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“You will never be a piper as you are a woman and too small.”

Ann Robbie is a well-recognised Southland personality, being heavily involved in numerous community activities for decades, and a member of the piping and pipe band fraternity.

In 1974, as a 14-year-old, Ann had a keen interest in learning the pipes, but her strong desire to learn was heavily discouraged by a prominent pipe band person of the time, who suggested she would never make the grade as she was “a woman, and too small”. Ann stands proudly at 1.5m (5ft).

Her engagement with this person highlights two things to me: 1) thank goodness things have changed if those were the views of the time.  The 2022 view is, and as an RNZPBA Board member I know, that all diversities, be they gender, age, height, relationship status, ethnic background and whatever else one can think of, are not only welcomed, but strongly encouraged to be involved, and 2) he obviously didn’t know Ann very well as the one thing you learn very quickly not say to her is never!

Ann at 15 having become a piper ignoring advice she couldn't make it, with her very protective pet dog Biddy.

Since learning to play Ann has been involved with several pipe bands in Southland including Winton and Districts, a long stint with Waimatuku Southern Scenic Highland, and now ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band.

She has a passion for teaching, with several learners in her care, but she see’s her role as not just a tutor, but as a mentor.  She is committed to developing leadership in her pupils and fellow bands-people, to grow their self-esteem, confidence, discipline, sense of purpose, work ethic, cultural appreciation and awareness – all based on strong family values, which are of course, Ann’s own values.

Her strong community spirit has seen her perform at numerous public and private events.  She has piped multiple NZ Prime Ministers into a variety of official functions, played at the Relay for Life event for the past two decades, at Fire & Emergency Gold Star awards, and has been an Army Mess piper. For over 40 years she has played at ANZAC Day services around Southland, and often many on the same day, including Winton, Bluff, Drummond, Te Anau, Thornbury, Riverton, Stewart Island, Ryal Bush, Wallacetown, Waianiwa, Makarewa, and at aged care facilities: Rowena Jackson, Clare House, Vickery Court. Lovett Lodge, Rose Lodge and Peacehaven.

Ann has played at hundreds of weddings, and at last count, 783 funerals.  “It’s a great privilege to play at a funeral” she explains.  “You’re invited into a family’s very personal and emotional moment, and you’re suddenly sharing that intimate experience with sometimes complete strangers”.

It was piping that opened another door for Ann.  In the various band halls and public spaces she performed in, she became aware of the countless war memorials around the district.  “I became inquisitive” she says, but when trying to find out more about them, discovered there were no records, so over the next 40 years, she set about cataloguing and restoring WWI and WWII memorials.  To date, she has identified and catalogued more than 400, ranging from larger public cenotaphs and gates to public areas, down to small memorial boards.

In recognition of her dedicated service to this historical research and restoration, Ann was awarded the Queens Service Medal (QSM) in the New Zealand 2022 Queen’s Birthday honours list. Refer Stuff article Ann Robbie 2022 QSM.

Ann serving the community with her new "Spirit of Scotland" dress

Soloist piper ANZAC Day Te Anau, Southland

When a request is made for a piper to play at a funeral, wedding, family gathering, community or sponsor’s event, Ann is the very first to put her hand up. She is also a competent solo piper having won on the Southern circuit in her youth.

Ann always dreamed of playing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo but never got the chance, however her dream was more than fulfilled when the Tattoo came to Wellington NZ, and she took part with the Waimatuku Pipe Band.  “A highlight for me was playing ‘Pokarekareana’ and hearing the crowd vocalise above all the pipes.  It was very emotional and bloody hard to not let the tears run. 😢”. Ann is a keen fundraiser for bands she is involved with and was proud being a key person in raising $60,000 for the band to attend the Tattoo, and for new drums.

She is now a cornerstone member of the ILT City of Invercargill Highland Pipe Band, which has multiple graded and juvenile bands running under the one umbrella. They are a standout organisation not just for their music, but importantly for their inclusive culture amongst their five bands, their community involvement and developing youth as people, musicians and leaders – the latter being dearest to the Ann’s heart.

Ann puts in countless hours to piping and pipe bands, as she likes to share her knowledge, support the cause, and inspire others. As she says “pipe band work always is a TEAM effort. I see my role as steadying the ship, mentoring and supporting both the players and the leaders”.  She is, not surprisingly, an excellent communicator. If ever I need an opinion about a national or local issue or innovation, Ann is one of my ‘go to’ people and I will often get an unprompted communication from her with suggestions or improvements, which are always sound and appreciated.

Ann has a couple of favourite tunes she trots out at functions she plays at, being The Rose of Kelvingrove, and Leaving Ireland. She has a close relationship with the ILT City of Invercargill Pipe Major Ali Mackenzie, who also plays for the current G1 World Champions Inveraray and District, so she was delighted to hear Inveraray play Leaving Ireland in their Medley when they won the 2022 British Championships.

In 2021 Ann received news that she had a serious and invasive cancer and has started extensive treatment. The consulting specialist was wise enough though to not tell Ann never!  She has already made plans for her recovery and will take delivery of a set of small pipes upon her return home.

If I had a magic wand, and wanted to make the world a better place, I would create more Ann Robbie’s.

New Zealand Ploughing Championships, playing in gumboots!