Is Anzac Day the right national day?

Granddaughter phoned practically pre-dawn on Anzac Day.  She wanted the names of my uncles killed in World War II and could she please borrow their medals.

Not for the first time I mused about the change in status of this very Kiwi day.  In my childhood,  attending the ceremony was an obligatory chore.  Now the little tackers greet the occasion with wonderment, eager to learn the details.  It is moving to see them at the services, proudly wearing great-granddad's medals.

Then there are the huge turnouts of Kiwis and Australians in the chill dawn at Gallipoli, where the stony shore and scrub-covered hills uncannily resemble the Wellington coastline at the Chunuk Bair memorial. 

Sure, this has become something of an OE ritual, with giant party overtones, but during the service itself there is silence, respect  and, not infrequently, tears.

Accordingly, it was not too surprising to hear some gurus musing on weekend current affairs television about whether Anzac Day was becoming a de facto national day because of all the inherent problems with Waitangi Day.  The general consensus was yes.

Certainly Waitangi Day doesn't match it with Australia Day, where the Australians exuberantly celebrate their nationhood.  Our day tends to highlight differences, with scuffles, mud-throwing and abuse.

The Queen has been presented with a bare bum, diplomats have been spat at, and even tough-as-iron former prime minister Helen Clark was reduced to tears by Titewhai Harawira.  I don't know what was worse: that, or having to watch Prime Minister John Key enter the ceremony this year hand-in-hand with Mrs Harawira.

So moving to a national day that celebrates nationhood rather than differences would have some appeal.  But before we leap to Anzac Day we need to acknowledge that it is built on the great myth of Australian-New Zealand mateship.
They Ockers call us sheep-shaggers and we call them underarm bowlers.  We have intense rivalry on the sports field and we can relate to our trans-Tasman cousins in many ways, but at a political level there are frequently major differences.

These differences go beyond general ribbing.  We had the appalling incident when an Australian minister abrogated a legally negotiated trans-Tasman aviation agreement (by faxing his Kiwi counterpart) after Qantas had yanked his reins.  And that doesn't even get into such non-tariff barriers as the nearly century-old Ocker ban on our apple exports.
But more serious than all this is the fact that Australians and New Zealanders have been at  loggerheads since first contact.  Two recent books have highlighted this.  The first, by Canterbury University academics, pointed out that the Anzacs were at each other's throats since they were first thrust together in Egypt, even before Gallipoli.

The Kiwis considered the Australians to be bumptious larrikins.  The Australians regarded Kiwis as too subservient to the Brits. 

One expert argues that this contact fractured the relationship, if it existed at all beforehand.
Canberra-Wellington relations deteriorated further during World War II, as   Gerald Hensley, former head of the  Prime Minister's Department, recounts in his superb book. 

These were not just occasional dustups, such as when the Ockers tried to nick New Zealand's military aircraft allocation (that even drew a comment from British prime minister Winston Churchill), but a continuing, niggling saga of  Leg 4distrust and disagreement. It came to a head when Wellington refused to bow to Canberra's demands to withdraw from the Middle East our Second Division  described by a  British general as the best the world had  seen  to assist the Australians against the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea.

Infuriated, Australian General Thomas Blainey advised Australian prime minister John Curtin that Australia should make its own decisions on defence without considering, consulting or even advising New Zealand.
So is Anzac Day the right national day? 

It is built on myth, and Waitangi Day on conflict.  A better prospect in terms of nationhood would be Dominion Day, September 26.  This marks the 1907 move from colony status, taking the first tentative step along the road to what will inevitably, eventually, become a republic.   Appropriately, too, it is the birthdate of the ancestor of this newspaper.  That was founded to coincide with the momentous event.

The Dominion Post