Editorial: Anniversary deserves more than fireworks

Yachts sail past HMNZS Te Mana during 2009's beautiful Auckland Anniversary Day on the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Yachts sail past HMNZS Te Mana during 2009's beautiful Auckland Anniversary Day on the Waitemata Harbour. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland Anniversary Day 2011 must have seemed far away the day in 2009 that an impresario of mass free concerts, Alan Smythe, proposed a $1 million "supershow" at the Domain or Bastion Pt to celebrate a city reborn. He envisaged noted local musicians playing to a crowd of 100,000 with live television coverage and tributes to Aucklanders such as Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Peter Blake. A couple of mayoral candidates - unsuccessful ones it turned out - mocked the idea and nothing more was heard of it.

One member of the new Auckland Council, Cameron Brewer, was just as quick to pour cold water on a much more modest proposal, a fireworks display tonight to mark the city's rebirth. Happily the council's events agency has proceeded with that idea. It is the least we should do.

Auckland is not a self-conscious community, not much given to memorials of its past and its notable people and events. All the more reason to be thankful, therefore, for the regatta that will be held today in a tradition that began on the day Auckland was founded and has been staged every Anniversary Day for 171 years, the oldest sporting event in New Zealand.

It is a remarkable achievement to survive this long, a credit to the city's yachting community. The regatta sometimes attracts jaded criticism from those who are quick to tire of a good thing but the organisers wisely ignore it. Thankfully today's regatta will follow the familiar formula - fleet races of different classes from dinghies to keelers, overseen by vintage sailing vessels and tugboats.

Waka will be there too, as they were for the first regatta on September 18, 1840, when the deal was done with Ngati Whatua for the parcel of land that is today central Auckland. History records that after the flag was raised at Pt Britomart to gun salutes fired from sailing ships in Commercial Bay, races were held for the ships' boats and Maori canoes.

This of course is not September 18. Auckland's anniversary commemorates a province, not a city, and the chosen date, January 29 or the nearest Monday, says something about early Auckland. The event the founders chose to mark was the arrival in the Bay of Islands of the ship bearing Captain Hobson with his instructions to colonise New Zealand.

This was an event of national rather than provincial significance, reflecting early Auckland's outlook as the capital of the colony. It was also an event that must have seemed more significant at that time than the Treaty made with Maori chiefs at Waitangi eight days later.

Time has given a different perspective on our origins and dimmed the provincial identity that once encompassed all the northern districts. One of the few survivors of that era is this newspaper. It still circulates throughout the original province from North Cape to Taupo and Gisborne.

Today, the north is united by little else but a newspaper and an anniversary, but a public holiday at the height of summer needs no other justification. If anyone were to seriously suggest replacing it with a holiday to mark the city's founding on September 18, there would be a justified outcry.

The challenge is rather to give more meaning to the day the founders chose. The regatta is a perfect celebration of a city of sails but it leaves plenty of room for something more than fireworks in the evening.

Enhancing Anniversary Day was on the mayor's list of projects for the city's first 100 days. Maybe next year. If he cracks the whip on most of the other projects, he might find Auckland needs no spur to celebrate what it has become - a city organised to make the most of its population, location and natural blessings.

- NZ Herald

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