Promoting the Interests and Cultures of Australia and New Zealand in the Czech Republic
In the summer of 2005, Australians Steve Rees and Richard York, along with New Zealander Len Edney, got together over a few beers and floated the idea of an association for expatriate Aussies and Kiwis living in the Czech Republic. Steve and Richard had spent years living in Asia, where Australian and New Zealand expat groups are common. Inspired by the name of the Malaysian “MANZA,” Steve named the new association Czech Australia New Zealand Association, or CANZA.
From the start, the vision was to provide a home away from home for approximately 1,000 Aussies and Kiwis living in the Czech Republic, as well as an opportunity for Czechs to learn a little more about the Australian and New Zealand way of life.
The group started small, organising monthly riverside drinks nights. Pretty soon, CANZA adopted its now iconic logo of a kiwi chasing a kangaroo chasing a lion. As membership quickly grew, the group became more ambitious, and its activities started to expand.
Annual Charity Ball
CANZA’s first Christmas charity ball was held in 2005 at the Corinthia Towers Hotel in Prague. Around 320 guests enjoyed indigenous Australian, Maori, and Czech jazz performances and bid in a charity auction which included a signed NSW Waratahs rugby ball.
This event set the pattern for annual CANZA charity balls over almost 15 years, featuring Antipodean food and wine, cultural performances, and auctions of sporting memorabilia and other prizes, which together have raised around 2 million CZK for charities including Fond ohrožených dětí, Chance 4 Children, UNICEF, Zdravotní Klaun, Věda Nás Baví, Pink Crocodile, and SKP HOPO.
ANZAC Day commemorates involvement in world wars and other military engagements, and was first marked in the aftermath of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. For more than 10 years, together with the Czech, Australian, and New Zealand governments, CANZA has organized a traditional remembrance ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves in Prague, where 16 Australian and New Zealand servicemen are buried.
Afterwards, a traditional ANZAC Day BBQ is held, typically at a venue by the Vltava. Fortunately, the event (held in late April) often coincides with improving spring weather in Prague, making it a great day outdoors, especially for families.
In addition to ANZAC Day, in late January or early February CANZA hosts a joint celebration of two national holidays, Australia Day and Waitangi Day, which occur within a few weeks of each other. While this event has sometimes been formal, more often than not it’s simply a great party!
As part of its vision to bring Czechs into greater contact with Australian and New Zealand culture, CANZA has organised or supported a variety of cultural events over the years, including art, film and music.
It pioneered Australian and New Zealand film festivals in Prague, premiering iconic films such as Boy, Cracker Bag, Australian Rules, In My Father’s Den, and What We Do in the Shadows. These early screenings blazed a trail leading to the Aussie and Kiwi Film Fest, which is now held every November and which CANZA continues to support.
CANZA has hosted or supported concerts by visiting musical acts from Down Under, from the Australian Waratah Girls Choir to alt-pop sensation Sarah Blasko and many others. For more than a decade, CANZA has also been the key sponsor of Australian and New Zealand productions at the Prague Fringe Festival. And local music isn’t forgotten – CANZA is the main sponsor of Czech music legend Xindl X.
The organisation works with the Australian consulate and AusTrade in Prague, as well as the Australian embassy in Warsaw and the New Zealand embassy in Berlin, both of which are responsible for the Czech Republic. As the main link to the Australian and New Zealand community, CANZA is regularly called upon to host ambassador-attended events such as Anzac Day, which often involve key figures from the Czech Foreign Ministry, Czech army, and Department of Defense.
Something Aussies and Kiwis have in common with Czechs is a love of sport. CANZA had a central role in bringing both Australian Rules football and touch rugby to the Czech Republic, and is also a long-standing supporter of Czech rugby league, including as the main jersey sponsor of the national team.
For several seasons, CANZA even co-hosted hockey nights at Sparta home games to introduce expats to one of the Czech Republic’s leading sports.
In addition, CANZA is a partner of cricket clubs and cricket in the Czech Republic. The occasional “Ashes” matches between CANZA and the British Chamber of Commerce have attained legendary status, with the CANZA team prevailing in every game, albeit not without controversy!
While CANZA has always been primarily social, for many years it had a major involvement in promoting Aussie and Kiwi business in the Czech Republic. As early as 2008, the group worked together with the Australian government to deliver a major trade exhibition, Touch and Taste Australia, which attracted over 20 Australian exhibitors showcasing retail products ranging from food and wine to cosmetics and household goods.
In the decade since, CANZA and its partners organised numerous wine tastings, trade exhibits, business dinners, government receptions, and networking events to support the growing Australian and New Zealand business community. The business events were so successful that in 2015 it was decided to create a separate organisation, Australasian Business in Europe (ABIE), to focus exclusively on business. ABIE and CANZA continue to work closely together.
After almost 15 years, CANZA remains the main association for Australians and New Zealanders living in the Czech Republic. As a purely voluntary group, it depends heavily on organisers such as the current president, Larissa Petryca, but also on the involvement of the Australian and New Zealand community which it serves. Fortunately, Aussies and Kiwis are generally outgoing, enthusiastic, and full of ideas, so CANZA can hope to stay active and keep growing for years to come!
Photos by CANZA