Jack Tame: Togetherness brings pride in our home and heritage

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A lone piper heralds the dawn at Waitangi. Photo / Doug Sherring
A lone piper heralds the dawn at Waitangi. Photo / Doug Sherring

On day one I beat my alarm to the punch. One always does when it's set for 4.30am. Terrified by the rude break from routine, the conscience can't relax; it's a high-strung effort to sleep.

I moped across the kitchen. I shaved, I showered. I forgot to turn off the alarm.

Blaat, blaat, blaat.

I scampered back and smashed the cellphone keypad. And with the crust still caking the corners of my eyes I ambled down empty streets to Te Tii Marae, the gateway to Waitangi.

It was a warm dawn. We could hear waves lapping the sand. With powhiri and prayer we were welcomed to our national place, as New Zealand readied to mark its national day.

On Day Two I beat my alarm to the punch. 4.27am. Eurgh.

I moped across the kitchen. I shaved. I showered.

Blaat, blaat, blaat.

I scampered back and re-mashed the keypad. And with the crust still caking the corners of my eyes, I ambled through the streets of downtown New York to a quiet park by the banks of the Hudson River.

It was warm. Water churned and surged at the riverbank. With prayer and pipes we were welcomed together, a mass of expats and tourists, Kiwis and Aussies, as we gathered to mark the Anzacs' sacrifice.

Day One, Waitangi, was my last experience before leaving New Zealand. In our national place, there was contrast. Some people celebrated, some people protested. Some people did nothing more than sit in deck chairs eating mussel fritters and drinking beer. One man rode a penny farthing. On our national day, our national place was a colourful mash-up of nationalistic confusion.

Day Two, Anzac Day, was my first dawn service in New York. In many ways it was much the same as dawn services at home. People stood, solemn and still as the pipers played, as the bugler pursed and blew. They listened to the speeches and the readings, they reflected, they sipped coffee and chatted.

Perhaps the only difference came in the effort required to whip up the post-service refreshments. Golden syrup in New York is apparently hard to come by; real Anzac biscuits are a sweet luxury.

Day One outside Waitangi was just as collectively confusing. It was anything you wanted it to be; a day for protest or politics or prayer.

In London it was an excuse for a pub crawl. For some it was a most-important occasion, a chance to recognise our cultural diversity and consider most important-held beliefs. For others, it was nothing; a sleep in and a surcharge.

Day Two, far from home, was collectively unifying. Drawn together by our grandfathers' collective sacrifices, we all stood as one. We reflected as one.

I wouldn't suggest for a moment that Anzac should replace Waitangi as our national day. The debate's been had; it's worn and old. But how nice it was in that reflective dawn, thousands of kilometres from home, to feel collectively humbled, proud of home and heritage. And how nice it was to know every stranger beside you felt exactly the same.

Americans would call it patriotism. They celebrate the feeling. I'm not yet sure we do.

- Herald on Sunday

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