Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica

A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE In 1788, Great Britain founded Sydney, Australia, as a penal colony—that is, a place to send prisoners. By the end of the 20th century, Sydney had overcome its origins and earned a reputation as a fun and fascinating international city. That has been due, in part, to a unique combination of physical and cultural geographic assets.

Sydney is located on a deep, beautiful harbor that not only allows the city to function as a port but also provides an arena for sailing and swimming. The mild climate there encourages such outdoor activities.

In addition, Sydney has an increasingly diverse population. People who visit the city can view art and dine on food from many cultures. In 2000, Sydney hosted the Olympic Games. With a physical environment that favors sports and a culture shaped by immigrants, the city seemed a perfect site for an international athletic event.

History: Distant European Outposts

Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica made up the last region to be explored by Europeans. Australia and New Zealand became British colonies, even though they were already inhabited by people with ancient cultures of their own.


The Aboriginal people migrated to Australia from Asia at least 40,000 years ago. When Europeans arrived in Australia, there were an estimated 500 Aboriginal groups, speaking perhaps 200 different languages. The Aboriginal people had complex religious beliefs and social structures but a simple economy; they lived by hunting and gathering.

New Zealand was settled first by the Maori, who had migrated there from Polynesia more than 1,000 years ago. The Maori lived by fishing, hunting, and farming.


During the 1600s and 1700s, several European explorers sailed in the coastal waters of New Zealand and Australia. Captain James Cook of Britain was the first to explore those two lands—New Zealand in 1769 and Australia's east coast in 1770. Antarctica was first discovered in 1820.


In 1788 Britain began to colonize Australia (called New South Wales until 1820) as a place to send prisoners. Having a colony in Australia also gave Britain more Pacific naval bases. New Zealand was colonized by hunters and whalers from Europe, America, and Australia. No permanent settlements were established in Antarctica because of its cold climate.

In Australia, the British colonists had violent conflicts with the Aboriginal people, many of whom were killed. Even greater numbers of native people died from diseases brought by Europeans.

In New Zealand in 1840, the British and several Maori tribes signed the Treaty of Waitangi, giving Britain control over New Zealand. But the English and the Maori translations of the treaty differed. The English version gave Great Britain complete control; the Maori version gave Britain “governorship.” Disagreement over who owned the land helped cause the Land Wars that lasted from 1845 to 1847 and from 1860 to 1872. In addition, tens of thousands of Maoris died from diseases.

Gold was discovered in Australia in 1851 and in New Zealand in 1861. Hundreds of thousands of people who dreamed of wealth flocked to the two countries, but few miners grew rich. Most, however, stayed there.

Modern Nations

Originally, several colonies existed in Australia, but in 1901, they joined into a single, independent nation. New Zealand became self-governing in 1907. Both Australia and New Zealand remained in the British Commonwealth, which is a free association of Great Britain and several of its former colonies.


New Zealanders have a long tradition of concern for equal rights and the welfare of its citizens. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to grant women the vote. It was also one of the first nations to provide pensions for its senior citizens.

In both Australia and New Zealand, native people generally have less education and higher rates of poverty than other citizens. Attempting to improve their lives, the Aboriginal people and the Maori have made claims for the return of their former lands.


A recent issue in Australia was a movement to withdraw from the Commonwealth. In 1999, Australia held a referendum on becoming an independent republic, but voters defeated the proposal, because Australians could not agree on how to choose a head of state.

Antarctica remains unsettled. In 1959, 12 countries drafted a treaty preserving the continent for research. By 2000, 18 countries had scientific research stations there. Seven countries have claimed territory in Antarctica, but many other countries do not recognize those claims.

Economy: Meat, Wool, and Butter

As Commonwealth members, Australia and New Zealand prospered by exporting food products and wool to the United Kingdom. So neither country developed much industry. But, since 1950, their exports to the United Kingdom have declined. To continue to prosper, Australia and New Zealand must either develop industry or find other trading partners, such as the nations of nearby Asia.


Australia and New Zealand are major exporters of farm products. New Zealand earns much of its income by selling butter, cheese, meat, and wool to other countries. Ranching is so widespread in New Zealand that in 1998 the number of farm animals (including 47.6 million sheep and 8.8 million cattle) was 15 times greater than the number of people! Crops include vegetables and fruits. For example, New Zealand is the world's largest producer of kiwi fruit.

Sheep ranching is also important in Australia, which is the largest exporter of wool in the world. Because so much of Australia is arid, less than ten percent of the land is used to grow crops.


Australia earns a large part of its income from mining. It is the world's top producer of diamonds, lead, zinc, and opals. In addition, it is a major producer of bauxite, coal, copper, gold, and iron ore.

The mining industry faces one difficulty. Many deposits lie in the outback, far from cities. As a result, it is expensive to build the roads and buildings necessary for the mines to operate. Because of the high costs of mining and because Australia has historically lacked capital (money or property invested in business), Australian companies have had to rely on foreign investment. Foreign investors control about half the mining industry, so not all the profits stay within Australia.


Unlike most developed countries, Australia does not rely heavily on manufacturing. One of the major industries in both Australia and New Zealand is the processing of food products. Because of its forests, New Zealand also produces wood and paper products.

As in all developed countries, service industries have been growing. For example, nearly 65 percent of Australia's jobs are in service industries such as government, communications, and tourism.


Both Australia and New Zealand want to develop a more diversified economy that is not so dependent on agriculture. But it will be difficult to develop manufacturing plants that can compete with those in nearby Asia, where the cost of labor is generally lower. Finding a way to maintain prosperity in the face of global economic change is a major issue for these two nations.

Distinctive Cultures

The British colonial past has shaped the cultures of Australia and New Zealand, but they also have developed in distinctive ways.


Most Australians are of British descent, but that proportion is changing because of high rates of immigration from places like Greece, Italy, and Southeast Asia. More than 20 percent of Australians are foreign born. Only about one percent are of Aboriginal descent.

Like the British, Australians drive on the left side of the road, and many enjoy drinking tea. Christianity is the major religion. Australians speak English but also have many colorful terms that are all their own. For example, they call ranches “stations” and wild horses “brumbies.” Australia's environment and history have influenced the arts, too.

The Aboriginal people have an ancient tradition of painting human and animal figures. Some of those works can be seen on rock walls around the country. Many Australian painters of European descent have portrayed the landscape. For example, Russell Drysdale is known for his pictures of the outback. Several Australian novelists have written adventure stories about life in the bush country.


The majority of New Zealanders are of European, mostly British, descent. They are called pakehas, a Maori term for white people. The Maori of New Zealand fared somewhat better than the Aboriginal people of Australia; about 15 percent of New Zealand's people are descended from the Maori.

New Zealand's culture blends British and Maori ways. For example, both English and Maori are official languages. Christianity is the main religion, but some churches combine biblical and Maori teachings.

Both cultures have shaped New Zealand's art. Maori art, including intricate woodcarvings and poetic legends, still survives. Western art also thrives. Wellknown New Zealand authors have included the novelist Janet Frame and the mystery writer Ngaio Marsh. New Zealand filmmakers Jane Campion and Peter Jackson have made movies that were popular in many countries. And the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa is admired internationally.

Modern Life

Australians and New Zealanders have similar lifestyles. For example, about 70 percent of Australians and 70 percent of New Zealanders own their own homes—usually single-family homes with enough land to grow a small garden.


Australia and New Zealand are two of the most urbanized countries in the world; about 85 percent of their people live in cities and towns.

Australia's large cities have the usual problems of pollution and traffic jams. In contrast, New Zealand's cities are relatively quiet, uncrowded, and pollution-free because of its small population and lack of industry.

In both Australia and New Zealand, many ranchers live far away from settlements. New Zealand has a good system of roads, even in rural areas, which aids travel. In Australia, many wealthy ranchers own private airplanes to help them cross the vast distances in the country.

Some of the largest ranches in Australia can have a total land area of thousands of square miles.


Both countries have climates that allow people to spend a great deal of time outdoors. As a result, aquatic sports, tennis, and team sports, such as rugby, cricket, and soccer, are very popular. Australia has developed its own form of football, called Australian rules football. Because New Zealand is mountainous, skiing and mountain climbing are common there.

In Chapter 32, you will read about Aboriginal land claims in Australia, industrialization in Southeast Asia, and global environmental change.