Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Why focus on other cultures and not our own?

Quality celebration of all our cultures more sorely needed than a parade each.
If we're not careful, our major population centre is about to lose a national day to foreign dragon puppets. Illustration / Bromhead
If we're not careful, our major population centre is about to lose a national day to foreign dragon puppets. Illustration / Bromhead

My heart sank on hearing that Auckland Council is keen to expand Chinese New Year celebrations out into the suburbs, spreading over the first two weeks of February and, it seems, engulfing Waitangi Day.

I'm not against dragons dancing up Queen St, but if our aim is to build a unique, vibrant, South Pacific community, then the first priority for ratepayer expenditure is surely to mark our own spot on the ground.


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Instead of attempting what will always be a poor man's imitation of a foreign festival, why aren't we concentrating on a decent celebration of our own national day?

When it comes to sport, we're 10 foot tall and full of self-confidence. Our teams haka their way around the world, strutting our unique brand wherever they compete. But when it comes to national identity at home, we're as meek and diffident as that stupid nocturnal bird we've come to identify ourselves with.

Who would believe it; 176 years old and we still can't even organise a decent national birthday party for ourselves.

Now, if we're not careful, our major population centre is about to lose that date to foreign dragon puppets. And why? Apparently to make visiting Chinese tourists feel more at home.

Talk about dumb Kiwis. We haven't rid ourselves of our previous colonial masters, and now we're flirting with a new one.

We should be saying sorry, early February is taken. If you want to party, bring your dragons and your fireworks to our show. The embarrassing thing is, we don't really have one.

For years now, we've grumbled about Waitangi Day being the Harawira family's day of protest. The media gets fixated on the annual countdown to the rumble on the lower marae.

Who will throw what. Will the prime minister go or won't he/she. Both Helen Clark, and this year, John Key have tried to diffuse their fun by staying away. But they don't come up with an alternative.

Auckland, with a third of the country's population, and by far the most diverse and cosmopolitan make-up, is the obvious place to take the next step, lift Waitangi Day celebrations out of dysfunctional Waitangi, and create a new-style national birthday.

If people want to bring their gongs and firecrackers and dragons and monkeys, I'm all for it. But as one part of the rich tapestry of New Zealand's developing national identity.

The Scots, for example, are always complaining of lack of support from council for their tribal celebrations. Here's their chance, along with the Dallies and people of the Pacific and all the other groups which make New Zealand what it is today.

Meanwhile the council's tourism and economic arm, Ateed and the Asian Foundation are contemplating a dragon parade up Queen St. This is backed by Tourism New Zealand's chief executive Kevin Bowler who says the increase in Chinese New Year celebrations is "great".

Massey University associate professor of marketing, Henry Chung echoes this saying it would enable Chinese tourists not to miss out on New Year celebrations.

However, Tourism New Zealand's own surveys don't mention partaking in Chinese New Year celebrations as high on their list of Chinese tourists' must-dos. Visiting beaches and other natural attractions, such as geothermal areas, are high up, as are seeing native birds and visiting farms and orchards.

In time, hopefully, they might add Auckland's unique mid-summer birthday parade up Queen St to that list.

A parade that represents all the groups that make up present-day Auckland, swirling pipes bands, throbbing Island drums, bobbing dragons, the lot. A day not just to mull over past injustices, but to celebrate our nation-building successes as well.

Currently, the city's contribution to Waitangi Day celebrations includes $112,000 for the family fun day at Hayman Park, Manukau, $71,340 towards events at Bastion Point and $29,500 to the Hoani Waititi Marae, Henderson event.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage pays $10,000 to each of these events, which is a lot less than the $142,000 it contributes to the events at Waitangi.

All told, at less than 10 cents an Aucklander, it's a pretty mean birthday spend. But more to the point, what's needed is some leadership to deliver a proper Auckland Waitangi Day celebration, dragons included.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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