Waitangi Day and Australia Day

Written By: - Date published: 9:04 am, January 26th, 2018 - 10 comments
Categories: australian politics, Deep stuff, International - Tags: ,

Australia Day (January 26th), like Waitangi Day (February 6th) often divides our countries as much in its silence as anything else. I’m heading to my family reunion in the Far North on the family farm. One of those things where it’s a huge bonfire that lasts for a couple of days and you eat crayfish and sink Codies until 3am and tool around on Yamaha’s and swim in the stream and shoot Possums and then get the fire going again. Amongst all my Rusties and Raylenes, Maori as a culture are never mentioned even though some have intermarried.

It can be socially fun to have an ‘other’ as it builds community pretty fast, just as the Tongan league or Black Fern fans root for their people against all ‘others’. When it comes to national identity however that ‘othering’ carries risks. It’s necessary to bind into groups of common interest.

New Zealand has progressively lost all shadows against which it could define its own collectivity. Britain, Empire, and European cultural superiority has faded through pretty thorough decolonization. The spirit of partnership and common interest with Australia is now near-nothing. Our sense of virtuous positioning inside grand United Nations universal rights and globally humane initiatives has sailed into the sunset. Our political sense of sharp tribal distinctions between left and right now reduced to minor tidal shifts of the parliamentary seascape. The great reforming projects are gone too, at least for the time being. We have no common public square left to even express this.

The one thing that we have in common now is a sense of loss, and of seeking to keep a little of what has been good. To me that is now the left’s core project.

Which is the one major use of Waitangi Day. We can rejoin with melancholy about that which we have lost, but in a slightly more subtle way than ANZAC Day. We have become stridently insistent that the past has little of interest to teach us. Ours, we assert, is a new world; its risks and opportunities are without precedent. Waitangi Day is on the path to becoming a moral memory palace: a pedagogically serviceable chamber of Historical Horrors whose waystations are named “Parihaka” or “Boyd” or “Gate Pa” or “Confiscation”, a bloody prelude to further stations called “Losing Te Reo”, “Social Underclass” and the rest. The problem in this lapidary representation is not the content of truly awful eras. The problem is the message: that all of that is now behind us, that its meaning is clear, and that we may now advance – unencumbered by past errors – into a different and better era. But it is with us at least as much in the silence.

What, then, is it that we have misplaced in our haste to put the nineteenth and early twentieth century behind us, dusted off only for a day? The most powerful ‘othering’ worth remembering is what our internal war from the 1860s meant. The very structures of civilized life – regulations, laws, teachers, policemen, judges – disappeared or took on sinister significance: far from guaranteeing security, the state itself became the leading source of insecurity. Reciprocity and trust, whether in tribes, neighbours, colleagues, or communities, collapsed in many places. Behaviour that would be otherwise aberrant in conventional circumstances – theft, dishonesty, betrayal, opportunistic exploitation, killing – became not just normal but sometimes the only way to save your family and yourself. Dissent or opposition was stifled by universal fear – in some senses similar to the American Civil War. War invites the ultimate in ‘othering’.

Which brings me to Australia Day. Researchers at the University of Newcastle are mapping the sites of over 150 massacres of Australian native peoples. The map so far looks like this.

Each one of those dots represents whole groups of people murdered because of their ethnicity, and because of a rage against them. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of families decimated, consistently, over a century at least. The last officially sanctioned massacre was in 1928.

The Australian federal government has occasionally fessed up to these damaged people. As far as anyone can see, these tribes or ‘mobs’ are living testimony to a lineage well before written history, to a time just after the last ice age.

Their Australia Day of 26 January contains in absence an untold history of blood. Murderous treachery, and racism, deep into the late 20th century. Silence that is broken by the survivors. Just like ours.

It would be useful to Australia if more companies had active policies of reconciliation like this one.

New Zealand must take bittersweet satisfaction in our day of regret. We should name Waitangi as a moment to ‘put the tangi back into Waitangi’. It requires us to think about the necessary ‘other’, in all its damage and in all it has formed within and around us. There’s no doubt it formed the silence around my family reunion campfire on anything Maori. It’s our most annoying memorial day. It should remain that way.

10 comments on “Waitangi Day and Australia Day”

  1. Molly 1

    Ad, your thoughtfulness and intent is obvious in this post, and it has some pertient points for all of us to consider.

    A couple of mentions though.

    Although the dates are close, I would have liked to have seen distinct separate Australia and Waitangi day posts ** so that each – with it’s individual histories and impacts can be considered and debated. Like many others, I had heard the excuse that Māori don’t have anything to complain about …. I mean, look what happened in Australia….

    I think it would help to avoid this interminable reply, when entering into discourse about the meaning of Waitangi Day if it was kept separate.

    Your collective use of “we” jars for me, because I am also that which you call “the other”. I don’t know if you are aware of that framing when you write.

    “It’s our most annoying memorial day. It should remain that way.”
    Annoying is not the word I would have used for Waitangi Day. But then again, I am part of the other 🙂 , and many – both Pākeha and Māori would have their own adjectives. My personal one at present that seems to be accurate would be “weighted”.

    There are other discomforts that pricked while reading, but those seem to be the most easily communicated.

    And the question – so what are you going to do about it?

    If you are already up North, consider joining the Waitangi celebrations from dawn service and through the day. We finally had the opportunity to visit on Waitangi Day with the family a few years ago and it was great. Very few NZ Pakeha, mostly tourists and Māori celebrating our first statutory holiday of the year. It is worth the time.

    (** I know this is close to telling a Standard author what to do, but I can’t at present figure out another way to explain my disquiet.)

    • Ad 1.1

      Go right ahead I’m open to suggestions.

      For this weekend however I will also do quick run up to Cape Reinga with my Other half. Other half hasn’t been there yet and seen how the oceans join.

      I have a bit of the ashes from my mother that I will cast over, in keeping with all other departing spirits.

      My personal way in to this is to align my spirit and that of my mother with my earthen country.

  2. Hanswurst 2

    […] seeking to keep a little of what has been good. To me that is now the left’s core project.

    Am I missing something here, or did you just state that the left’s core project is to be conservative?

    • Ad 2.1

      I knew someone would have to catch a few of the bon mots I chuck out.

      Answer is yes.

      Hold on to what is being rapidly lost – both of the entire left project, and of the earth.

  3. Chris 3

    A lot of Australians would remember these things as if it were yesterday:


  4. Keepcalmcarryon 4

    Most aussies don’t navel gaze like us, they enjoy Australia Day for the celebration it is intended as. Most Australians don’t know or understand the reality of aboriginal Australia, let alone us Kiwis in NZ.
    Suffice to say Waitangi Day is very different to Australia day.
    I’d be in favour of a celebratory national day for us too and a day of respectful thought for both countries colonial past too. Employers to pay for the extra holiday as it should be.

  5. Exkiwiforces 5

    I prefer a good old Waitangi Day than Australia Day any day. As its a good excuse to re-correct to their Convict and Red Coat roots (which I have both thanks to Dad’s side of the family) aka get piss, go to the races, the cricket or sometime us kiwis played in the beige uniform alongside the Poms or Saffies just to piss off the ockers, the beach or welcome in new citizen’s to the lucky country and most people think the local indigenous population should think themselves lucky that the Brits turned up instead of the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Frenchies or old Jerry. But there is also those that think if the locals stood up to the Brits like the First Nations, the Indians. the Zulu’s or the Maori’s then they would have more respect to the Australian indigenous population as they like supporting the under dog and giving it a far go like 90 odd % of the rest of country did and do now.

    For me Australia Day was about getting dress up in my blues, going on parade, getting on the turps afterwards with the GG or State GG, having a punt, getting picked up by the females (seeing a RAAF’ie with a lot of gongs and wearing Royal Blue Beret of the RAAF Rockap’s was a bit of novelty to most females). The real excuse for us Kiwis was to get two days off ,a day in lieu for working Australia Day also we could claim Waitangi Day as well as we all claim to be Maori’s as we could speak Maori as we were getting one up on ockers for a laugh and the joke was on them in the end. As we had at one stage 20 Kiwis in the Rifle Flight with only 5 ockers and the other 10 were from the Commonwealth, the Flight Commander, the SNCO, two NCO’ three Section 2i/c’s and rest odds and sods. In other words we were a law into ourselves (typical kiwi’s) and a bloody good rugby team as well, which did come in handy sometimes.

  6. patricia bremner 6

    I have been to Australia to visit a son and a brother, as well as a cousin on my Father’s side over a period 20 years.

    In all the outings we have never socially mixed with Aboriginal first people. They are denigrated, written off as “hopeless” and so are the Greeks Italians and any later arrivals. Really bad!! Many are bigots.

    I looked around our family and social groups here in NZ, and the reverse is true. I have cousins, one a Kaumatua up in Moerewa, friends and “others” in our Rotorua crowd we see and mix with, stay with regularly.
    But I know many NZers have never stayed on or visited a Marae, and have small understanding and regard for Waitangi Day, except for disgust at the politics.

    When we were in the motor home we saw community participation in many different centres on Waitangi Days, enjoyed by all ages with Maori Culture to the fore.

    In Australia it is just a holiday. (hollow day).

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