God Defend New Zealand

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God Defend New Zealand
God Defend New Zealand manuscript cropped.jpg

National anthem of New Zealand
Lyrics Thomas Bracken, 1870s (English)
Music John Joseph Woods, 1876
Adopted 1940 (as national hymn)
1977 (as national anthem)
Audio sample
God Defend New Zealand (instrumental)

"God Defend New Zealand" is one of two national anthems of New Zealand, the other being "God Save the Queen". Legally they have equal status, but "God Defend New Zealand" is more commonly used and is widely (albeit incorrectly) referred to as "the national anthem". Originally written as a poem, it was set to music as part of a competition in 1876, over the years its popularity increased, and it was eventually named the second national anthem in 1977. The anthem has English and Māori lyrics, with slightly different meanings. When performed in public, the usual practice is to sing the first verse in both Māori and English.

History and performance[edit]

New Zealand Historic Places Trust circular blue plaque at the site of the first performance of God Defend New Zealand
Heritage New Zealand blue plaque at the site of the first performance in Dunedin

"God Defend New Zealand" was written as a poem in the 1870s by Irish-born, Victorian-raised immigrant Thomas Bracken of Dunedin.[1] A competition to compose music for the poem was held in 1876 by The Saturday Advertiser and judged by three prominent Melbourne musicians, with a prize of ten guineas,[2] the winner of the competition was the Tasmanian-born John Joseph Woods of Lawrence, New Zealand who composed the melody in a single sitting the evening after finding out about the competition.[3] The song was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Princes Street, Dunedin, on Christmas Day, 1876;[2] in 1897, Prime Minister Richard Seddon presented a copy of words and music to Queen Victoria.[2]

A Māori version of the song was produced in 1878 by Thomas Henry Smith of Auckland, a judge in the Native Land Court, on request of Governor George Edward Grey.[2] A copy of the Māori lyrics, under the title "Aotearoa", was printed in Otago newspapers in October 1878;[4] in Smith's original text the word "whakarangona" was used to translate 'hear', rather than the modern "whakarongona".[5]

The song became increasingly popular during the 19th century and early 20th century, and in 1940 the New Zealand government bought the copyright and made it New Zealand's 'national hymn' in time for that year's centennial celebrations,[4] it was used at the British Empire Games from 1950 onward, and first used at the Olympics during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.[note 1] Following the performance at the Munich games, a campaign began to have the song adopted as the national anthem.[7]

"God Save The Queen" was New Zealand's sole national anthem until the 1970s.[7] In May 1973 a remit to change the New Zealand flag, declare a New Zealand republic and change the national anthem was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference.[8] In 1976 Garth Henry Latta from Dunedin presented a petition to Parliament asking "God Defend New Zealand" to be made the national anthem, with the permission of Queen Elizabeth II, it was gazetted as the country's second national anthem on 21 November 1977, on equal standing with "God Save The Queen".[9]

An alternative official arrangement for massed singing by Maxwell Fernie was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet on 31 May 1979.[10] Woods' original score was written in the key of A-flat major (concert pitch) and was better suited for solo and choral singing; Fernie's arrangement changed the key down a minor second to G major.

Until the 1990s, only the first verse of the English version was commonly sung, the first televised performance of both the Māori and English version of the anthem, was at the Australian vs New Zealand Netball test in 1997. It was performed by the nationally renowned duo ‘String of Pearls’ – Cyndi Joe and Vicki Lee, it set a trend for all future events, however in 1999 public debate emerged after only the first Māori verse was sung at the 1999 Rugby World Cup match against England by Hinewehi Mohi.


The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has responsibility for the national anthems. The guidelines in the 1977 Gazette notice for choosing which anthem should be used on any occasion advise that "God Save The Queen" would be appropriate at any occasion where The Queen, a member of the Royal Family, or the Governor-General, when within New Zealand, is officially present or when loyalty to the crown is to be stressed; while "God Defend New Zealand" would be appropriate whenever the national identity of New Zealand is to be stressed even in association with a toast to Elizabeth II as Queen of New Zealand.[9][11]


Copyright on the English lyrics for "God Defend New Zealand" expired from the end of the year that was 50 years after the death of the author (Bracken),[12] i.e., from 1 January 1949. The rights to the musical score passed into the public domain in the 1980s.[13]


Sheet music for God Defend New Zealand as now commonly performed.

"God Defend New Zealand" has five verses, each in English and Māori. The Māori version is not a direct translation of the English version.

First verses[edit]

National Anthem of New Zealand (God Defend New Zealand)

Māori verse: "Aotearoa"

E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai

English translation (by Professor S. Kāretu[14])

Lord, God over yonder,
Of all our nations
Listen to us gently,
With the infinite love
May the goodness bear fruit;
May your kindness come;
Please give protection to
New Zealand

English verse: "God Defend New Zealand"

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.

Full English version[edit]

Meaning of "Pacific's triple star"

There is some discussion, with no official explanation, of the meaning of "Pacific's triple star". Unofficial explanations range from New Zealand's three biggest islands (North, South, and Stewart Island),[2] to the three stars on the flag of Te Kooti (a Māori political and religious leader of the 19th century).[15]

Full Māori version[edit]

Note on "whakarangona"

The original 1878 Māori version uses "whakarangona" (to be heard), the passive form of the verb "whakarongo" (to hear). An alternate passive form of the verb, "whakarongona", first appeared as one of several errors in the Māori version when "God Defend New Zealand" was published as the national hymn in 1940, the latter form of the verb has appeared in many versions of the anthem since this time, although the Ministry of Culture and Heritage continues to use "whakarangona".[5]


Both the lyrics and melody of the anthem have been criticised in some quarters as being dull and irrelevant,[16] the underlying structure of the piece is a prayer to God, with the refrain "God defend New Zealand"; this assumes religious faith, although a large proportion of New Zealanders are not religious. Many of the words and concepts have been perceived as antiquated or obscure: for example, "thy", "thee", "ramparts", "assail", and "nation's van",[16] it is also known for being difficult to sing.[10]


  1. ^ When New Zealand's rowing eight collected their gold medals at the Munich games, the band played "God Defend New Zealand" instead of "God Save the Queen". As it was not yet an anthem, this contravened Olympic rules, and there has been no explanation of why it happened,[4] the crew of the coxed eight standing on the victory dais overcome with emotion and "bawling like babies" is one of New Zealand's most memorable sporting moments.[6]


  1. ^ Broughton, W.S (22 June 2007). "Bracken, Thomas 1843 – 1898". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "National anthems: History of God Defend New Zealand". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "National anthems: John Joseph Woods - composer". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Swarbrick, Nancy (June 2012). "National anthems - History of ‘God defend New Zealand". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  5. ^ a b "National anthems: God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 7: The 1972 rowing eight". The New Zealand Herald. 30 July 2016. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Max Cryer. "Hear Our Voices, We Entreat: The Extraordinary Story of New Zealand’s National Anthems". Exisle Publishing. Archived from the original on 17 May 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  8. ^ John Moody. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand’s Flag" (PDF). New Zealand Flag Association. 
  9. ^ a b "Announcement of the adoption of national anthems for New Zealand" (PDF). Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette of Thursday, 17 November 1977. 21 November 1977. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "National anthems: Musical score for God Defend New Zealand". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  11. ^ "National anthems: Protocols". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 12 April 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "Copyright Act 1994 No 143 (as at 01 March 2017), Public Act Contents". www.legislation.govt.nz. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  13. ^ Swarbrick, Nancy (June 2012). "National anthems - New Zealand’s anthems". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  14. ^ "National Anthem in English and Maori". SOUNZ: Centre for New Zealand Music. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  15. ^ Folksong.org.nz. "E Ihowa atua: "Triple Star"". 
  16. ^ a b Swarbrick, Nancy (June 2012). "National anthems - Analysing the anthems". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 6 September 2017. 

External links[edit]