God Defend New Zealand

God Defend New Zealand
God Defend New Zealand
God Defend New Zealand manuscript cropped.jpg
Woods' original manuscript setting Bracken's poem to music.

National anthem of
 New Zealand

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

"God Defend New Zealand" is one of the national anthems of New Zealand, together with "God Save the Queen". Although they both have equal status, "God Defend New Zealand" is the anthem that is in common use and is popularly referred to as "the national anthem".


New Zealand Historic Places Trust 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. 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.[2] The song was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Princes Street, Dunedin, on Christmas Day, 1876.

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. While being used as New Zealand's national anthem at the British Empire Games from 1950 onward, it was first officially used at the Olympic Games in 1972 in Munich. Following the performance at the Munich games, a campaign began to have the song adopted as the national anthem.[3]

In 1976 a petition was presented to parliament asking for it to be made the national anthem, and, with the permission of Queen Elizabeth II, it became the country's second national anthem on November 21, 1977, on equal standing with "God Save the Queen". Up until then "God Save the Queen" was New Zealand's national anthem.[3] Across the Tasman, Australia ran a plebiscite about their national song in May 1977, and adopted "Advance Australia Fair" in 1984.

An alternative official arrangement for massed singing by Maxwell Fernie was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet on June 1, 1978.


The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has responsibility for the national anthems. The ministry's guidelines 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.[4]


"God Defend New Zealand" has five verses, each in English and Māori. The Māori version is not a direct translation of the English version. The Māori language version was produced in 1878 by Thomas H. Smith of Auckland, a judge in the Native Land Court, on request of Governor George Edward Grey, and in 1979 this was back-translated into English by former Māori Language Commissioner, Professor Timoti S. Kāretu.[2]

Copyright on the English lyrics for "God Defend New Zealand" expired from the end of the year which was fifty years after the death of the author (Bracken), i.e., from 1 January 1949. The copyright had been purchased by the government. Kāretu's back-translation is under New Zealand Crown copyright until 2079.[5]

Commonly, only the first verse of each version is sung, usually in Māori first, then in English.[citation needed] However, it has been known to be sung English first. The second and last English verses may also be sung, but the third and fourth are rarely used.

First verses

New Zealand National Anthem

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.

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

Translation of Māori version

O Lord, God,
of all people
Listen to us,
Cherish us
May good flourish,
May your blessings flow.

Full English version

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/Rakiura),[2] to the three stars on the shield of the New Zealand Anglican Church, and to the three stars on the flag of Te Kooti (a Māori political and religious leader of the 19th century).[6] Another explanation is that Bracken was referring to Alpha Centauri, the brightest triple-star system in the southern constellation of Centaurus, but this seems dubious since that system's third star (Proxima Centauri) was not discovered until 1915. There is also a joke that the phrase "Pacific's Triple Star" refers to the three stars on the Speight's beer logo, and T-shirts can be purchased especially in the South Island with the line "Guard Pacific's Triple Star" above the three Speight's stars.

In favour of the first explanation: At the time Bracken was writing, New Zealand was perceived as composed of three principal islands. In his "Australia and New Zealand", published in 1873, the English writer Anthony Trollope wrote that the colony "consists of the North Island, the Middle Island, and Stewart Island".

Full Māori version

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".[7]


External links

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