Kia maumahara tātou. Lest we forget.
Walking down our drive in pitch black on ANZAC morning still living under government decreed COVID19 Level 4 lockdown, no non-essential travel, no contact outside of your bubble, no leaving your 2km radius, I felt a little foolish. Perhaps it was because, I had chosen to wear my nightie with an overcoat on top with sneakers, but what if no-one else in our street turned up? What if only we bothered to stand at ANZAC bubble dawn at our letterbox?
Never mind, I thought, we came to remember.
As a kid, I never really understood the ANZAC biscut making, special school assemblies and selling poppy mania of my upbringing. I half pie knew that ANZAC was about the Great war, Australia, poppy fields and NZ being canon fodder. Perhaps we knew about ANZAC because one of our Ngā Rauru ancestors, Herewini Whakarua son of Rima and Kuki Wakarua stands on top of the Māori WWI soldiers memorial in Pakaitore. Dedicated to 17 Māori soldiers from our region, the memorial was unveiled in 1925. Purported to be the first in the country honouring Māori soldiers who fought in World War One, the statue atop of Herewini was paid for by whanau led by his father, Rima Wakarua a well known Ngā Rauru tribal leader, historian and Tohunga.
Whatever the reasons for our knowing about ANZAC, around that time of year, our mum would sometimes tell us tales of World War II even though that was a different war again. At the small rural Maxwell Primary School in South Taranaki, indeed not far from Rima Wakaruas’ homestead, Mum and all the pa kids would be made to practise evacuation, taking cover in the ditches along State Highway 3 outside the school gates. Even way back then, it seemed ludicrous our Mum, aunties and uncles, all Māori, were made to crawl along the Aōtearoa ditches for a war in Europe.
At the top of our drive, on the road that becomes State Highway 3 nearly eighty years later, standing a careful COVID-19 level four alert 2-3 meters apart at their letterboxes are our neighbours. Relieved others had made the letterbox trek besides our bubble, I peered into the gloom. On both sides along the length of our road several other bubbles, had also turned out. Way more than I had expected.
A cool breeze blew as several early morning workers drove past and beeped ‘ kia ora’ to all our ANZAC bubbles, a gaggle of neighbours, roadside at dawn. One neighbour arrived smartly dressed complete with medals and a fold up seat, we all gulped and looked down, suddenly embarrased by our casualness.
Marching, in the streets of Auckland in the 1980’s for the majority of my peers Māori and Pasifika alike, was like the ANZAC school assemblies of my childhood, very social affairs. We marched to the beats of original protest waiata and haka, along with Bob Marley and Herbs, but nonetheless, it was organised with all the precison that a phone tree, carbon copies, printed posters could muster. We marched to Honour the treaty, Halt all Racist Tours, A Nuclear Free Pacific, Homosexual Law Reform, Women Against Pornograhy, Save the Whales, for Māori Language, Māori radio, Māori television. There were marches for and by Māori women movements and Māori land, language and sovereignty debates raged across the country from Waitangi to Wellington and down to Dunedin. Our lives were a kind of never ending weekend marching circuit in which ANZAC dawn ceremonies did not feature. It wasn’t until I moved to Te Whanganui-a-Tara and had friends from Ngāti Porou that I found fellow ANZAC dawn ceremony goers among my peers.
Standing in COVID 19 ANZAC gloom a careful 3 metres apart, one neighbour began livestreaming the Radio NZ service in te reo Māori and English on his phone, we all fell silent. I marvelled at how social media had conspired to bring us all out and then even send us a dawn ceremony at 0600hrs, imagine how World War I and II would have gone if they had had access to such powerful tools.
In the 90’s and 2000s I had an off and on relationship with ANZAC dawn ceremonies. I was all marched out. I attended services in Wellington at the National War Memorial with its great pomp and ceremony, gun salutes, carillion, live last post, marching military that only state occasions have, tagged along with whanau and the returned service men and women in Christchurch dawn parades followed by strangely comforting early morning alcoholic RSA brekkies, listening to veteran tales of wars past. When Māori Television took up the ANZAC dawn live telecasts from Dawn parades, it almost single handedly doubled the failing RSA memberships up and down the country. Veterans gathered around their TV sets to watch and remember ANZAC through the Māori TV broadcasts. Last year on my return home, I attended all three ANZAC ceremonies with my great auntie Mere. Now in her eighties, she travelled on the 28th Māori Battalian C company tour to Europe in 2002 and has never missed an ANZAC dawn parade. Auntie Mere wears her grandfathers'(Our great grandmothers brother), father, uncle and brothers war medals with great pride.
As the last strains of the RNZ broadcast ended, in the dark, neighbours began to quietly and slowly drift down the street on their morning walks or back into their homes.
I took a deep breath, for one heartbeat, it felt like anything was possible, anything at all, on this ANZAC new dawn.