Stories which make a nation

Stories carved in our hearts and not stone. The permanence of who we are should not be carved in stone, but rather in our hearts, with all of us participating in the national story.

There was a young Indian family standing beside us at the dawn ceremony on Wednesday and I couldn't help but think what did it mean to them. After all, their ancestors probably had nothing to do with the military debacle at Anzac Cove in April 1915. As the beautiful clear sky lightened against the blood red War Memorial Museum I began to notice many cultures around me in effect defining what New Zealand is increasingly about. With their little ones hoisted on their shoulders, we all stood silently listening to a lone bugler, and in our own ways, to our own gods, thanked those long dead soldiers from the bottom of our hearts for their sacrifice.

Here great suffering was caused to a small country by the loss of so many of our young men. But, the Gallipoli campaign showcased attitudes and attributes - bravery, tenacity, practicality, ingenuity, and loyalty to King and comrades. It helped New Zealand define itself as a nation.

We gained a great mutual respect for our trans-Tasman friends, which formed the basis of close ties, which continue today. Like all stories they do have sad chapters and this unquestionably was one of our saddest. Nevertheless the book needs to be read from cover to cover with all its tensions of opposites.

The little children standing with parents who were probably born elsewhere suggested to me that they probably have their own war stories every bit as horrific as ours. From Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Eastern Europe and beyond, I couldn't help thinking that for them this solemn dawn ceremony perhaps represented a new hope from whence they came to this young country – one which has in fact the word “New” in its name.

There is a danger that by clothing real historic events in a thick coat of myth and cliché that we will lose touch with the experience of those involved and its significance. History is the means by which we understand who we are, and the basis on which we make the judgment that determines our future.

The recent earthquakes in Christchurch have resulted in many lost lives and much sadness, and remind us of the impermanence of structures such as the destruction of the city’s beautiful Cathedral built in 1858. The resilience of New Zealanders and the people of Christchurch is such that they're happy to build a “cardboard” Cathedral, which will last 20 to 30 years, in that spirit of ‘can-do’ renewal. A kind of “let's get on in the meantime” attitude.

The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban's contribution comes from a person whose country has been devastated itself by recent nuclear and natural disasters. Here we see the indomitable spirit of the Japanese as they climb out of their own darkness by being held together by their stories.

The permanence of who we are should not be carved in stone but rather in our hearts with all of us participating in the national story. It is a matter for each and every one of us New Zealanders to understand and contribute our own little piece of the story. To feel included, to feel appreciated. Chilling reminders of how fragile we are and how much we need each other in such times. It's a rich and ever unfolding story, which helps us to stand together.

Stories of those things that entertain us and teach us how things are, how things came to be, and most importantly stories of what we could become. They teach us how to live. How to be thankful and even happy to go forward on such somber ANZAC mornings.