New Zealand Law Society - Mould-breaking school rebel has Olympic rugby goal

Mould-breaking school rebel has Olympic rugby goal

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Azania Watene playing rugby
Azania Watene playing rugby

By Jock Anderson 

Azania Olwyn Rangikea Te Au Mihi (Azania) Watene
Benneydale, Waikato. 
Entry to law
Graduated LLB Waikato University 2012. Admitted 2013. 
Dawson Harford & Partners, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Commercial, corporate governance, IP and Treaty of Waitangi related.

Determined teenager Azania Watene made up her mind at 16 she was not going to follow in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great grandmother – by being pregnant at 17.

As the only seventh former on the Piopio school bus – most of her family and friends having dropped out and joined the meat works – the independent-minded girl from Benneydale, on Highway 30 between Te Kuiti and Mangakino in the Waikato, set her sights higher.

“I believed if I didn’t do something I would get pregnant and there was nothing I could do to stop it. It’s what you did down home.

“As a rebel at school I hung out with the staunch cool kids, but still did my school work and got on with the teachers.

“I spoke out at school over cutting the school bus service and that’s what made me decide to be a lawyer.”

Azania left home at 17 and headed to Auckland where she worked for a couple of years to save some money before starting part-time law studies at Auckland University in 2005. “At 19 I had all the control in the world, I had not had any children and I did want to be in any rush.”

She is now eight months into her first job as a solicitor with specialist commercial, technology and finance firm Dawson Harford & Partners, in Auckland, after being hired by partner Graham Harford when she applied for a job by phone while on holiday in Australia.

So far she has worked mainly with Graham, Chris Linton and Simon Stokes predominantly in commercial, corporate governance and intellectual property areas.

“She has a determination, sincerity and fire that was immediately obvious and she’s not a Remuera princess. I think she is going to do well,” Graham says.

Her determination and grit on the sports field – her initial playing weight before bulking up a bit was 49kg - resulted in Azania being recently named in the New Zealand women’s rugby sevens squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

After taking up rugby seriously with the Waitakere club, getting second top try scorer and player of the year, she came home from a couple of years working in London – including temping for law firm DLA Piper - in the wake of the 2007 Rugby World Cup determined to give rugby a good go.

Her rugby playing began in Waikato – her younger brothers weren’t interested in playing - but with limited opportunities for women’s competition and insufficient support she switched to College Rifles club in Auckland before settling with Manurewa and making the Counties Manukau NPC team.

She was in the Go4Gold squad in 2012 and has received a lot of support from Counties Manukau.

“I play fullback and wing for Manurewa, wing and halfback for Counties and first receiver and sweeper for sevens. For a chance at the Olympic team I will be sticking with sweeper.

“I’ve told them at work I will be putting a lot more time and effort to make the New Zealand team.”

That means more training.

“I get up at 4:30am, training by myself. It’s gym in mornings so it’s out of the way and I always get to work early.

“There’s team training two evenings a week and three nights working on skills and fitness. If there’s nothing on at the weekend, I do another three trainings a day.”

After missing out on national selection in 2013 Azania went on holiday to Australia where her boyfriend was working in the West Australian mines, before finding her current job on Seek.

Before joining Dawson Harford & Partners, Azania – who affiliates to Waikato Tainui - interned with Hamilton lawyer Brian Nabbs and worked for Tainui Group Holdings in its graduate programme.

“I’d like to be seen as someone who is a good lawyer for doing a job well – a genuine good reason. And to be available for people who need me.

“I’m well connected for all the wrong reasons on the social justice side. My family have had run-ins with criminal and family law, with something always going on in the courts. I wanted to avoid that.

“I think in the future I will do more general law, including Maori work with some family and criminal law as well.

“It’s important to have courage and dreams and the courage to fight for those dreams. As soon as you feel like giving up you push a little bit harder.

“Sometimes you can feel lonely or isolated from family and friends and think of giving up. But the rewards are just around the corner – just push a bit harder…” 

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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