Perceptions of the Anzac legend and psyche forged in battle differ on either side of the Tasman, and each country uses the legend for its own ends.
That’s according to historians, who say Australian and New Zealand relations weren’t all that close until they fought the Turks at Gallipoli, when much was made of the Anzac ties that were created in battle.
“Gallipoli was a discovery of ourselves as a nation simply by comparing ourselves with the Australians, who we found while we had things in common with we were different,” New Zealand historian Chris Pugsley says.
Putting the two countries side by side was a pragmatic decision by the British on how to get the best out of two neighbouring nations.
“Right from the start it was a marriage of convenience,” Pugsley says.
“The reality is that Australia looks our way when it’s convenient and ignores us otherwise, and that’s been since time immemorial. It’s a big brother-little brother relationship, really.
“However, when they got on Gallipoli they found they could work and fight together.”
Pugsley says there are perceptible differences in the way the two countries look at Anzac Day. In New Zealand the parade is less important than the cenotaph service.
“While the form might be familiar, there’s a very different mood in both countries because it reflects what’s important,” he says.
“Anzac Day in Australia is not about Australians and New Zealanders. Anzac in Australia means Australian.”
Massey University historian Glyn Harper says that even while they trained together in Egypt before Gallipoli, New Zealand troops saw the Australians as being “loud, aggressive and always eager to drink, fight and gamble”, while Australians thought the Kiwis took themselves too seriously.
“I have to say that all of that was almost washed away by the service on Gallipoli.”
The Anzac psyche did start to emerge then, which Harper says was when both sets of soldiers realised they were quite similar; both would try to obtain their objective, endure the horrific conditions.
However, the Anzac psyche is hard to define.
“They know they have a difficult, dirty, dangerous job ahead of them. They are prepared to do it, there is a close bonding, mateship becomes everything to them, it is very hard to survive as an isolated soldier.”
The fighting qualities partly came from their rural backgrounds, Harper says.
“But it’s a little bit more than that. They also had some really hard, tough training, particularly in Egypt. They were reasonably well-led, particularly by their junior officers.
“Most of the New Zealanders were recruited on a regional basis. So all of the regiments and battalions and companies came from towns and communities that were local.
“There was this very powerful social pressure, that if you did let your teammates down everybody back home would know about it. That’s a hell of a pressure to cope with.”
Another historian, Ian McGibbon, says the Anzac spirit appeared to develop on its own, without any encouragement from senior officers.
The broad outline of Anzac legend was much the same in both countries, but McGibbon also says each country tends to focus on their own soldiers in the relationship.
McGibbon doesn’t believe the Anzac legend would have developed if the Anzacs had been sent to France, instead of Turkey.
“There were 57 divisions in France. We were both small cogs in the wheel over there, whereas in Gallipoli there were only three or four divisions so we stood out initially. We were a much bigger component of the whole campaign.
“In France we would probably would have been an Anzac army corps but I don’t think in those conditions we would have developed such a rapport.
“Partly because at Gallipoli we depended on each other, if one part of the line gave way the Anzac area would have been lost.”