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 trans-Tasman people movement. In the early 1900s many Australians moved to New Zealand, including significant migrants who were active in the union movement and Labour Party. Michael Joseph Savage’s 1935 Labour government cabinet included five MPs born in Australia, including Savage himself. From the late 1960s the flow was reversed, and Kiwis went west to Australia. By 2006 for every 100 New Zealanders in New Zealand there were 15 living in Australia. 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 rose to one in six or seven by 2006.

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 in 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.

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 a trans-Tasman food market. 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.

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’s bits

The legendary racehorse Phar Lap won the affection and national pride of both countries. Born in Timaru in 1926, he was sold to an Australian owner in 1928. The gangling chestnut went on to win 37 races out of 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 Australian National Museum, Canberra, and his hide is at the Museum Victoria, Melbourne.


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. Since the 1990s or 2000s New Zealand teams have competed in Australian-based competitions in netball, football, rugby league and basketball, and both Australian and New Zealand teams compete with South African teams in the Super 15 rugby competition and the Rugby Championship. Bathurst in Australia is a focus for car-racing fans, and New Zealand drivers are prominent in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship.

New Australasia

In 2011 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 15 October 2019)

Story by Philippa Mein Smith, published 20 Jun 2012