Dominion Day

Today marks the one hundred and eleventh anniversary of New Zealand gaining Dominion status in the British Empire. Dominion Day was once a holiday in New Zealand, with sporadic celebrations being held over the next few decades, but today it has sadly been all but forgotten.

Our becoming a Dominion ranks with our very coming into existence through the Treaty of Waitangi. This was a major boost to the status of our nation, and a step up from being a colony to being a self-governing country under the British Empire. Technically we’re still a Dominion today, as the 1907 royal proclamation was never revoked.

After the King’s consent to raising the status of New Zealand was assured, the Prime Minister at the time, Joseph Ward, sent the following message out to the people of the new Dominion. Note: these quotes have been re-formatted slightly for readability, but the content is unedited.

Today your island home attains the prouder title of Dominion. This guerdon is due to the faithful efforts of the living, but still more to the strenuous, hard, courageous lives of many of our noble pioneers and colonists now at rest. New Zealand’s place today has been honourably won by the pluck, grit and determination of its people.

My message is: May the lesson of our history preserve the purity of your race from every undesirable mixture, secure equal opportunity to all, permit no ring-fence of privilege to any class, elevate your view of manual work so that the true dignity and ennobling influence of honest labour be felt and shown in a contempt for idleness and extravagance, trust the future of our Dominion not to increasing wealth, but rather to an ever higher manhood and womanhood, to a wider enlightenment and humanity disciplined by the needs of industry, by temperate living, and by those healthy and beneficent tasks and trials that beget advancement, and which should be the price of all promotion in a free country.

Let us be justly proud of the place we take today in the roll of the King’s dominions, but let us make this an incentive to something higher still-a true dominion in the head and heart of our own people.

Opposition leader William Massey - later to himself become prime minister - sent a message too:

We are entering upon a new era-an era fraught with great national possibilities; but if we are to develop imperially, and if our branch of the British stock is to grow and to flourish we must never forget the noblest traditions of the race to which we belong, nor cease to venerate the memory of the pioneers who laid the foundations of the Dominion.

Let our endeavours be to build up a liberty-loving state that will forever hold an honoured place in the great company of nations of which the Empire is composed. As a people let us do our duty alike to Empire and Dominion, and as individuals let us seek persistently to cultivate those qualities of character without which national greatness is impossible, and by means of which the new Dominion may lead in all that makes for the welfare and the uplifting of humanity.

Keep ye the law; be swift in all obedience; clear the land of evil; drive the road and bridge the ford; make ye sure to each his own that he reap where he hath sown. By the peace among our peoples let men know we serve the Lord.

Both of these quotes are taken from the Otago Daily Times, 14th October 1907. Their mentioning of preserving ‘the purity of your race’, and ‘our branch of the British stock’ would certainly not fly today - white people are forbidden to have pride in their race or concern for its future well-being. The fact that it was this spirit which inspired us to create the greatest civilisations the world has ever seen is irrelevant if it conflicts with the currently-dominant ideology.

A public opinion piece in the Auckland Star begins with the line ‘If only this land can become the home of a race kept free from alien taint’ and ends with ‘New Zealand, small in area, scantily peopled, secluded from the world’s main highways, will yet rank among the world’s great nations as a power making for the infinite amelioration and uplifting of human life and all that renders it worth living’. It’s hard to argue with.

Another piece, in the New Zealand Herald, is enlightening:

Whether we keep the holiday or not, whether we perceive it or not, whether we are grateful for it or not, this Royal proclamation is not only an event in our history, but a momentous sign of what is going on in the British Empire. It is as a knighthood on an esquire’s shoulders; like the giving of the keys to an heir grown to man’s estate, only a symbol truly, but symbolical of that for which true Englishmen have ever been ready to die.

New Zealand becoming a Dominion was one stage in the process of national development; our nation growing up, ‘even as a man outgrows the raiment of youth’.

Accounts of the celebrations can also be found in old newspapers. Dunedin was ‘filled with humanity and sunshine; and standards, Union Jacks and house flags’ In Kumara a crowd broke into song, singing God Save the King. The headmaster of Akaroa High School declared that ‘with the children lay the future of the Dominion’. The flag was raised in Kaponga, and cheers were called for the Dominion and the King.

There were ‘loyal demonstrations’ in Waikouaiti. Sixteen thousand people crowded Newtown Park in Wellington. The Invercargill celebrations were referred to as ‘the most important ceremonies ever held in this fair city’. In Hokitika, the Mayor reminded the crowd that there was ‘One flag, one land, one heart, one hand, one nation evermore’.

The Tuapeka Brass Band paraded through Lawrence. The people of Geraldine took advantage of the holiday to go to the races. A ‘great gathering’ celebrated in Westport. In Naseby the mayor planted an oak tree - a ‘significant of the bulwark of the Empire’. An electric light display was made in Napier - a great extravagance at the time. An artillery salute was even fired in Nelson…

There were celebrations everywhere; all over the country the men, women and children of New Zealand reflected on the nation they had built from nothing, and what it may become. This was a significant day, and they knew it. This was a turning point in our history as a nation and a people.

We should all remember Dominion Day. We proud New Zealanders should celebrate Dominion Day, and the ideals for which it stands - our heritage and the dream of national betterment. Patriotism and purity. Loyalty to our people, not only in New Zealand, but to our ancestral homelands and our brothers abroad. Sincere concern for the welfare of the working man of our nation.

The New Zealander of 1907 couldn’t have known what would become of his country, but he was enthusiastic and forward-facing; the future for him was bright. Much has happened to our fair country that would disgust or dismay him, but she is not lost.

In our Movement, the ideals of Dominion Day live.

In us, the spirit of the Dominion marches on.