The possible performance of the haka in future Anzac Day ceremonies has sparked controversy with some arguing it detracts from the occasion while a New Zealand Maori has labelled a regional WA branch of the RSL as discriminatory.
David Tekona performed a solo rendition of the haka at last month’s Anzac Day commemorations in Bunbury, but his actions has stirred debate among Australian veterans.
Mr Tekona said he wanted to do the ancient Maori ceremonial dance as a “mark of respect” to military personnel from both nations.
He said there was confusion about whether the haka was on the event program and that the president of the branch, John Gelmi told him if it was performed then Indigenous people would also need to be involved.
“He said, ‘If I let you do the haka then I’ve got to let the Aboriginals do their thing’,” Mr Tekona said.
“And I said ‘John they should be doing their thing anyway because they are the first nations of this land’.”
“Indigenous soldiers also fought side by side with Australians. I thought they should be doing something with Indigenous peoples.”
Impromptu haka ‘insulting’ says RSL chief
Maori and Aboriginal dancers performed the Haka and the Corroboree in unison to salute the Anzacs following the dawn service. (ABC News: Briana Shepherd)
John Gelmi referred the ABC to the RSL’s WA branch, but strongly denied Mr Takona’s claims of racist or discriminatory actions.
In a letter sighted by the ABC, the RSL WA branch said Mr Takona was asked not to do the haka and he performed it “without our knowledge”.
The letter also said the haka had not been a feature of previous Anzac commemorations and “there are no plans to include it in the future”.
The letter stated he had been denied twice in 2016 and 2017 where he was instead invited to perform outside the RSL after the service, but he interrupted the 2016 dawn service with an unscheduled performance of the Maori dance.
The haka was performed in unison with a traditional Aboriginal corroboree dance immediately following the Anzac dawn service at Kings Park.
RSL WA chief executive John McCourt said he had worked closely with those involved in that display, which he said was greeted with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“It was welcomed,” he said.
“It just goes to show you what it can be when you collaborate and talk and sit down calmly with people of other cultures.”
But Mr McCourt said the impromptu performance in Bunbury was “insulting” to veterans.
“Anzac Day is about all of us not just some of us, and I think they get rightly upset when someone takes advantage of that,” he said.
Mark of respect for wartime mates
Vietnam veteran Brian Buzzard said the haka should be included in Anzac Day commemorations. (ABC NewS: Sarah Collard)
Vietnam veteran Brian Buzzard, 70, said he supported the use of the haka at Anzac commemorations, and said he and others in his platoon owed their lives to their New Zealand counterparts.
Mr Buzzard’s platoon was involved in the Battle of Coral-Balmoral near Saigon in 1968 where 24 Australians lost their lives including more than a quarter of Mr Buzzard’s platoon mates.
He said more would have died if not for the efforts of the New Zealand artillery involved in the operation.
“If it wasn’t for the two artillery battalions firing so close — almost on top of our positions — our entire platoon would have been gone.”
Mr Buzzard said both platoons developed a teasing yet tough bond through their time together, and he called for greater recognition of New Zealand’s wartime efforts.
“There was always the typical rivalry between Australia and New Zealand but underneath there was a bond of great camaraderie,” he said.
“We’ve got to keep the NZ in Anzac — it’s no good just having Australia — it’s about Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Buzzard said he conceded some veterans and their families would see the ongoing inclusion of the haka as “different”, but said there was no reason it could not become a new tradition.
“There’s going to be a few older people who think that but no one with my experiences of NZ troops in Vietnam would even question it.”
Brian Buzzard was 21 when he was conscripted to fight in the Vietnam war. (Supplied: Brian Buzzard)