Which national day?

Tēnā koutou. The third reading of Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill which allowed for same-sex couples to marry,  attracted considerable attention last week. It was the second private members bill to make it through the house in recent times. Somewhat surprisingly, the other, The Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and Anzac Day) Amendment bill faced much greater opposition in the House and passed by only one vote. It was opposed by National and ACT but supported by the rest of Parliament. This legislation allows for the the 'Mondayising' of  Waitangi Day and Anzac Day on those years in which they fall on a weekend. I found it interesting that there was little, if any, debate on the impact of this law on the observation of Waitangi Day but it aroused considerable opposition to what it meant as far as Anzac Day was concerned. The RSA made known its opposition and during the final debate National MP Simon O'Connor read out a soldier's diary from Gallipoli and stated that Mondayising Anzac Day dishonoured the memory of war veterans. The thrust of the opposition to this idea was that if Anzac Day just became a part of a long weekend it would somehow lose its meaning or significance. I caught up with some additional radio chatter on this where the question was asked 'which is your special or national day, Waitangi or Anzac?' The three people involved in this conversation all stated that it was Anzac Day and proceeded to explain why. In one instance there was a strong family connection with the Second World War while there was also reference to the notion of 'sacrifice for us'. I suspect there is more to it than that. I wonder to what extent Waitangi Day is still in the too hard basket for a lot of New Zealanders because of the questions it throws up about our past and present. Anzac Day is not only a much easier national marker to accept but has a greater personal connection for many individuals.

But Anzac Day has not always been the unifying occasion some would have us believe. In 1967 opposition to the Vietnam War saw a protest wreath laid in Christchurch. The two men responsible were subsequently convicted of disorderly behaviour. Further incidents followed at later Anzac Days as protestors sought to bring attention to their anti-war cause. In 1978 a women's group laid a wreath in memory of women killed and raped in war. During the 1980s other lobby groups – feminists, gays, anti-nuclear and peace activists, and Māori 'radicals' – all laid wreathes at the Anzac Day services. These actions bewildered and angered many returned servicemen who felt that their day was being hijacked by other groups. Anzac Day continues to be redefined by each succeeding generation, especially as the last of the Second World War veterans pass away. Those who protested forty years ago now reflect on the passage of their parents’ generation and have in some respects become more accepting of the occasion. The increased attendance of young New Zealanders at events such as Dawn parades has been used as evidence that there is universal acceptance of Anzac Day which is perhaps where the opposition to changing its status as a holiday comes from. It would be interesting to discuss this with your students and get some sense as to whether the law has really lessened the significance of the day.

In 1996 then Prime Minister Jim Bolger suggested that Anzac Day should have the dual function of commemorating the war dead and celebrating nationhood. I suspect that he too struggled with the questions surrounding race relations thrown up by Waitangi Day but that he was also keen to find something upon which people could agree had in some way helped shape us as a people and a nation.

Anyway however you choose to spend your Anzac Day this year I hope you do find time for some personal reflection and I would be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on the matter or the outcome of any discussion you might have with your classes.

Ngā mihi


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