Waitangi Day? It reminds me why it's so wonderful to live here

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 12:13 17/02/2014

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Another Waitangi Day has come and gone, and with it the usual serving of media comment about what a damp squib it is, and how we should be more like the French, the Americans or the Australians, or anyone else who is into more national day hoopla and hand-on-heart stuff than we are.

Such opinions are about as predictable as the annual outbreak of tension between Maori protesters and the Government at Waitangi, in Northland, where New Zealand's founding treaty was signed in 1840.

I don't have a problem with the protesters, as long as no one gets roughed up in the delivery of their message. The Waitangi Day gathering is one of few big moments of the year (outside Parliament) when the political heavyweights are corralled in one place, so it's understandable that some Maori make this an occasion to be heard on subjects close to their heart. I wish it didn't happen, but protest and robust exchange are part of living in a democracy.

I think I've got more issues with the media commentators, bloggers and letters-to-the-editor writers who tell us how we should be honouring the signing of our founding document. Tell us what we could do better, how we don't care enough, how we should be lighting the sky with fireworks rather than firing up the barbie. According to someone I heard on radio last week, we're treating Waitangi Day as "just another random day off work". So this is written to say that I quite like Waitangi Day the way it is. Since 1974, we've had the pleasure of this little oasis in high summer, free of regular responsibility (for those not required to work), a gift day rather than a random day, an opportunity to go to the beach, take a picnic to the park, or join in a local Waitangi Day event if we choose. I think it reflects the New Zealand way. It is a more low-key approach to a national day than many other countries, but then we don't wear our patriotism on our sleeves here. Our patriotism is understood, but understated. Over-delivered, though, at major sporting events, and in times of national crisis or tragedy when the intrinsic community spirit of New Zealanders is clearly seen.

Most times, on Waitangi Day, I'm at the beach, floating happily in the Pacific Ocean, our country's priceless blue jewel. This year, I had lunch with my sister in our old hometown Cambridge, had dinner in the evening with friends, and in between enjoyed the luxury of a few hours with a good book.

I didn't beat myself up for not putting more effort into attending a special event. Neither did I dwell on what it means to be a New Zealander. I carry that in my heart always.

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Because in my heart, always, is the huge gratitude I feel for living in such a beautiful and largely good-natured country. It is not perfect, of course. Like many other nations we have poverty, racism, inequality, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and child abuse, and other difficulties.

We also have a lot of happiness, and many generous people of all races who strive to make New Zealand a better place. Like those who have gone before them.

My immigrant forebears sailed into the Bay of Islands from Wales in 1840, about three months after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

I have stood on the smooth green lawn of the Treaty House, looked out to sea, and thought about what they did. My great-grandmother Catherine was 12 months old when she arrived. I've wondered what her parents dreamed of, what really brought them on such a challenging ocean voyage to an unknown land at the bottom of the world. It was probably the same driver as most modern-day immigrants, a better life for their children. I hope they'd be proud of what has been achieved. So far. Because we're a young nation, a small nation. Still finding ourselves, still open to debate on almost everything.

So if anyone has the perfect template for Waitangi celebrations, do let us know. But I think the current practice of making the most of a quintessential New Zealand summer day will be hard to beat.

Denise Irvine's email is denise.irvine@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato

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