As New Zealanders around the world observe Waitangi Day, it's pertinent to ponder what has been achieved with this comparatively fledgling public holiday. Which much answers the question. It has made us all think, albeit some more so than others, and for most of us, probably, a bit late.

Today is the 80th anniversary of what history may regard as the first Waitangi Day commemoration, a dedication of the Treaty House and grounds as a public reserve, and the 40th anniversary of the first time it was observed as a public holiday, albeit under the short-lived name of New Zealand Day.

Between times, a centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was held in 1940, but it was not until seven years later that annual commemoration began, and in 1960 a Waitangi Day Act enabled areas to substitute Waitangi Day for provincial Anniversary Day.

For a bit of context, Australia Day had a similar type of evolvement, but commemorates the January 26, 1788, arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships, or the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard. Among its handles over the years were Foundation Day and Invasion Day, it's been Australia Day since 1935, but it's only since 1994 that it's been a public holiday. Anzac Day has become the more unifying occasion.


In both countries, the national day has become a magnet for some conflict amidst considerable celebration. Debates over treaty grievance and settlement, and related and unrelated racism and racialism issues, are never far away in day-to-day New Zealand life, but Waitangi Day does serve as an annual balance date. There are many qualities of progress in New Zealand but the fact that there remains such a debate is evidence enough that there is a long way to go yet.