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Bert Roth Award For 2021

Noel O’Hare is the winner of the 2021 Bert Roth Award for Labour History for his book, Tooth and Veil: The Life and Times of the New Zealand Dental Nurse, Massey University Press, published by Massey University Press.

The award was announced at the Labour History Project AGM on Tuesday 20 July.

Named for the late historian Herbert Roth, the award is presented annually to the work published in the previous calendar year that best depicts the history of work and resistance in New Zealand.

The award was judged this year by Cybèle Locke, Claire-Louise McCurdy, Grace Millar, and Ross Webb

‘On 29 March 1974, nurses from all over the country marched on parliament and won a substantial pay increase. This protest is at the centre of Tooth and Nail, O’Hare’s compelling history of why this event was so important, and what it tells us about the society in which it took place’, the judges found.

‘O’Hare’s use of oral history provides a vivid sense of how little control dental nurses had over their own work, and how their employers surveilled their home life as well to ensure their respectability. O’Hare also provides a sense of how the refusal to treat women workers as professionals and invest in training and equipment, led to worse outcomes for children’s teeth and more pain. The march of 1974 was not just about pay, but about a wider challenge to petty systems of control’.

‘O’Hare draws out the connection between the dental nurses’ strikes and wider changes in 1970s New Zealand society. However, the victory of the dental nurses in 1974, like so many victories of the 1970s, was soon threatened by neo-liberalism. Dental nurses had managed to break through some of the ways their work was devalued because they were women, but rather than being able to use their victory to build the better service they dreamed of, they soon had to fight a rear guard action against cuts’.

‘O’Hare’s work is a compelling account of a single industry, filled with the voices of those who worked in it. By providing such a detailed account of this particular example, he sheds light on wider struggles and changes in New Zealand society’.

Runner Up

Mark Derby, Rock College: An Unofficial history of Mt Eden Prison, Massey University Press, 2020.

Short List

Melani Anae, The Platform: The Radical Legacy of the Polynesian Panthers, Bridget Williams Books, 2020.

Delwyn Blondell, ‘“A Bright Eye to the Main Chance”: Brogdens’ Navvies – British Labourers Building New Zealand’s Railways’, MA Thesis, Massey University, 2020.

Jared Davidson, ‘The History of a Riot: Class, Popular Protest and Violence in Early Colonial Nelson’, Labour History Project, 2020.

Will Hansen ‘“Every Bloody Right To Be Here”: Trans Resistance in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1967 – 1989’, MA Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington.

Jim McAloon, ‘Raw Material Drawn from the Remotest Zones’: Aotearoa/New Zealand and Capitalism’s Pacific Frontier, 1770s-1830, New Zealand Journal of History, 54, 2, 2020.

Matt Morris, Common Ground: Garden Histories of Aotearoa, Otago University Press, 2020

Elizabeth Orr, Pay Packets and Stone Walls: A Memoir of Women’s Causes and Love of the Land, Steele Roberts, 2020.

Helen Peters: ‘Going up North: Unmarried Mothers and the New Zealand State, 1950-1980’, MA Thesis, Massey University, 2020.

Oliver Sutherland, Justice & Race: Campaigns against Racism and Abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand, Steele Roberts, 2020.

Margaret Tennant, Geoff Watson, Kerry Taylor, City at the Centre: A History of Palmerston North, Massey University Press, 2020.

Past Winners:


Winner: Jared Davidson, Dead Letters: Censorship and subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920, Otago, 2019.

Runner-up: Tony Sutorius, Director, Helen Kelly – Together, 2019.


Winner: David Haines and Jonathan West, ‘Crew Cultures in the Tasman World’ in Francis Steele, ed., New Zealand and the Sea: Historical Perspectives, Bridget Williams Books.

Runner-up: Caren Wilton, My Body My Business: NZ Sex Workers in an Era of Change, Otago University Press.


Winner: Helen McNeil, A Striking Truth, Cloud Ink Press.

Runner-up: Renée, These Two Hands: a memoir


Winner: Tearepa Kahi, Director, Poi E: The Story of our Song


Winner: Melissa Williams, Panguru and the city: Kāinga Tahi, Kāinga Rua: An urban migration history, Bridget Williams Books.


Winner: Nicholas Hoare ‘Imperial Dissenters: Anti-Colonial Voices in New Zealand, 1883-1945’, MA, Victoria University of Wellington.


Inaugural Winner: Rebecca Macfie, Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and why 29 Men Died, Awa Press.

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