Brian Edwards Media

A thought for Anzac Day: To close the gap with Australia, start by ditching “God Defend New Zealand”.

Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images


With Anzac Day approaching we can expect to see a great deal of national pride expressed. There will be entirely justified talk of what a great little country we live in, how we punch above our weight in so many fields, from sport to scientific and medical inventiveness, and of our proud record in two world wars. The Anzac spirit of courage and cooperation with our friends and allies across the Tasman will be celebrated, as it should be.

When I came here in 1964 the ties with Britain were only just beginning to fray. Kiwis still spoke of Britain as ‘Home’, but with the ‘mother country’s’ entry into the ECC, doubts had begun to surface about where Britain’s true loyalties might lie. Jack Marshall returned home with assurances that our dairy and meat exports to the UK were not under threat, but those assurances had something of the quality of Chamberlain’s ‘peace in our time’.

In my 47 years in this country, it seems to me that in our affections we have grown closer to our Australian neighbours and ever further away from Britain. I doubt that anyone, other than new immigrants from the UK,  now speaks of Britain as ‘Home’ or would refer to it as the ‘mother country’. Though hundreds of thousands of us will be glued to our tellies for the wedding of Kate and William, it will, I suspect, be the spectacle that draws us rather than any strong feeling of love or admiration for the royal family. And republican sentiment is growing.   

Our closeness to the Aussies is perhaps best illustrated by the supreme and unique satisfaction we gain from beating them at sport. There is simply no satisfaction like it. It reflects both the fraternal nature of our relationship and our not-even-grudging admiration for the people of that ‘lucky country’.

But in contemplative mood we may sometimes ask ourselves: How come the Aussies are so much more positive than we are? How come they beat us more often than we beat them? How come our goal is to ‘close the gap’ with Australia, when we’d really like it to be the other way round? Is it just a matter of the greater size of Australia’s population, or the country’s mineral assets, or (said without any intent to offend) the strong genetic inheritance from their convict ancestors?

All of those possibly. But there is, it seems to me, a special clue in the national anthems of the two nations. While the Aussies are celebrating their country and themselves in a lively and spirited song of praise, we are pleading, in a dreary and tuneless dirge, for God to defend us from a host of ills and dangers. Pathetic! And just in case you’ve (understandably) forgotten it, here are a couple of verses (there are six of them) from the New Zealand national anthem:

God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific’s triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country’s spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

Ready to slit your throat yet? Well this may cheer you up:

Australians all, let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts,
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page let every stage,
Advance Australia Fair!

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair!

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross,
We’ll toil with heart and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours,
Renowned through all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine to
Advance Australia Fair!

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair!

Don’t you feel better? Wouldn’t that get your blood pulsing through your veins as yet another Aussie took gold at the Olympics or the Commonwealth games. And not a single plea or entreaty for help from the Almighty, at whose feet in the bonds of love we Kiwis apparently meet. The only more stirring national anthem is La Marseillaise:

 Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Marchons !
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

What great words! What a great tune!

And God Defend New Zealand? Let’s face it, it’s a dog. So when we finally get around to changing the flag, we really should take a close look at changing our national anthem. Maybe something that makes us feel proud to be Kiwis; Maybe something that inspires us with the same aggressively positive view of ourselves that the Aussies have of themselves. Who knows, that might just  prove to be the very best way of closing the gap.

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  1. Don’t you feel better?

    No — then again, I’m not enthused by an indifferent setting of banal sentiments embalmed in mediocre verse.

  2. I totally agree with your sentiment re: God Defend NZ (the irony of it rankles given recent events in our wee country too).


    “For those who’ve come across the seas,
    We’ve boundless plains to share”

    Tell that to all the boat people and those in Villawood detention centre.

  3. Not a comment, more of a statement. My family and I don’t talk about pride. We came here in 72, my father born in Trindad and my mother in England, both will die here, that is there love for this place and people… but yes Austraiia is our new mother

  4. i wish i could get there and their right.

    BE: You’re not alone. But I like the modesty implied by your use of the small i.

  5. All national anthems together with national flags should be consigned to the scrap heap. They provide a fig leaf of respectabilty to justify anything from skinheads beating up Asians, throwing bottles at an Australian referee, to politicians poking their unwanted noses into the affairs of other countries, usually by force of arms. Every atrocity and outrage in the world today is accompanied by the swelling of the patriotic chests wtapped in a national flag and a usually out of tine drunken rendition of the national anthem.

    BE: All of that may be true. But flags also serve to inspire national pride and to make us feel good about ourselves. Their symbolic role can be used for good or evil.

  6. Men of every creed and race
    Gather here before thy face
    Asking thee to bless this place
    God defend our free land
    From dissention, envy, hate
    And corruption guard our state
    Make our country good and great
    God defend New Zealand

    Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
    But, should foes assail our coast,
    Make us then a mighty host,
    God defend our Free Land.
    Lord of battles in thy might,
    Put our enemies to flight,
    Let our cause be just and right,
    God defend New Zealand

    May our mountains ever be
    Freedom’s ramparts on the sea,
    Make us faithful unto Thee,
    God defend our Free Land.
    Guide her in the nations’ van,
    Preaching love and truth to man,
    Working out Thy Glorious plan,
    God defend New Zealand.

    Sung at a proper tempo, not the funereal tempo so many sports match opening acts seem to think it should be sung at, LOVE IT!

    No, I’m not religious – if pushed I’ll say I don’t believe in God. But I don’t have a problem with the symbolism, God as a metaphor if you like. And I actually do think the overwhelming theme of those lyrics is fantastic. I also find it remarkably stirring – when sung at a proper tempo!

    BE: Hmmm. We’re just having to disagree on that. I don’t think a pleading theme is suitable for a national anthem. And as for ‘at thy feet’ – cringe-making.

  7. Brian, if you don’t mind including a couple of links, I’d like to suggest an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” response to your suggestion. At times I’ve travelled, the status quo has done the trick, and been anything but dreary & dirgelike.

    It seems one reason why you might bag the Kiwi anthem is based on a slower pace & drawn out lyrics, (eg., at events where the acoustics are poor & the effect depends upon the singer)

    There are Australians who don’t like ‘Advance Australia Fair’ also, which can also be made to sound uninspiring, worse than this version where our Anthem is more upbeat and ‘stirring':

    (In other words, where’s the ‘dog’ in this? Even without the images it’s great)

    Advance Australia Fair is a great tune, but surely there are Australians with similar sentiments about it too.

    A possible unofficial Australian national anthem (sung by an American with a fondness for OZ):

    BE: Thanks for the links. But of course we’ve forgotten Australia’s informal national anthem – Waltzing Mathilda. Now that’s rousing.

  8. There’s only one possible replacement NZ anthem (unless the La Marseillaise writer is still alive)

    BE: Yeah! Go Geoffie!

  9. It’s been said before no doubt, but I’ve always liked the idea of Six Months In A Leaky Boat as a replacement anthem.

  10. How can you not be stirred by this? It’s fantastic

    BE: I agree. It’s wonderful. But the English version, generally sung as a dirge, isn’t.

  11. Interesting article. I disagree though. If you look at “God of Nations at Thy feet, In the bonds of love we meet…” this sums up New Zealander’s caring attitudes. There are wonderful words in there ‘Guard’ ‘Defend’. ‘Make our praises heard afar’. Thinking of New Zealand success stories like Flight of the Concords, Split Enz, All Blacks,Sir Peter Jackson. Doing there bit to make our praises heard afar, plus a host of unnamed NZrs who make the country great. ‘Give us plenty,give us peace…guard our free land’. We are free, we have democracy, an incredible standard of living compared to many nations. We all sing the anthem, but it resonates I believe faith in God is an anchor for people and country. We are increasingly secular though. I live in Christchurch and many people have been incredible at this time, showing acts of selflessness. New Zealanders in general have been very generous in helping our people in this city. I believe the ‘bonds of love’ in this country are special, and God will continue to defend us, and be with us in our troubles. Now for something from a cheesy slogan on a car. I’ve noticed they are usually old datsuns and old biddies in homespun jerseys plaster the back window with them. I saw one the other day ‘Life is fragile,handle with prayer’. Its true. It works.She also had a ‘Say No to Didymo’ and ‘Damn the Dam’ on there as well.

    BE: Thank you. That’s a reasoned response. Where we disagree is that I believe ‘God’ has no place in our national anthem. An anthem should celebrate the achievements of the people not be a pleading for the assistance of some supernatural being. As someone else has pointed out and I suggested in my piece about God ‘weeping’ with the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, God, if you believe in God, hasn’t done too good a job of defending New Zealand recently.

  12. 12

    christopher mitson

    When I arrived here in Godzone, back in 1971, my first impression (being confined to Wellington) was that I was back in East Germany where I had spent some time the previous year. My gloom was heightened by the fact that the National Programme played the national anthem before the one or two o’clock news each Sunday. In my attempts to ingratiate myself, as a weird immigrant from the United States, I said loudly and proudly in the NZBC newsroom “I know what that is – it’s the national anthem ‘God Help New Zealand’. The silence was profound.

  13. I am not taken with either of them. The Aussie one is like a tourism ad, the kiwi one like one of those prayers a young child might say, attempting to cover every contingency.

    BE: Right. Goes well with ‘Where the hell are you?’ though.

  14. Who is this god chap that they think should be saving New Zealand? I really thought that we were in charge of our destiny. For better or worse it would be great to make our own mistakes and celebrate our own successes. Just keep that god fellow out of my country and our anthem.
    And for that matter for the same reasons get that royal person to go and annoy someone else and stick the knighthood business in a hole, and bury it.

  15. It is” has been horribly Maori-fied and painfully distended.

    NZ needs an anthem that acknowleges and honours our colonial ties to Mother England, whether we like it or not. And we need to recognise that NZ was founded by immigrants who arrived by boat. Hence, I favour this rousing song as our next national anthem.

    BE: Wonderful theme from a brilliant television series. Great to hear again. But an anthem?

  16. “Lively and spirited”? I’d like to hear the “lively and spirited” version of the tune to “Advance Australia Fair” some time, because the version I hear most often sounds like something out of a hypothetical “My First Book Of Piano Tunes I Can Play Myself”. The words to “God Defend New Zealand” may be sanctimonious piffle, but the tune to “Advance Australia Fair” is no better.

  17. ten guitars. yeah.

  18. It is usually rendered as a supplicating dirge, whatever the merits of some verses. Judging by what people my generation belt out voluntarily when called on to sing overseas, 10 Guitars, or Pokarekareana, are more our national songs.

    But Brian, while you are treading on national sensitivities, why not take on aa more urgent one.

    The kiwi is a disastrous national bird. Why identify with such a hopeless symbol?

    It snuffles around apologetically in the shadows, eating worms, freezing at sounds and movement, so defenseless it cedes to most animals half its size. It has so little spine and spirit it’s chosen to occupy the humble evolutionary slot of half blind rodents (voles, hedgehogs etc) instead of maintaining and using the genetic inheritance that gave birds their marvellous break – the ability to FLY.
    It can’t survive predators the rest of the bird world has learned to cope with. It is a dreary colour. Only its freaky fat shape generates any interest.
    No one ever sees it or hears it, outside gated havens where it lives at the whim of its patrons in fragile and artificial security. Even there it is so boring that it only gets visitors for the reasons that our most pretentious artists get support – because there are enough people too afraid to trust their own common sense, so they pretend to like what the pseud establishment says they should like.

    In the kiwi-arium all must approach with a reverential hush, in dim light. I suspect that many visitors are like me – they never actually see a kiwi. One gets so sick of peering at shadows and insignificant movement, so sick of having others say “over there, can’t you see it”, so sick of the dark when outside all is bright and cheerful, that eventually one pretends to have seen something interesting enough to justify saying you’ve done it – seen a kiwi – just so you can leave.

    So Brian – why don’t you lead a debate with more practical benefit and more chance of success. The kiwi is a perfect fit to an anthem that is usually sung as an ingratiating whine, and now seems to go on for ever since we must sing it in two languages we do not understand. But start with the easier project first. Let’s worry about the anthem replacement, and the flag replacement after we’ve dealt with the bird.

    There is surely embarassment and long-brewed frustration among us all, waiting for the signal. Rightly lead the campaign to dump the loser kiwi should explode into an overnight national consensus, like a Lindauer cork.

    Lets become keas. The kea can cope and has, with species from more competitive environments. It welcomes and is curious about strangers, instead of hiding from them.
    It has turned potential adversity to advantage. For example it learnt to find the fat around the kidneys of the squatters’ sheep.
    It has a glorious flash of colour hiding under its suitably modest New Zealander exterior. If you’ve ever seen them in a blizzard, you’ll know they pass the stoicism test for NZ identity and role modelling. They do things purely for fun, like lining up on the ridgeline to slide in turns down a steep hut roof, so they pass the sport lover test.

    And like us, they choose to live in places of great natural beauty, presumably for the scenery and the lifestyle, though there are far more convivial, soft and prosperous places to live.

    Lets have the kea, and forget about that loser kiwi.

    BE: An unanswerable suggestion, Stephen. Let’s run with it.

  19. “But flags also serve to inspire national pride and to make us feel good about ourselves.”

    Really!!! I thought better of you than that. If you need a flag to inspire “national pride” and to make you feel good about your self there is something seriously wrong with you.

    Your commnet reminds me of the exchange in Brecht’s Life of Galileo.

    Andrea : ” Unhappy the land that has no heroes”
    Galileo : ” No, unhappy the land that needs heroes”

    You apparently need flags and anthems as well as heroes!

    Perhaps you should take the Australian national anthem to Northern Territories and see if the Aborgine in the camps share the lofty sentiments expressed. It is a piece of colonialist kitsch.

    On the subject of La Marseillaise try listening to it to the original tune; it is not in the least inspiring. It is Berlioz’s orchestration that sets the heart pumping, not the words. It is the same with Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia. The words are crass and rather embrrasing for this day and age but the music makes the blood race.

    If we must have a national anthem there is no need to change the words; just get a decent tune.

  20. Lets change the flag before the anthem. At least that will give us some independent identity and not be confused with Australia on the world stage. @ Ostrich Pride – “has been horribly Maorified and painfully distended”. I have been to many sporting events where the national anthem has been sung in Maori and English and I have observed an increase in participation by the audience when singing both verses. No other country sings their national anthem in Maori and English.I think you could be in the minority. Actually, there is nothing stopping Ostrich Pride from singing Advance Australia Fair, particularly the second verse “with all her faults we still love her, Britannia rules the waves”.

  21. I never realised the primary purpose of the national anthem was to make me feel better. “Bread of Heaven” has lyrics that hardly inspire!

    A national anthem should ideally somehow capture a key aspect of what it means to be a New Zealander, to part be of and speak to our past and future.

    By way of analogy, to me the birdsong of the Kokako is in some indefinable way invokes the forests and bush of my homeland, and to me a national anthem should try capture the same sense of identification with these islands of ours.

    I’ve always thought the quintessential New Zealand ballad that does this is “Po atarau” – here sung by the very living symbol of Pakeha culture, Zealandia herself! (OK so I am being slightly sarcastic) –

    Po atarau is the New Zealand song for me. It speaks to the experience of Pakeha and Maori equally alike. If the tune was adopted as an anthem we needn’t have to keep all or any of the words – “Bread of Heaven” has different lyrics, for example.

    BE: Beautiful, I agree, Tom, but it will always be known as ‘Now is the Hour’ and the second line will alway be ‘for us to say goodbye’. So I don’t think it’s entirely suitable as an anthem.

  22. PS – it may have escaped your attention Mr. Edwards, but we New Zealanders are not Australians. For a start, advance Australia Fair is just the sort of bright jingle for a nation full of brash blowhards who all seem to be called George, but such vulgarity simply wouldn’t work here.

    I blame the Scots for the significant undercurrent of slightly sad sentimentality that seems to be a cultural marker of our character as a peope.

    BE: “PS – it may have escaped your attention Mr. Edwards, but we New Zealanders are not Australians.” Surprisingly, Dr Semmens, that had not escaped my attention.

  23. Tom Semmens, ‘Bread of Heaven’ is not a National Anthem; it is not even a song. It is one line from Guide me o thou Great Redeemer (originally Jehovah) and as well as being a hymn is sung by Welsh rugby supporters usually when there team is going down to another defeat.

    The Welsh National Anthem is Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau or The Land Of My Fathers and does have an inspirational quality when sung by 60,000 passionate Welshmen at the Millennium Stadium. The main point is that the Welsh collectively can sing. New Zealanders cannot which is another reason why the NZ National Anthem sounds so awful.

    As for an alternative anthem for NZ given the population’s migratory tendencies and the lure of Australia, may I suggest ‘Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more’?

  24. I couldn’t possibly comment!

  25. Interestingly, ‘Now is the hour’ evolved from a piano-variations piece, published in Aussie in 1913.

    And as Tom incisively points out, “we New Zealanders are not Australians.”

    It wouldn’t do much for the delicate NZ psyche to have our national anthem sung to an Aussie tune!

    BE: “It wouldn’t do much for the delicate NZ psyche to have our national anthem sung to an Aussie tune!” No it wouldn’t. But if you can find anywhere I’ve suggested that our national anthem should be sung to an Aussie tune, you’ll win a chocolate fish.

  26. National anthems have to be in 2/4 or 4/4 time, for walking or marching to.

    Po atarau is 3/4 (or 6/8), eg, like a waltz. Well, a waltzing army would be “different”, I suppose…

  27. Neither the flag or anthem are a fashion statement to be changed at whim; what happens if someone moots changing it again in 50 – 100 years? Eventually the ground merely slips under your feet.
    The flag and anthem should remain as they are, while we get on with living in the present. That’s how it’s supposed to be; acknowledgement and gratitude for those who worked, sacrificed and inspired us in the past, while accepting that it’s our turn to put shoulder to the wheel now.

    BE: When you say, ‘That’s how it’s supposed to be,’ who precisely is doing the supposing? And how appropriate is it to have a national anthem, which only believers in God – a rapidly decreasing number of the population -can sing with any sincerity?

  28. “I don’t think a pleading theme is suitable for a national anthem.”
    Ah, you see, I think our differing interpretations say more about how we as individuals perceive our national character than do the lyrics themselves. I don’t perceive a pleading theme – I perceive an aspirational theme, a theme of aiming for justness, fairness, to be known as the country that is “good and great”, that rises above bigotry (Men of every creed and race)and corruption, that actively pursues peace (Peace, not war, shall be our boast) but isn’t afraid to fight for right (Let our cause be just and right) and that values freedom (May our mountains ever be Freedom’s ramparts on the sea). Because I consider the appeals to God as purely metaphorical, I see this as what we are asking of ourselves, which is inherently uplifting.
    I also think the verse containing the following lyrics should be sung at all Rugby World Cup games:

    But, should foes assail our coast,
    Make us then a mighty host.

    At an upbeat tempo, of course!

    BE: Yes, but you seem to be overlooking the fact that in the anthem we’re pleading with God to help us achieve all those things. No standing on our own feet there. And, as I responded to Wake Up: How appropriate is it to have a national anthem, which only believers in God – a rapidly decreasing number of the population -can sing with any sincerity?

  29. “only believers in God – a rapidly decreasing number of the population -can sing with any sincerity?”

    I assume you have some statistical evidence to support that claim?

    BE: Yes, the Census.

  30. @ Ashley: “But, should foes assail our coast..”

    It’s already been done. Thanks to that idiot, John Key.

    And this: “I perceive an aspirational theme, a theme of aiming for justness, fairness, to be known as the country that is “good and great”

    Huh! You mean, something mournful and elegiac: “Ode to our lost Foreshore and Seabed”.

  31. Ive only ever considered this as a suitable replacement for our national anthem ,although ten guitars comes a close 2nd

  32. “BE: Yes, the Census.”

    The census only covers those who claim to subscribe to a particular sect/church. It does not measure belief. Belief and belonging to a church are two entirely different things.

    Neither does the census measure the enormous growth in the Evangelical church movements which can be measured by ongoing attendance rates.

    I know it suits your agenda to believe that Christianity is on its last legs but it is wishful thinking on your part.

  33. I am reminded of this, where a Mr Connolly attempted to get the English to change their anthem. His suggestion gathered some traction at the time, but ultimately failed. The tune therefore remains available….

    BE: Hadn’t seen that one. Wonderful. Thanks. And, as you suggest, worth considering the Archers theme as our niew national anthem.

  34. But the poor old poms seem quite happy with God save the Queen – same sort of pleading, but whereas at least we beg the almighty to help the whole nation, UK’s God is only supposed to help that that bunch of chinless wonders and social climbing creeps called the Royal Family – the other 56 million can bugger off…

  35. Christopher Mitson came to “Godzone” in 1971. Why Godzone? What does that mean? OK – I know that the term is in Harry Orsnam’s dictionary – but only so that a phonetic search can be directed to “God’s Own”. Godzone, Chris, doesn’t really mean anything – it is a reduction of “God’s Own Country”. Thomas Bracken, who wrote the lyrics for the anthem, used it first in the title of a book of his poetry. Although, if we were to ditch our National Anthem it might then make sense to entrench the meaningless “Godzone” in our lexicon. We can join Kerala and all the other places around the planet that also operate in ignorance.

  36. OK – it’s not great but the acusation of being a durge is grossly unjustified. And the Aussie skite isn’t much better – if at all. We would improve ours by keeping the Maori language out of it – it’s a meaningless distraction in no-one’s mother tongue. Since it’s also an “official” national language, I’m still waitng for the All Blacks to sing the anthem in sign.

  37. Brian, you ask me: “… how appropriate is it to have a national anthem, which only believers in God – a rapidly decreasing number of the population -can sing with any sincerity?”

    I think the answer is alrady implicit in what I said in my comment: “Neither the flag or anthem are a fashion statement to be changed at whim”

    i.e that was then, this is now; leave it be, be inspired by our forebears’ faith and work, and get on with being here now, whatever one’s own religio/theological/teleological position.

  38. 38

    Personally I’m reasonably content with “God Defend New Zealand”. It lacks most of the jingoism, manifest destiny and bloodlust I find objectionable in many anthems, and pretty accurately sums up our non-threatening meek diplomatic niceness. Thomas Bracken is an underrated poet (one may get a lovely view of Dunedin from his grave) whose lovely humanist poem “Not Understood” deserves an airing.

    And wasn’t there a fairly robust feelgood version that used to be on TVNZ promos back in the late 1980s? Don’t blame the music for poor interpretations. It doesn’t have to sound like a dirge at all.

    The “God” reference is probably fair enough – we might view ourselves as secular and not-religious, but I think the representative majority would choke at calling themselves atheist.

  39. The Brit’s anthem is basically ‘please don’t let our monarch die’ – no reference to the land itself at all – and they don’t seem to be whingeing about it.