Every year in New Zealand as Waitangi Day draws near, various conservative/right-wing columnists throw tantrums about the protests and ‘grievance industry’ and lack of jingoism surrounding our national day and, inevitably, compare it unfavourably with Australia Day. This year I happened to be in Australia for Australia Day. And:
- Australia Day has protests! Sometimes they ‘flare up’ or become ‘fiery’ or result in ‘clashes’ and become major media events. Just like Waitangi Day!
- The papers over here are filled with think pieces about national identity and rants decrying historical grievances and wondering whether Australia Day is truly the national holiday and should Australia become a republic? Some refer to it as ‘Invasion Day’. One columnist in the Melbourne Age – I swear this is true – actually suggested Australia Day could be more like Waitangi Day, although it was only one in a list of more desirable national days (Bastille Day, etc).
- Most Australians seem indifferent to all of this and see it as an extra day off work, and spend the day shopping, or at the beach, or have a barbecue. Again, this strikes me as identical to how most NZers experience Waitangi Day.
- It is more festive! Some people fly the Aussie flag on their cars. Some shops put Australian flags in their windows. The government hands out honours. Some councils organise events with bands, bouncy castles, face-painting, etc. The ice cream stand at the beach town we’re staying at sold special Vegemite flavoured ice cream. People bought it and ate it! Because they love Australia! There’s no reason shops, councils etc in NZ can’t do the same, but the tantrums by Mike Hosking et al don’t seem to be winning them over.
- The major difference between the days – to me – is that Australia Day explicitly celebrates European colonialism (it is the anniversary of the arrival of the ‘first fleet’ in 1788), while Waitangi Day is about the partnership between peoples. Which is not to minimise racial injustice in New Zealand via the comparison, just to say that I feel like we got our national day right in that respect, rather than the Australians.