On Anzac Day my parents used to take me to dawn parade. It was dark, it was cold and it was eerie. I watched my father, medals on his chest, standing rigidly to attention, and saw him as a stranger. Too young to understand the symbolism, I still shivered at the sound of the Last Post. In my teenage years they left me in bed, my wails and protests not worth the effort, not worth marring a morning that was always special for my father. I think it was the only day of the year apart from Christmas that he ever took a drink. Every year the crowds at the cenotaph grew smaller, until the word ‘crowd’ was a misnomer. We were sick of hearing about The War, we were fiercely pacifistic, we were young and we were scornful. Today’s teenagers flock to dawn parade, make pilgrimages to Gallipoli, respect this day and the sacrifice it memorialises, and understand its meaning for New Zealanders. I like the teenagers of today better.
It’s partly because of them that two of our television channels now celebrate Anzac Day with major coverage. I cynically believe that TV One joined the party mainly because it could see its audience defecting in droves to Maori Television on 25 April. But if it took a programming rocket from MTS to wake TVNZ up to the change in New Zealand’s attitude, so what? The programmes are there – though not in prime time. That’s reserved for a repeat of Dancing with the Stars. I’ll be tuned to MTS on Anzac Day, because not only do they have great programmes all day long, their heart is in there as well. That’s what we need. This isn’t a day to be cynical or opportunistic. It’s a national day that pulls us together like no other. Waitangi Day can be fraught with tension; Labour Day is just a day off. Anzac Day links us with our past, makes us grateful for our present and reminds us to be protective of our future so that we will never be forced to make those sacrifices again.