God Defend New Zealand

God Defend New Zealand
God Defend New Zealand (Aotearoa) Sheet Music.svg

National anthem of New Zealand
Also known as "Aotearoa" (Māori version) (English: "New Zealand")
Lyrics Thomas Bracken, 1870s (English)
Thomas Henry Smith, 1878 (Māori)
Music John Joseph Woods, 1876
Adopted 1940 (as national hymn)
1977 (as national anthem)
Audio sample
"God Defend New Zealand" (instrumental)

"God Defend New Zealand" (Māori: "Aotearoa", meaning 'New Zealand') is one of two national anthems of New Zealand, the other being "God Save the Queen". Legally the two have equal status, but "God Defend New Zealand" is more commonly used. Originally written as a poem, it was set to music as part of a competition in 1876. Over the years its popularity increased, and it was eventually named the second national anthem in 1977. It has English and Māori lyrics, with slightly different meanings. Since the late 1990s, the usual practice when performed in public is to perform the first verse of the national anthem twice, first in Māori and then in English.

History and performance

Original manuscript of words for God Defend New Zealand, handwritten in ink on paper
Original manuscript of words for "God Defend New Zealand" by Thomas Bracken [1]
Music score on brown paper
First page of Woods' original manuscript setting Bracken's poem to music [2]
New Zealand Historic Places Trust circular blue plaque at the site of the first performance of God Defend New Zealand
Heritage New Zealand 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.[3] 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.[4] The winner of the competition was the Vandemonian-born John Joseph Woods of Lawrence, Otago, who composed the melody in a single sitting the evening after finding out about the competition.[5] The song was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Princes Street in Dunedin, on Christmas Day, 1876.[4] In February 1878, sheet music was published.[6]

A Māori version of the song was produced in 1878 by Thomas Henry Smith of Auckland, a judge in the Native Land Court, on request of Premier George Edward Grey.[4] A copy of the Māori lyrics, using Aotearoa for its title, was printed in Otago newspapers in October 1878.[6] In Smith's original text the word "whakarangona" was used to translate 'hear', rather than the modern "whakarongona".[7]

In 1897, Premier Richard Seddon presented a copy of words and music to Queen Victoria.[4] The song became increasingly popular during the 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.[6] It was used at the British Empire Games from 1950 onward, and first used at the Olympics during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.[note 1] Following the performance at the Munich games, a campaign began to have the song adopted as the national anthem.[9]

"God Save the Queen" was New Zealand's sole national anthem until the 1970s.[9] In May 1973 a remit to change the New Zealand flag, declare a New Zealand republic and change the national anthem was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference.[10] In 1976 Garth Henry Latta from Dunedin presented a petition to Parliament asking "God Defend New Zealand" to be made the national anthem. With the permission of Queen Elizabeth II, it was gazetted as the country's second national anthem on 21 November 1977, on equal standing with "God Save the Queen".[11]

An alternative official arrangement for massed singing by Maxwell Fernie was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet on 31 May 1979.[12] Woods' original score was written in the key of A-flat major (concert pitch) and was better suited for solo and choral singing; Fernie's arrangement changed the key down a semitone to G major.

Until the 1990s, only the first verse of the English version was commonly sung. The first public singing of the anthem in both Maori and English was by singers Vicky Lee and Cyndi Joe at the Kiwis-Britain league test in 1992.[13] A public debate emerged after only the first Māori verse was sung at the 1999 Rugby World Cup match against England, and it then became conventional to sing both the Māori and English first verses one after the other.[14]

The New Zealand Expo Song

In 1987 Alan Slater produced a new arrangement of the song, having been commissioned to do so by the Department of Internal Affairs, which was used for World Expo 88. It was titled The New Zealand Expo Song and consisted of the first verse in Māori sung by Annie Crummer, the second verse in English sung by Peter Morgan, the fourth verse in Māori sung by Dalvanius Prime and the Patea Māori Club, the fifth verse in English sung by Crummer and Morgan, and finally the first verse in English sung by everybody. The singers were backed by the NZ Youth Jazz Orchestra. The third verse was omitted.[15] This version was played, accompanied by a video montage of New Zealand scenes, animals, plants etc, as TVNZ's transmission opening from the second quarter of 1988 right through to 1995.[16]


The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has responsibility for the national anthems.[17] The guidelines in the 1977 Gazette notice 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.[11][17]


Copyright on the English lyrics for "God Defend New Zealand" expired from the end of the year that was 50 years after the death of the author (Bracken),[18] that is, from 1 January 1949. The rights to the musical score passed into the public domain in the 1980s.[6]


The anthem has five verses, each in English and Māori. The Māori version is not a direct translation of the English version.

The underlying structure of the piece is a prayer or invocation to God, with the refrain "God defend New Zealand" (in English).

English "God Defend New Zealand" Māori "Aotearoa" Māori "Aotearoa" translated

1. 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.

2. Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

3. Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.

4. Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country's spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

5. May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

1. E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai

2. Ōna mano tāngata
Kiri whero, kiri mā,
Iwi Māori, Pākehā,
Rūpeke katoa,
Nei ka tono ko ngā hē
Māu e whakaahu kē,
Kia ora mārire

3. Tōna mana kia tū!
Tōna kaha kia ū;
Tōna rongo hei pakū
Ki te ao katoa
Aua rawa ngā whawhai
Ngā tutū e tata mai;
Kia tupu nui ai

4. Waiho tona takiwā
Ko te ao mārama;
Kia whiti tōna rā
Taiāwhio noa.
Ko te hae me te ngangau
Meinga kia kore kau;
Waiho i te rongo mau

5. Tōna pai me toitū
Tika rawa, pono pū;
Tōna noho, tāna tū;
Iwi nō Ihowā.
Kaua mōna whakamā;
Kia hau te ingoa;
Kia tū hei tauira;

1. O Lord, God,
Of all people
Listen to us,
Cherish us
May good flourish,
May your blessings flow
Defend Aotearoa

2. Let all people,
Red skin, white skin
Māori, Pākehā
Gather before you
May all our wrongs, we pray,
Be forgiven
So that we might say long live

3. May it be forever prestigious,
May it go from strength to strength,
May its fame spread far and wide,
Let not strife
Nor dissension ensue,
May it ever be great

4. Let its territory
Be ever enlightened
Throughout the land
Let envy and dissension
Be dispelled,
Let peace reign
Over Aotearoa

5. Let its good features endure,
Let righteousness and honesty prevail
Among the people of God
Let it never be ashamed,
But rather, let its name be known
Thereby becoming the model to emulate

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),[4] to the three stars on the flag of Te Kooti (a Māori political and religious leader of the 19th century).[19][20]

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]


Both the lyrics and melody of "God Defend New Zealand" have been criticised in some quarters as being dull and irrelevant.[6] Many of the words and concepts have been perceived as antiquated or obscure: for example, "thy", "thee", "ramparts", "assail", and "nations' van".[6] It was perceived as being difficult to sing at the original pitch.[12] However, no widely acceptable replacement has been found, and it has not faced major opposition.[6]