she declared.

Margaret’s first picture books made her famous almost at once. Her first two novels each won the Carnegie Medal. But it was still a while before Margaret could afford to spend all her time writing tales of adventure and fun for children from toddlers to teenagers.

Still, she won prize after prize all over the world. The list is so long it would never fit on a page, unless the print was so small that even a mouse would have to squint.

Farah Palmer

Rugby player

Born 1972 in Te Kuiti:  Ngati Waiora, Ngati Maniopoto, Ngati Mahuta ki te hauauru and Waikato

Just give it a go.
Aspire to whatever
you choose.

There once was a girl called Farah who was brought up in the King Country town of Piopio.

Farah loved trying stuff out. Say something new, and she was in there. Tap dancing? She didn’t know if she’d be much good, but she’d give it a go. A school choir? There was Farah. A play? For sure, that might be fun. She was into athletics, swimming and netball. She never gave up, and was always encouraging her friends and team mates to be the best they could be.

When Farah was ready to leave school, she heard about scholarships to study Physical Education at Otago University. It was a long way from Piopio. No one in Farah’s family had ever been to university. Could she try?

She was nervous. But she gave it a go. There, she found friends and other people to support her. And studying sport was fun.

In Dunedin, for the first time, she saw a women’s rugby team. Could she try that? She was fairly small for a rugby player. But Farah simply had to give it a go.

And what a great game it turned out to be for teamwork, women working together. In a very short time, Farah was made captain.

Only five years later she became captain of the Black Ferns, the New Zealand women’s rugby team. Three times she led them to World Cup victory.

Farah was still studying hard at university. She did so well that the professor asked if she’d like to go on studying, for a higher and harder degree.

Say something new and Farah was in there. She began studying how sport can change society, and gained her PhD.

She was named International Women’s Personality of the Year by the International Rugby Board. She was listed in the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame. But for Farah, her rugby success was about the other women, not about her. It was all teamwork. 

As for her success with her studies – Farah did that on her own. She encourages other women and girls: Just give it a go. Aspire to whatever you choose. 

illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Kate Edger


1857–1935:  Born in England; immigrated to New Zealand in 1862

She was also presented with a
white camellia, a sign of her
‘unpretending excellence’ —
which probably meant she made
no fuss about being so clever.

She was small and quiet with her eyes downcast. She was Kate Edger, the first girl to attend Auckland College and Grammar School.

In two other New Zealand cities and other parts of the world, girls already had their own secondary schools.

But it hadn’t happened yet in Auckland in the 1870s. Many people worried that too much education would harm a woman’s brain. But Kate’s father and mother wanted good teaching for their clever child, so they persuaded the headmaster to accept Kate into the boys’ school. He found she was so intelligent that he placed her in the top class.

But he told her to keep her eyes down and stay quiet. 

Kate was determined to keep studying after secondary school. But it was the same situation — in other parts of the world and even New Zealand, women were attending university, but not in Auckland in the 1870s.

She wrote to the chancellor of the university, gave her school marks and applied for a scholarship. She left out the fact that she was a girl.

If the chancellor knew Kate wasn’t a boy, he didn’t want any fuss. He accepted her application.

Kate might have been small and quiet, but no one could doubt her determination. She became the first woman in New Zealand – in fact the first woman in the British Empire – to gain the degree of Bachelor of Arts. She was also presented with a white camellia, a sign of her ‘unpretending excellence’ – which probably meant she made no fuss about being so clever.

Kate became the first principal of Nelson College for Girls.

The headmaster of the Nelson boys’ school muttered, “Hrmph, a school for girls? That’s not likely to last. Too many people believe the most noble area for women to work is in the home.”

But in its very first year, Nelson Girls ended up with more pupils than the boys’ school.

Kate did a lot of the teaching herself: English grammar, literature, science, mathematics, Latin, geography and singing.

“Louder,” Kate cried. “Sing your hearts out!”

She also taught exercise drills and club swinging.

“Swing those clubs!” shouted Kate. 

“Stand tall, girls – and keep your eyes up!”

Extracted from Go Girl by Barbara Else, published by Penguin Random House NZ,
RRP: $45.00. Text © Barbara Else, 2018.