ASSIGNMENT:

What does Waitangi Day mean to you?

KIERAN BULLOCK
Last updated 06:00 28/01/2014
Waitangi day
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ

WAITANGI DAY: The Te Tu Mataora kapa haka performance at Te Manawa in 2013.

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It's February 6 this Thursday and we'd like to hear what Waitangi Day means to you. What will you be doing to mark it? Or is it just an opportunity for a mid-week sleep in and barbecue to you?

Kieran Bullock shares his views on Waitangi Day as our national day. He wants Kiwis to get out and celebrate.

Click the green button below this story to contribute your view.

I woke up today and found my Facebook feed jam-packed full of "Happy Australia Day" messages. I've lived in Melbourne for nine years, so unsurprisingly a large majority of my Facebook friends are Australian.

As Australia Day falls on January 26, in my early years in Melbourne I was always here in New Zealand on my university break. It wasn't until last year that I actually got to experience a full Australia Day celebration.

I use the word "celebration", because that's exactly what it is. Australians celebrate their national holiday, which was a bit of an eye-opener.

I was invited to no less than three parties. The first two were great, and the third party was a boozy picnic affair in the Edinburgh Gardens, just to the north of the Melbourne CBD.

The weather was gorgeous, about 30 degrees Celsius without a cloud in the sky. The park was staggeringly full.

Thousands of people decked out with rugs and camping chairs, with just enough room between groups to set up some backyard cricket or kick a football. The aroma of barbecued meats wafted on the breeze, carrying with it the excited chatter of several thousand people having an absolute ball. It was a celebration.

This year I will be in New Zealand for Waitangi Day. The last time I can recall actually making plans for Waitangi Day was about six years ago. I was home, on my university break, working fulltime. It just so happened that the Super Bowl fell on Waitangi Day, which meant we had the day off and could watch it.

We spent the day sitting on the couch, drinking Budweisers, indulging in another country's biggest day.

I've asked around my friends here about their Waitangi Day plans this year and for the most part I get a similar response: A shrug. Ambivalence. Waitangi Day is a day off work for most.

In many respects Waitangi Day is a day far more worthy of celebration. It recognises the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the coming together of two groups to create the country we now live in.

Whilst some will argue that the document has been disrespected, ignored and mishandled over the years, the very fact that the Treaty was created and signed is undeniably important to all New Zealanders.

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It has created an invaluable dialogue that can never be closed.

By contrast, Australia Day is the anniversary of the day the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove and planted the British flag on Australian soil. To the large indigenous community of Australia, the day infers that Australia became a nation proper only when the British arrived, and has henceforth been dubbed "Invasion Day" in protest.

Where Waitangi Day celebrates a forward step in cross-cultural relations, Australia Day arguably represents a step back. Australia Day is flawed. For every "Happy Australia Day" message on my Facebook feed, there are just as many links to articles from various outlets regarding the dark history behind the day. The articles call for higher authorities to take action and right the wrongs of the past.

For many it is a day of celebration, for many a day of mourning and a day for protest.

Waitangi Day has its protests, too, and so it should. Everyone should have the right to protest if they feel aggrieved.

But what I feel Waitangi Day lacks is the celebration. Where are the barbecues, the backyard cricket matches, the clinking of beer bottles and champagne flutes? If people want to use Waitangi Day as a national holiday to highlight what's wrong with the country, that's fine. But conversely, people should want to celebrate what's right with this country.

New Zealand is amazing, and Waitangi Day should be the day where we sit back, crack a gorgeous local craft beer and say, "It's not perfect, but we're proud of what we're doing here."

The Waitangi Day pub crawl in London is a thing of legend, but the enthusiasm of our expats seems lost on those who reside here.

I believe, as a nation, we need to get behind Waitangi Day as a day of celebration. Even those who protest should do so, in the belief that their grievances can be aired, resolved, and progress made.

In my opinion our national holiday should be a day to focus on what's right with your country - and that's Waitangi Day. We have 364 other days to sort out what's wrong it. That should be enough.

Happy Waitangi New Zealand! Get out there and celebrate this fine country of ours!

What do you think? Do you consider it New Zealand's "national day"? Or do you agree those who say Anzac Day is actually New Zealand's day? Share your views by clicking on the "contribute" green button below. 


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