April 25 is the day when we take time to think about the sacrifices thousands of men and women have made on our behalf.

We think of the courage of those who have served on battlefields around the world, those who gave their lives and are still mourned as husbands and sons, fathers and grandfathers, brothers and uncles, who set sail for places they had perhaps never heard of, and who died there.

We largely accept that our national identity was forged at Gallipoli, and that later conflicts have reinforced that identity.

We think of those who endured horrific conditions that we can scarcely comprehend, and those who came home changed forever. Embittered, scarred in body and soul.

Those who came home without the faith that had given them strength in their youth, who continued to pay dearly in broken relationships. And the wives and children paid a price of their own.


We talk with pride of the Anzac spirit, believing that we, their descendants, exhibit the same qualities that for more than a century have laid the foundation for worldwide admiration of our fighting forces. We largely accept that our national identity was forged at Gallipoli, and that later conflicts have reinforced that identity.

As New Zealanders we take enormous pride in our collective accomplishments, and rarely hesitate to take the opportunity to bask in the reflected glory earned by our countrymen and women, in whatever field of endeavour they might excel.

We believe those who tell us that we, a tiny nation at the bottom of the world, box above our weight, whether it be in sport, political influence, business, the arts or battle. It is unlikely that any New Zealander has ever ventured from these shores without pride as representatives of a remarkable country and a remarkable people.

We have changed, of course, since the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. Particularly in recent years we have become more selfish, more self-centred. We have a growing need to remember the words of US President John Kennedy, that we should ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country.

Unlike those who so willingly answered the call to arms from a 'mother' country in 1914 and again in 1939, we, their children and grandchildren, no longer feel beholden to others, but within our own lives we have also become more self-seeking.

We are now more likely to put our own interests first. Our enthusiasm for serving a greater cause is not what it used to be. But then again, perhaps that's not true.
On Saturday night the Kaitaia Fire Brigade presented its annual service honours to a host of men and women who give enormously of their time and skills to their community without question, and without reward.

The evening saw Craig Rogers become the 24th member of the brigade to receive a Gold Star, in recognition of 25 years' service that began when he was teenager.

Alongside him were others who unhesitatingly respond with the same speed and passion every time the siren sounds, hundreds of times every year, to fight fires, rescue road crash victims, and increasingly to then those suffering life-threatening medical problems.


They do so knowing that they are not being asked to risk their lives, but they make other sacrifices, in terms of their work and more importantly their families.

Their wives, husbands and children know they will come home when they have extinguished the fire, cleaned up after the car crash, provided initial care to the heart attack patient or retrieved the cat from the tree.

The loss of their family member will be temporary, but they know that the emergency comes first, and that family plans will always be set aside when others are in need.

We should not under-estimate the commitment displayed every day by volunteer firefighters, or any of those who serve their communities voluntarily. We take it for granted that when we need them they will be there, and will put us first.

That commitment is a modern manifestation of the willingness to serve that was displayed by so many of our forebears when it was our way of life, our country's future, that was seen to be at stake.

The desire to serve will never be better exemplified than by those who have risked all in war. Who have endured hardships that we today cannot begin to imagine, and so often paid with their lives, whether that price was exacted in an instant on the battlefield or over long years back home.

But it endures. It is displayed right here among us on a daily basis, less spectacularly than in war, but with similar selflessness, but those who fight fires, who tend to unwanted, abused and injured animals, care for the old, lonely and sick, raise money and hope for the vulnerable and disadvantaged, who give of their own lives for those who deserve a better deal than they are getting.

To say that New Zealand could not function without volunteers has become a cliche, but it is becoming truer with every passing day. In an age when individual has become more important than ever, there are still those among us who give without compunction, without thought of reward beyond the knowledge that they are giving what they can for the benefit of others.

Some, not enough, of these people are honoured in various ways from time to time, and almost without exception they say that they are not deserving. They are very deserving. They continue a tradition in which this country takes great pride.

They are the living embodiment of the qualities that we admire, on this day in particular. They are following the example set by their forebears, enriching our lives beyond measure. We are a much better country for them.

A price to pay

Those who care for the aged deserve every cent of the pay rises they will begin to receive on July 1. They do a difficult, often unpleasant job in the place of the families of those who need care. It seems inevitable, however, that what has been described as the biggest pay increase in our history will have a ripple effect.

That is not to say that the new pay structure should not have been adopted, but those who are applauding it might not understand what it could mean.

The potential effects are not yet well understood even by those who will have to make the new system work, but there is no doubt that the cost of providing institutionalised care is going to rise significantly, if for no other reason than pay parity, and it is extremely doubtful that any future government will pick up the tab for that.

The cost will fall to those who are cared for, and their families. That's as it should be, but it will be a standing ovation killer if ever there was one. The Government has said it might look at the assets threshold for those in residential care; make that will definitely look at extracting more from the client. When that happens there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as children and grandchildren see their inheritance disappear before their very eyes.

Increasing the reward for aged care workers was long overdue, but remember - increasing the wages of the low-paid, however well deserved, cannot be achieved in isolation, and the Government's money is actually yours and mine. One way or another, we will pay, and that might test some people's commitment to what is fair and reasonable.