Adverts and Anzacs – protecting the legend

Adverts and Anzac – Letter from Arthur N White Captioned Image
Letter from Arthur N White to the Defence Department, 20 September 1916. (NAA: A432, 1929/3484 Part 17)

‘Anzac’ is a term that conjures up thoughts of heroic Australians accomplishing incredible feats or facing indescribable challenges – as well as biscuits, larrikins and two-up. But it could have evoked so much more, had enterprising Australian businesses been allowed to continue to associate the word with an extraordinary array of products.

From cigarette cards commemorating famous Anzacs to Christmas cards, racing cars, alcoholic beverages and songs – Australians exploited Anzac to sell. And the Australian Government, recognising its iconic value, did everything it could to stop the name Anzac being abused! By 1916 the use of Anzac was restricted under the War Precautions Act – from then on the use of Anzac in connection with any trade or business, in park, street, and house names was prohibited without government approval.

Even those who felt they were using the term for the very best of intentions and patriotic purposes were refused. Arthur N White, a newspaper man, advertiser and patriot was refused permission in 1916 to sell buttons bearing the words ‘Anzac April 25 1915’ and ‘Victoria Cross/Anzac’. He was, however, allowed to sell his ‘Allies’ silk button.

White proposed that proceeds from sales of the buttons would go to some of the many patriotic societies established in the Australian community during World War I to raise funds for the war effort. In several letters received by the Attorney-General's Department White asserted that over the previous two years he had ‘helped hundreds of Patriotic Societies … at great loss to myself’. To support this claim, his last letter to the Department refers to his association with Her Excellency Helen Munro Ferguson, wife of the then Governor-General.

Perhaps stung by the government’s rejection of his own patriotic efforts, White took the opportunity to denounce what he called the ‘I Won’t Work crowd’, who he said were to be seen in the Sydney Domain on a Sunday afternoon, and to suggest to the Department that they ‘should be stopped’. The ‘I Won’t Work crowd’ were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as ‘Wobblies', who held anti-war gatherings in the Domain.

Following the repeal of the War Precautions Act in 1920, the word Anzac was protected under Statutory Rules 1921, No. 2 and its use is still restricted today.

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    Silk button honouring the Allies. Submitted by Arthur N White, 1916.
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    Button commemorating 25 April 1915. Submitted by Arthur N White, 1916.
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    Victoria Cross/Anzac button. Submitted by Arthur N White, 1916.

Records to explore

The National Archives holds a number of files from World War I onward which contain correspondence from individuals and businesses wishing to use the word Anzac or to associate it with the promotion of their products.

A selection of records relating to the protection of the Anzac name

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemRequests from businesses to use the name Anzac1916–21A432, 1929/3484 Part 17
ItemApplication to use 'Anzac' as name of house1919–19A2487, 1919/10619
ItemProtection of word 'Anzac' Regulations – application to use the name 'Anzac Hall'1934A432, 1934/1201 Part 1
ItemRequest from Charles Kingsford Smith to name aeroplane 'Anzac'1934A664, 507/401/401

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017