In 1908 over 20,000 people went to the Wellington suburb of Newtown to watch a parade and see 5000 children form a living flag. Parliament Buildings were lit up as they had been the previous year.
Elsewhere, the day passed with little fanfare after 1907, especially in centres distant from the capital. In Dunedin, government agencies and banks closed, the garrison paraded and schoolchildren saluted the flag. Although ships in port flew flags or raised bunting, ‘the display, taken all round, was rather a meagre one’, according to the local paper.
During the 1910s, politicians and diplomats still made occasional speeches, but Dominion Day faded away as a public event. The Public Holidays Act 1910 'Mondayised' the day, so it was marked on the Monday closest to 26 September rather than the actual date.
William Massey, who had not supported the change to dominion status, did nothing to promote Dominion Day after becoming prime minister in 1912. The day was marked mainly by the closure of government departments, law offices and banks, but that gradually fell out of favour. In schools, however, children still held ceremonies, such as saluting the flag.
Why did Dominion Day not catch on?
There are a range of reasons why Dominion Day never really caught on in New Zealand. Some people thought there were enough public holidays already. Empire Day (24 May) and Labour Day (late October) were more popular.
Some blamed the unreliable early spring weather. Others complained that the day was not made a paid holiday, except briefly for a privileged few. Still others blamed the weak sense of nationalism – ‘“independence in our time” is not the cry of the British loyalists today’ was written in the Evening Post in 1907. For most people, though, there was no strong emotional attachment to the day: nothing tangible had happened with the shift from colony to dominion status.
Perhaps it should now replace Waitangi Day as our national day?
Waitangi Day could be retained to commemorate the signing of the only treaty in the world that has been honoured - the Treaty of Waitangi.