Georgina Kirby was born in Horohoro, near Rotorua, and was educated at Horohoro Māori School, Rotorua High School and Auckland University. She worked as a junior assistant teacher at Whakarewarewa School from 1953-54, was a toll operator from 1955-56, and was a training officer from 1956-63 with the New Zealand Post Office. From 1964-66, she was a receptionist in Orewa. She also ran a superette in Mt Eden and a coffee house in Queen Street, Auckland, for nine years with her husband, Brian Kirby. In 1977 she studied Art Administration and Training with the National Arts School in Papua New Guinea and the Aboriginal Arts Board in Sydney, Australia. She has been a member of the Māori Women’s Welfare League since 1976 and was National President from As a Trustee of the Māori Women’s Welfare League, she formed the first Te Kohanga National trust with Sir Graham Latimer and Sir John Bennett. From 1983-86, she was appointed Commissioner of New Zealand at the World Expo. In 1984, Kirby launched the Rapuora Māori Women’s Health Survey. In the following year she established Whare Rapuora Health and Wellness Clinics throughout New Zealand. She was founder and has been Director Trustee of the Māori Women’s Development Fund since 1987. In 1988 Kirby managed a Māori Housing Survey in Auckland and coordinated a Māori Housing Programme with Tamaki Makaurau Māori Women’s Welfare League in 1989. In 1992 she initiated the economic base for Auckland Māori Women’s Welfare League Region and was Māori Women Trade Delegate to Hawaii. In 1993, Kirby introduced the concept gender representation in Parliament; the paper was prepared with Marilyn Waring and Jocelyn Fish. In the same year she presented a submission on gender representation to Parliament. Kirby has conducted numerous seminars and courses on economics and Māori women’s development, as well as organising conferences and helping to establish economic bases for Māori women’s initiatives.
Kirby has had an active role in the arts. She was National Secretary of the NZ Māori Artists and Writers’ Society (Nga Puna Waihanga) from 1973-84. In 1984 she launched the Women’s Aboriginal Arts Festival in Adelaide, Australia, and in 1987 was the Director of the Commonwealth Festival of Arts, in Auckland. She was the Curator for the Contemporary Māori Art Exhibit, was Guest Speaker for the South Pacific Environment Week, and was Guest of the Great London Fund for the Blind at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1988. In 1990 she was the Managing Director of Te Koanga Festival in Auckland. In the following year, she helped establish Te Taumata Art Gallery in Auckland. In 1992 she was a delegate at the Māori Art Exhibition launched in San Diego U.S.A, and in the same year was a Trustee for the Te Manuka Film Trust in Wellington.
She has represented New Zealand and presented papers on women’s issues and indigenous issues at many overseas conferences. As a representative of New Zealand, she was an official at the 1984 ESCAP Regional Conference in Japan, the UN Indigenous Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Multi Regional Beyond Nairobi Project. She was one of twelve International Women on an eight-week tour of eighteen States in U.S.A. She participated in the UN “End of Women’s Decade Conference” in Nairobi in 1985. In 1986 she was a New Zealand representative at the Commonwealth Symposium and chaired the South Pacific Regional Liaison Unit in Apia, Samoa. From 1990-1995 Kirby was Māori Women’s Welfare League Māori Netball Delegate to Hawaii, South Pacific, Australia and England.
Kirby is a Trustee of many organisations including the Māori Education Fund, Te Kohanga Reo National Trust, and NZ Women’s Refuge Foundation. As a member of the Māori Affairs Board, Kirby has been Secretary of Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Tamaki Association Auckland (1976), Chairperson of Tu Tangata Whanau Committee, Auckland (1980), New Zealand Representative at the Indigenous Conference in Canberra, Australia (1981), Chairperson of the Tamaki Core Management in Auckland (1982), New Zealand Representative at the Indigenous Conference in Oregon U.S.A. (1984), Chairperson Ngāti Kahungunu Runanga, Auckland, Member of the Monitoring Group Bill of Rights, and Chairperson of the Māori Caucus on Family Violence in Wellington (1987).
Her church involvements have included being President of the Young Wives Group of St Chads Anglican church in Orewa (1963), membership of the Mothers’ Union Northern Region, and member of the Holy Sepulchre Church Tatai Hono Marae in Auckland (1976-1992). In 1995 she established and was a patron of Toi Māori Manukau in South Auckland.
In 1981 Kirby was appointed a JP and was awarded the QSO in 1989. She received the 1990 Commemoration Medal. In 1994 she was awarded DBE (Dameship of the British Empire). She is recognised Te Kahurangi by Manuatai Marae Nuhaka and Te Kahurangi by Rongomaipapa Marae Rotorua. Kirby has provided some of the annotations below which can be found in quotation.
- Correspondence from Dame Georgina Kirby 10 Sept. 1998.
- "Georgina Kirby." Māori Sovereignty: The Māori Perspective. Hineani Melbourne. Auckland, N.Z.: Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995. 71-72.
- Who’s Who in New Zealand. Twelfth Ed. Ed. Max Lambert. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1991. 346-347.