The precedent of using commissions to subsidise and support anniversaries was followed on several subsequent occasions.
In 1992 an Abel Tasman Commission encouraged projects to recall the 350th anniversary of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s visit to New Zealand. They included a book (Tasman’s legacy), a television programme and a memorial to Tasman in Christchurch. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited New Zealand and presented a statue of Tasman’s ships.
In 1993 the Suffrage Centennial Year Trust was established to mark the centenary of New Zealand becoming the first country where women gained the vote. The trust gave out $5.3 million in funding for relevant activities, including:
- 37 audiovisual projects, including a feature film (Bread and roses, on the life of politician Sonja Davies)
- 21 memorials, including the Kate Sheppard National Memorial in Christchurch, opened on Suffrage Day (19 September); a bust of Kate Sheppard in the Beehive (Parliament’s executive wing); a tile suffrage memorial in Auckland’s Khartoum Place; and a number of gardens, often displaying the white ‘Kate Sheppard’ camellia
- more than 100 publications, including Sandra Coney’s historical survey of women in New Zealand, Standing in the sunshine
- almost 90 art and history exhibitions
- 30 dramatic or dance performances
- about 80 celebrations and festivals, many of which took place on Suffrage Day.
In February there was a ‘summits for suffrage’ weekend, during which 4,000 women climbed to the top of hills or mountains, including Aoraki/Mt Cook.
The anniversary effect
The prominence given to Kate Sheppard in 1993, aided by the launching in 1992 of a $10 note bearing her image, was reflected in public awareness of her, which rose from 39% of the adult population at the start of the year to 83% by the end. Knowledge that women had won the vote in New Zealand in 1893 rose from 49% to 80%.
Compared with the 1990 sesquicentennial, which aimed to look forward rather than back, there was far more attention paid to the history of women and their achievements. However, there were also projects examining the present situation and future challenges.
Once again, in preparation for the millennium, the government established a body – the Towards 2000 Taskforce, supported by the New Zealand Millennium Office – to support celebrations of the new millennium. It was also responsible for celebrations around the America’s Cup defence and the Sydney Olympics. The millennium was seen as an opportunity for New Zealand because the east of the country was claimed to be the first place in the world to see the sun in the new millennium – hence the marketing slogan: ‘First to the future’.
The office gave out some $5 million in funding, primarily for events in three locations which were part of the Official Millennium Dawn Programme: the Chatham Islands, Mt Hikurangi on the East Coast and Midway Beach at Gisborne. These three events were broadcast by TV3 around the world, and at Gisborne the highpoint featured world-renowned opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa singing ‘Pōkarekare ana’ as the sun came up.
As the new millennium arrived at midnight on 31 December, the eyes of the world were on New Zealand with as much concern as joy. There was a worldwide anxiety that computers, which had originally been programmed with only two figures for years, would falter when 99 turned to 00 and create infrastructural chaos. Banks, power, traffic lights and airports were considered in danger. In the event, years of preparation to cure the ‘Y2K bug’ paid off, and the lights stayed on.
The office gave out smaller sums to community groups for a range of local celebrations around the country, which were in many places affected by bad weather.
Anniversaries continued to be important moments when institutions, from schools to businesses to government departments, surveyed their history and their achievements. Many history books resulted.
The state also provided support for the commemoration of major military anniversaries such as battles and the end of the Second World War.
From 2014 to 2018, a focus of both private and public attention was the centenary of the First World War. Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington was opened in 2015 as a place to remember and reflect on this country’s experience of war, and how it has shaped our ideals and sense of national identity. The publication of a series of scholarly books about New Zealand and the First World War was enabled by government funding. The WW100 programme produced educational material and supported many community events.
In 2019, the Tuia 250 programme supported events around the country which commemorated the 250th anniversary of the early encounters between Māori and the crew of James Cook’s Endeavour, interactions which were facilitated by the Tahitian priest and navigator Tupaia. Tuia 250 emphasised New Zealanders’ dual heritage and shared future.