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Kōrero: Anniversaries

The ways New Zealand celebrated significant anniversaries changed as a sense of national identity changed. The centenary celebrations emphasised progress and the idealisation of European pioneers. In contrast, New Zealand’s 150th anniversary aimed to look forward more than back, and highlighted the country’s multiculturalism.

Story by Jock Phillips
Te āhua nui: Wanganui and West Coast Jubilee Exhibition medal, 1887

Story Summary

Ngā whakaahua

When Europeans first arrived in New Zealand they began celebrating anniversaries, such as the annual provincial anniversaries.

Queen Victoria’s jubilees

Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee (the 50th anniversary of her reign) in 1887 was celebrated across the British Empire. In New Zealand public events included processions, fireworks and tree-plantings.

Her diamond jubilee (60th anniversary) was an even bigger celebration. There were large public events and some statues of the queen were erected.

New Zealand’s 50th anniversary, 1890

Auckland and Wellington disagreed on when to celebrate New Zealand’s 50th anniversary. There was a public holiday on 29 January, but the two provinces celebrated on different dates. No one suggested 6 February, the day the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, was signed.

There were parades and public events, including sports events, around the country.

Provincial 50th anniversaries

Between 1890 and 1900 New Zealand’s provinces commemorated their own anniversaries with local events. They focused on progress and celebrated the ‘old-timers’ – the surviving pioneers.

New Zealand’s centennial, 1940

By the 100th anniversary in 1940 the ‘old-timers’ had died, but they and their transformation of New Zealand from bush to farmland were still celebrated in the commemorations. There was some Māori involvement, and some protests against the treatment of Māori by the Crown. However, because the anniversary was during the Second World War and aimed to strengthen the national spirit, controversy was kept to a minimum.

The largest event was the Centennial Exhibition, a large fair held in Wellington. There were also events and historical re-enactments around the country. More than 250 centennial memorials were erected, including rest rooms, trees and parks. Books on New Zealand’s history and culture were published, a film was produced, and art exhibitions and competitions were held.

Provincial centenaries

Provinces celebrated their 100th anniversaries over the next decade, with local celebrations and memorials.

New Zealand’s sesquicentennial, 1990

In the 50 years since the centenary the Māori protest movement had grown and challenged the idea of New Zealand as having perfect race relations. New Zealand had also become more multicultural. These changes were reflected in how the country celebrated its 150th anniversary. The commemorations mainly looked towards the future rather than the past, though there were some historic re-enactments.

The two major events were the Commonwealth Games, held in Auckland, and a day of commemoration on Waitangi Day, 6 February, when Queen Elizabeth II attended the ceremonies at Waitangi. Other events occurred in communities around New Zealand. The Sesqui 1990 fair in Wellington was a flop, and closed early.

Anniversaries since 1990

1993 marked 100 years since women gained the vote in New Zealand, and the Suffrage Centennial Year Trust funded relevant projects including events, memorials, films and books.

In 2000 the new millennium was celebrated at publicly funded events in the Chatham Islands, at Mt Hikurangi on the East Coast, and Gisborne – the first places to see the sun in the new year.

Many institutions, from schools to business, celebrate significant anniversaries. Anniversaries of wars or battles, such as the New Zealand wars and the First World War, are also commemorated.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Jock Phillips, 'Anniversaries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/anniversaries (accessed 21 October 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 20 Jun 2012