For several decades from 1906, when the Australian drought broke, relatively few Australians moved to New Zealand. Their numbers in New Zealand fell from a peak of 50,693 in 1911 to 36,789 in 1945. They remained around this level until 1961.
As the New Zealand economy diversified, the number of Australian residents rose again, reaching over 60,000 in 1976. Yet they represented less than 2% of New Zealand’s population.
It has been said that one of the most powerful connections between Australians and New Zealanders was fighting alongside each other in the First World War, in the ANZAC Corps (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). The New Zealand politician John A. Lee wrote of this experience: ‘Out here an Australian is just an Ossie, and a good pal. A New Zealander is to most Ossies a pig islander. Both spend most of their drinking time telling one another what fine fellows they are’. 1
1975 onwards: Australians and Kiwis migrate
After 1975 affordable air travel made it easier for Australians who had been living in New Zealand to return home, and made possible a massive exodus from New Zealand to Australia. By 1996 there were 291,400 New Zealanders living in Australia.
Some of these Kiwis eventually returned, bringing trans-Tasman cultural influences with them. Some also brought Australian spouses and children. These mixed families soon merged with New Zealand’s wider community.
Among the Australians who moved to New Zealand were business managers on transfer. Increasingly, New Zealand banks and insurance firms became branch offices of Australian companies. Resentment surfaced at Australians occupying posts to which New Zealanders aspired. In particular when Australians were recruited as coaches for the New Zealand cricket and rugby league teams, eyebrows rose – the two countries are fierce sporting rivals.
Sporting friends and rivals
In 1907–9 and 1914 (after New Zealand had declined to join the Australian Federation) Anthony Wilding of Christchurch and Norman Brookes of Melbourne won the Davis Cup for ‘Australasia’. The countries shared an Olympic team until 1919.
Today, Australia and New Zealand are fiercely competitive on the sporting field. The low point in the relationship was reached in 1981. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, an Australian bowled the last ball of a match underarm to a New Zealand batsman, to rule out any possibility of a New Zealand victory. New Zealanders sniffed at Australian ‘sportsmanship’.
Although most Australians lived in Auckland, returning New Zealanders tended to take their Australian spouses and children back to the regions they had come from.
A small but steady stream of Australians continued to flow in during the 1990s, and in 2013 there were more than 62,000 living in New Zealand. The children of returning Kiwis and their Australian spouses were a significant part of this group. However, Australians still formed only 1.5% of the population.
Australian identity in New Zealand
Australians blended easily into the local society, distinguished mainly by their accents. Their active participation in New Zealand life reduced the need for Australian cultural organisations. In Wellington an informal ‘Sundowners Club’ helped new arrivals make minor cultural adjustments. Both Aussies and Kiwis began to play Australian football in New Zealand. And the Australian Interest Group, formed in 1994 within the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, traced the Australian (including convict) ancestry of New Zealanders.