A New ANZAC for the Arts: What does Oz have that we want?

Rhana Devenport. Photograph by David St George. Lorde, Neil Finn, Fenn Gordon
Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash
As ANZAC Day approaches, New Zealand’s Big Idea CEO Annie Ackerman and Australia’s ArtsHub Content Director George Dunford consider the case for a new kind of trans-Tasman alliance.


Cheeky alliance emerges

While the 20th century featured two major wars, this century should be about collaboration not conflict. While it was the Great War that first brought the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps together in Egypt in 1914, there is far more than a combined experience of conflict that unites us. Though the less said about pavlova and Phar Lap – two New Zealand icons claimed as Australia’s own– the better.

So how can we re-invent a relationship between New Zealand and its ‘Western island’ (aka Australia)? The two nations are not that far apart and we are united in the ANZAC story and not that divided in our culture. We’d like to cheekily suggest that we begin a new alliance based on the arts – and this is how we could make it happen.

Cultural exchanges

Firstly, cultural exchanges – even if they’re one-way exchanges.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for example, has impressed Australia with her leadership in the arts, stating not long after being elected, I believe the arts and creativity are integral and inseparable parts of what it is to be human’.

George Dunford says, ‘Australia would be prepared to trade our entire House of Representatives for the New Zealand PM. It may not seem like a fair trade, so we could also throw in a few select Senators as well.

For New Zealand’s exchanges, Annie Ackerman suggests, ‘We are in love with Egg Boy and have a few naysayers who might  need yolks on their faces.’

She’d also like Australia to send home a few great Kiwis – like producer Fenn Gordon, who has been on loan to Sydney for too long.

Ackerman adds: ‘After decades of providing professional development to Australian art gallery directors at Auckland Art Gallery, could Australia provide some reciprocal opportunities for all the great gallery staff training in Aotearoa?’

Neil Finn, Lorde, Rhana Devenport, (Photograph by David St George) Fenn Gordon.

New Zealand said goodbye to Rhana Devenport, who’s taken up the reins at the Art Gallery of South Australia last year, but is about to welcome Kirsten Paisley from Canberra who starts 1 May at Auckland Art Gallery. But the traffic hasn’t been all one way, with Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh leaving the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane for the Govett Brewster Gallery.

Musically, we have long been divided by Crowded House. Given Neil Finn has now joined the US-based Fleetwood Mac perhaps we can settle this once and for all and both shrug them off.  

New Zealand would welcome singer-songwriter migrants like Julia Jacklin, Courtney Barnett, and Camp Cope rather than the old guard.

Australia could do with more regular visits from Lorde, Kimbra and Flight of the Conchords. In return, the Sunburnt Country will send Ben Quilty to live in Queenstown and establish a new MONA in Wellington. Ackerman notes: ‘We love MONA and your boldness’.

Sharing treaty and nations

Could we extend the Treaty of Waitangi to cover Australia? A shared treaty would allow us to advance Australia and New Zealand fairly by acknowledging Indigenous peoples both sides of the Tasman.

New Zealand loves the idea of three levels of funding: state, federal and city. Australia can keep the politics and bureaucracy but share some of that impressive arts infrastructural funding.

A new capital

As Mark Amery sees it, ‘Melbourne is a ‘ginormous’ Wellington – ‘which means we have bearded hipsters, cold brew coffee, dealer galleries and laneways at a far cooler boutique level.’

So where should the capital of a new trans-Tasman alliance belong? Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island both fall between the two nations but relocating would be difficult and no-one knows about their coffee culture, let alone how you’d go about sorting out the tax issues.

Sydney seems like a shiny option with the Opera House an international icon for the arts. Ackerman likes the look of the signature site. ‘We still want your Sydney Opera House. We’re sure we can sink a waterfront stadium into it somewhere.’

Brisbane makes a strong case with its Asia Pacific Triennial and Victoria’s Pasifika represents the region well. Ackerman gives Pasifika a big cheer. ‘Thank you for collecting and giving a home to the work of so many of our Pacific Island artists. You clearly are the continent – we are just another island.’

Whether continent or island, both nations belong side-by-side in the artistic trenches, fighting for a better future – let’s just hope we don’t end up with pavlova on our collective faces.


This article was published today on both sides of the ditch. The Big Idea and Artshub share content on a regular basis and love to collab.


George Dunford is Content Director at ArtsHub and Screenhub. He has worked in digital leadership roles in the cultural sector for more than 10 years including at the National Library of Australia, National Museum of Australia and the Wheeler Centre. 

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

24 Apr 2019

The Big Idea Editor

Sir Derek Lardelli.
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