Anzac spirit

Anzac as a word

The word “Anzac” has been a part of Australian thought, language, and life since 25 April 1915. Devised by a signaller in Egypt as a useful acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”, it quickly became a word with many uses and meanings.

Since then "Anzac" has been used in different ways. It has been applied to

  • military formations: there were ANZAC corps in both world wars
  • places: notably "Anzac area" on Gallipoli and "Anzac Cover" itself
  • people: "Anzac" at first meant a man who had served on Gallipoli, and later acquired broader applications.

The word generated many slang terms in the first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and has become a part of the Australian language.

The term became popular largely due to the work of the official correspondent and historian Charles Bean. While still on Gallipoli he edited The Anzac book, which sold tens of thousands of copies and was reproduced with additional material in 2010. The title of the first two volumes of his official history (The story of Anzac) confirmed the word’s place in Australian language.

The use of the word “Anzac” in Australia has been governed by federal legislation since 1920 under the Protection of Word “Anzac” Regulations.

Legend and myth

Historians examining the importance of Anzac to Australia coined the phrase “Anzac legend” (or, more critically, “Anzac myth”). This refers to the representation of Australians in war, how they think, speak, and write of their war experience (which is not always the same thing as how they experienced it).

Though aspects of the legend have been criticised, there is general consensus on what is regarded as the Anzac spirit. Anzac came to stand for the qualities which Australians have seen their forces show in war. These qualities collectively make up the Anzac spirit and include endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship.

Perhaps the best (and most widely misquoted) reflection of the meaning of Anzac is to be found in Charles Bean’s one-volume history of Australia in the Great War, Anzac to Amiens. In describing the evacuation of the Anzac area, Bean wrote:

"By dawn on December 20th Anzac had faded into a dim blue line lost amid other hills on the horizon as the ships took their human freight to Imbros, Lemnos and Egypt. But Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat."

More recently, Arthur Bourke OAM pointed out that the spirit of Anzac is not confined to the battlefield, nor is it something that can be seen. He described the spirit of Anzac as:

"a powerful driving sensation that can only be felt. It is a feeling that burns in the heart of every Australian and New Zealand countryman. A warm, tender, fiery, even melancholy ideal that nurtures intense patriotism in the innermost soul of every body."

The Returned and Services League of Australia (WA Branch) suggests that the spirit of Anzac is still seen today in times of crisis or hardship. During cyclones, floods, and bushfires, Australians come together “to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone”.

Photo-mechanical colour portrait entitled “The spirit of Anzac” or “The Digger”. The model was Pat Hanna, who served in the New Zealand forces during the First World War, tried to recreate the “look of something between fear and defiance which we have all seen so often, and which will always remain in my memory as typical of our gallant old cobbers ‘the Diggers’”.  P02591.001


C.E.W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1946, p.181

Arthur Burke, The spirit of Anzac, Anzac Day Commemoration Committee website

Returned and Services League of Australia, Western Australia Branch, The Anzac spirit

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Last updated: 10/23/2017