The Anzac tradition is central to both countries’ national stories and identities, and the sentimental cornerstone of New Zealand’s relations with Australia. Troops from both countries served together at Gallipoli, Turkey, in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the First World War, and the anniversary of the original landing (25 April 1915) became Anzac Day, a proxy national day for both countries. The Anzac hero was a common masculine type descended from the British soldier, who embodied service, bravery, initiative and mateship. Together, Australians and New Zealanders were Anzacs. But on the Western Front they both became ‘diggers’, and informally ‘Aussies’ and ‘Kiwis’.
Yet the legend differed in the two countries. The archetypal New Zealand Anzac was a natural gentleman, the archetypal Australian a larrikin. This difference is explained by reference points. Australians – the larger force – defined themselves in contrast with the British, while New Zealand soldiers in the First World War defined themselves in contrast with both British and Australians.
The countries differed on conscription, since Australia’s Defence Act 1903 stipulated conscription for home defence but only volunteers for overseas service, and Australian voters rejected conscription twice, in 1916 and 1917. All the Australian Anzacs in the First World War were volunteers, whereas New Zealand introduced conscription in late 1916.
Both Australia and New Zealand erected many war memorials after the First World War. Most New Zealand memorials listed only those who died, while most Australian ones listed all those who served. In New Zealand the focus of Anzac Day services was the laying of wreaths on the memorial, while in Australia it was the march of the veterans. It seems likely that this was because all Australian soldiers were volunteers who should therefore be honoured. In New Zealand the many dead were the primary focus of memory.
Second World War and after
Australia had a greater concern than New Zealand about military threats from Asia. This was expressed first in Australia’s decision to withdraw its troops from the Mediterranean theatre during the Second World War to defend the homeland against Japan, while New Zealand kept its division in North Africa.
Defence remained an area of divergence and occasional dispute because New Zealand did not feel as threatened as Australia. Yet the Anzac partners signed the Anzac (Canberra) Pact in 1944 and the ANZUS alliance with the United States in 1951. Divergence in defence policy peaked during the ANZUS crisis of 1984–86, when New Zealand fell out with the United States over the nuclear character of the alliance, and so unsettled Australia, for whom relations with the United States were of foremost importance.
In 2003 Australia took part in the United States-led invasion of Iraq, while New Zealand refused to send troops.
As New Zealand’s defence relationship with the United States weakened, there were efforts to cultivate stronger links with Australia. From 1991 a formal Closer Defence Relations (CDR) programme involved common training, joint defence exercises, complementary defence equipment and an Anzac frigate programme. Since 1997 there have been joint Anzac peacekeeping operations in Bougainville, Timor Leste (East Timor), the Solomon Islands and Tonga.