With another three and a half years of wallowing in World War I gloom to look forward to, thank God for Princess Charlotte. The birth of a baby, even a royal one, is a blessed distraction from the birth-of-a-nation on the bloody battlefields of the old world myth-making we're now being subjected to.

Back in 2012, when the Ministry for Culture and Heritage briefed its minister Chris Finlayson on its $17 million plan for four years of centennial hoopla to commemorate the "nation-changing" events of World War I, I did meekly suggest that, if we were going to start marking nation-building milestones, we should pull ourselves out of Gallipoli trenches and start identifying with events closer to home. I should have kept quiet. A few months later Mr Finlayson found an extra $75 million for a new War Memorial Park as well. At last count that had blown out to $120 million.

Don't get me wrong, the cost of New Zealand's participation in the so-called "war to end all wars" was horrendous, though not as high as the price paid by those who lived in the lands where the battles raged. But if politicians and bureaucrats believe it is their duty to educate the rest of us in the major events that have shaped our nation, then this single-minded fixation on an imperial war fought 100 years ago on the other side of the globe is a travesty.

Acquainting New Zealanders with our history is no bad thing. I was born here, but emerged from the education system knowing more about the Tudors, the Corn Laws and the Peterloo Massacre than I did about the Musket Wars or the peaceniks of Parihaka. Since then, I have learned enough to appreciate that if the Government wants to commemorate nation-moulding events, it should abandon this obsession with Gallipoli.


We could start with the Musket Wars, which kicked off a century before World War I and soon after the Europeans arrived offering muskets in one hand and the Bible in the other. Starting in the North, the Ngapuhi were the first to gain an arms advantage, rapidly settling old scores with traditional foes. It took until the early 1830s for all tribes to acquire muskets and a new equilibrium to become established. By then some estimate that the number killed could have exceeded the 18,500 New Zealand lives lost in World War I. Many more were enslaved or made refugees, that when the total population was around 100,000.

Then there were the New Zealand Wars of 1845-72, which historian James Belich describes as "bitter and bloody struggles, as important to New Zealand as were the Civil Wars to England and the United States". He says "they were crucial in the development of New Zealand race relations, and they marked a watershed in the history of the country as a whole".

In 1863 came the New Zealand Settlements Act, which was the settler Government's equivalent to the post-World War I reparations imposed on the defeated Germans. The legislation noted the North Island had "been subject to insurrections amongst the evil-disposed persons of the Native race to the great injury, alarm and intimidation of Her Majesty's peaceable subjects" and authorised the widespread confiscation of Maori land, including that of tribes not in rebellion. The latter could endeavour to seek redress later. More than 1.6 million hectares were confiscated, about half subsequently paid for or returned, not back into tribal ownership, but to individuals whose claims were often disputed. One hundred and fifty years later, the ongoing resolution of these injustices continues to shape the national identity much more profoundly than what went on in the trenches of Gallipoli and the Western Front. Yet last year the ministry identified just two "tier one" events of "nation-changing magnitude" to commemorate; the anniversary of the start of World War I and New Zealand's "occupation of Samoa". This year it was the 175th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi - I must have blinked and missed that commemoration - and the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli. Next year, there's just one: the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Ditto 2017.

Anniversaries of war in Belgium and Sinai/Palestine. For 2018, we're promised women's suffrage will share the limelight with yet more European war. It would be nice to think the sharing was equal.