Story: Australia and New Zealand

Page 5. Common culture

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People movement

As in the 19th century, the 20th and 21st centuries have seen much movement to and fro across the Tasman. In the early 1900s many Australians moved to New Zealand, including people who became active in the union movement and Labour Party. Michael Joseph Savage’s 12-strong 1935 Labour cabinet had five Australian-born men, including Savage himself. From the late 1960s the flow was reversed, as Kiwis went west to Australia. By 2006 there were 15 New Zealanders living in Australia for every 100 in New Zealand. In 2009 New Zealand was the second-largest contributor of migrants to Australia’s population. Australia became an extension of home because of visits to family, on holiday or business. Almost all Māori had whānau across the Tasman in the early 2000s. Whereas one in 50 Māori lived in Australia in 1966, that proportion was one in six in 2013.

New Zealanders have free entry to Australia under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, which allows them to reside and work there for an indefinite period. Combined queues for New Zealand and Australian passport holders at airports were introduced in 2005, and ‘smart gate’ technology at the border in 2009.

From 1948 the two countries had a social-security agreement, but after 2001, apart from age pensions, only New Zealanders who were permanent residents or also citizens of Australia qualified for other benefits. Australians in New Zealand were treated as if they were New Zealanders.

Similarity of origins and regular contact encouraged cultural similarities.

Neighbourly support

Family bonds between New Zealand and Australia came to the fore in 2009 and 2011 in response to natural disasters on both sides of the Tasman, renewing the Anzac spirit. New Zealand sent firefighters to help during the Victorian bushfires of February 2009, while Australia responded strongly to the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch on 22 February 2011 by flying in over 750 people, including police and medical personnel. Both countries held minutes of silence in their parliaments to remember the lives lost in the two events. New Zealand firefighters responded again during the catastrophic 2019/20 Australian bushfire season.

Food heritage

The Anzac biscuit emerged as both countries’ ‘national’ biscuit in the 20th century. Rolled oats, the basic ingredient, had a Scottish heritage. The pavlova performed a parallel role as both nations’ national dessert. Lamb and potatoes were other common foods. The breakfast staple of Sanitarium Weetbix was advertised as good for ‘Aussie kids’ and ‘Kiwi kids’ in the respective markets. But Sanitarium’s Marmite spread competed in New Zealand with Australian Vegemite.

Popular culture

Strong ties of popular culture bridged the Tasman. Australian radio serials like ‘Dad and Dave’ and ‘Life with Dexter’ were popular in New Zealand. From the late 1930s the Kiwi performer Tex Morton was Australia’s first music idol, while Māori show bands and rock groups such as Split Enz became widely acclaimed in Australia. Crowded House was a trans-Tasman hybrid.

Australian publications like the Bulletin, Truth and Pix were popular in New Zealand, and writers moved both ways – the poet Henry Lawson spent time in New Zealand, while author Jean Devanny and comedian John Clarke settled in Australia.

Phar Lap relics

The legendary racehorse Phar Lap won the affection and stirred the national pride of both countries. Born near Timaru in 1926, he was sold to an Australian owner in 1928. The gangling chestnut went on to win 37 races from 51 starts, including the 1930 Melbourne Cup and the world’s richest race, the 1932 Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico. He died mysteriously three weeks later, and his body was divided between Australia and New Zealand – his skeleton is at Te Papa in Wellington, his massive heart is in a jar at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, and his hide is at the Melbourne Museum.


Horse racing has for over 150 years been a shared passion, and New Zealand punters and public follow the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s premier race. Games between the nations in rugby, rugby league, cricket, netball and minor sports are always intense and sometimes ill-mannered affairs. The famous incident in a one-day cricket game in 1981 when an Australian bowler rolled the last ball underarm – against the spirit but not the rules of the game – became, for New Zealanders at least, a symbol of the distrust which sport can engender. In the 1990s and 2000s New Zealand teams competed in Australian-based competitions in netball, football, rugby league and basketball, and Australian and New Zealand teams compete in the Super Rugby competition and the Rugby Championship. Bathurst in New South Wales is a focus for car-racing fans, and New Zealand drivers are prominent in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship.

New Australasia

In the 2010s New Zealand’s relations with Australia were closer than they had ever been. In trade, the movement of peoples, culture and attitudes the countries shared much. While Australasia as a term had fallen from favour, the two countries shared a common destiny in the Asia–Pacific region.

How to cite this page:

Philippa Mein Smith, 'Australia and New Zealand - Common culture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Philippa Mein Smith, published 20 Jun 2012