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History series - Anthem





"God Defend New Zealand" was written as a poem in the 1870s by Thomas Bracken of Dunedin.

In 1876 a competition to compose music for that poem was held. John Joseph Woods of Lawrence heard about the competition and composed the melody in a single sitting! He won the competition. The song was first publicly performed at the Queen's Theatre, Princes Street, Dunedin, that Christmas Day.  

Over the years the song became increasingly popular 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. 

But did you know there are 2 national anthems? the other being "God Save the Queen".

Legally both anthems have equal status, but "God Defend New Zealand" is more commonly used and is referred to as "the national anthem".

It was given official recognition and legal status on 21 November 1977 following a petition presented to Parliament by Garth Latta of Dunedin the year before. 

‘God Defend New Zealand’ has both English and Māori lyrics, with slightly different meanings. When performed in public, the usual practice is to sing the first verse in  Māori and then in English.


Milestones in the political history of our nation – Aotearoa New Zealand. To learn more visit