A few years ago, I lived in Sydney. I was deputy chief subeditor on CLEO magazine, which means a) I was second-in-charge of spelling mistakes and b) I learnt that hair straighteners can indeed be used to iron a skirt. It was an eye-opening experience.
I moved over there with the presumption that there isn’t much of a cultural difference between our two countries, but I was soon disabused of that notion. Among many differences, Australians are much prouder to be Australian than we are to be Kiwis.
I remember when I was young, seeing a friend teased for wearing a T-shirt with the New Zealand flag on it. For some reason, it just wasn’t the done thing. (This was the Hibiscus Coast in the 1980s, so take this with a pinch of salt.)
Now it doesn’t seem so gauche to wear Kiwi icons; in fact, perhaps thanks to Mr Vintage, we wear them with pride. So do Australians – I was astounded to see many Aussies with an upper-arm Southern Cross tattoo. That’s much more permanent than a T-shirt. Also, more painful.
But the biggest cultural divide hit me on Australia Day. My Aussie flatmates hauled me off to a BBQ, where there may have been drink taken, and then to Darling Harbour to watch the tall ships come in. Fun-lovers made Party Time and strangers hugged. And – hold onto your knickers – there were fireworks.
By contrast, the only fireworks we really see on Waitangi Day are of the rioting, angry kind. It seems like Waitangi Day for us is just another public holiday (if you’re Pakeha) and a day of sadness and angst (if you’re Maori).
Increasingly, I’m seeing more togetherness on Waitangi Day, but we’re still lacking that cohesive, party-as-a-country, proud-to-be-Kiwi, let’s-all-get-tattoos celebration that characterises Australia Day for our dingo cousins. It’s almost as if there’s a bigger sentiment of New Zealandness in London on Waitangi Day than there is at home.
That isn’t to minimise the issues that make Waitangi Day a tense time for New Zealand. They’re valid and they deserve attention. There’s also an argument to be made that we’re more sensitive to cultural issues than Aussies are.
But I want to argue for adding another public holiday, a New Zealand Day, when we can not only bunk off work but celebrate as a united country and get all Happy Pants on it.
It’s not a new debate; in 1971 a private member’s bill to turn Waitangi Day into New Zealand Day failed to be passed into law. In 1973, Norman Kirk managed to make that happen, and Muldoon turned it on its head again in 1976. Since then we haven’t fiddled with it, but adding another public holiday would circumvent the political nature of the naming.
David Shearer is now arguing in favour of Kirk's action, but I disagree. Going back and forth on the naming of it isn't going to help. Shearer wants to shift the New Year Honours; he also likes my idea of fireworks and parties. Leave Waitangi Day alone, I say. Let it be the political day it needs to be, but add more Party Times. Shift the New Year Honours to New Zealand Day with the parties, but leave Waitangi Day alone.
And who would say no to another public holiday? Think of New Zealand Day! There would be BBQs, beach time and fireworks, but the tattoos would not be compulsory. There would be T-shirts, pineapple lumps and L&P for all.
How about it?