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How Has History Affected the People of Australia and the Pacific Region?

Who Are the People of Australia and the Pacific Region?

Australia portrait

Imagine traveling for thousands of miles in an open boat or raft. You are off to a completely new place. You have never seen this place before. This is exactly what people from Asia did thousands of years ago. They are the original inhabitants of Australia and the Pacific Region. Because this region is so vast and surrounded by water, the people, plants, and animals developed very differently than in Europe or other more populated areas.





federal system

The geography of Australia and New Zealand differs. Yet they do share a similar history. People from different parts of the Pacific settled both countries. You will learn more about New Zealand in Chapter 3.

The Aborigines (a-buh-rij-neez) of Australia were the first settlers in Australia. They came from Asia at least 40,000 years ago. They probably came by boats and walked across pieces of land that once bridged the continents.

For centuries, Aborigines lived as nomads. They gathered plants, hunted, and looked for water. You may know about one of their inventions. They created the boomerang. This weapon is a U-shaped flat wooden tool used to hunt prey. If the boomerang misses the prey, it curves and flies back to the hunter.

For thousands of years, Aborigines lived in small family groups. They roamed along the coasts and river valleys. Some even found ways to live in the harsh, dry outback. These natives had strong religious beliefs about the land and nature. They believe their ancestors do not die. They become part of nature instead. Aborigines believe they have a duty to preserve the land. They have a rich storytelling history called Dreamtime. These stories explain about the creation of the world.

Australia portrait A boomerang

How did humans reach the thousands of islands throughout the Pacific Region? Scientists think they first came from Southeast Asia. They were skilled at building canoes and were experts at sailing. They settled many of the islands.

Australia portrait Corroboree or Aboriginal dance ceremony

The Europeans Arrive. In 1770, British explorer James Cook landed on the east coast of Australia. He claimed the land for Britain. The British government used the country as a place to send prisoners. Soon, other settlers also came.

In 1851, gold was discovered in the outback. The British set up colonies. Settlers took over the Aborigines’ land. Many natives died from diseases brought by Europeans. Aborigine families were separated. They faced injustice and lacked rights. Many were forced to work on huge cattle and sheep ranches called stations. Europeans insisted that native people adopt European ways. Finally, in 1967 they were recognized as citizens. Most Pacific Islands became territories of other countries. Today, many islands have gained independence.

Australia portrait James Cook

The Government. In 1901, the colonies joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The government is influenced by the British style of government. The British queen is the head of state. It is a parliamentary democracy. That means citizens elect members to represent them in parliament. The country has a prime minister as the head of government. Australia also has a federal system like that of the United States. A central government shares power with the states.

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

The first settlers in Australia were Aborigines. They came from Asia. Other people from Southeast Asia settled the Pacific islands. When Europeans arrived, they took over much of the land. In 1967, Aborigines were given the rights of citizens. Australia is a parliamentary democracy with a federal system of government.

Who Are the People of Australia and the Pacific Region?

Australia portrait

Because Australia and most of the Pacific Islands are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons are the opposite of the seasons in North America, which is in the Northern Hemisphere. When we have our winter months, they have summer.

Before the European invasion into Australia, the Aborigines had over 650 different groups, or tribes. Each group had its own language, laws, social and political system, and land. Europeans forced native tribes to give up their language and many of their customs.

Today, only about 50 Aboriginal languages are still spoken. These languages are now used in some schools along with English. The Aborigines believe it is important to use their languages because they are a part of their culture.

Australia portrait Australia: Ethnic Groups

Over time, the government's policy toward the Aborigines has changed. Many of the most sacred places for the Aborigines have been returned to them. They now control the tourism and use of the sites.

One example of this is the very famous Uluru (oo-lah-roo), or Ayers Rock. This is one of the most scared places to the Aboriginal tribe Anangu. The government has returned the surrounding lands to the tribe. The tribe believes it is responsible for preserving the environment for future generations.

Located in the center of Australia, Uluru is an enormous sandstone rock. Millions of tourists visit Australia every year. Many make the trip to this special place. The rock appears to change color as the light changes. Tourists get their cameras ready to capture the colors at sunset.

Australia portrait Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Let's Celebrate. Australia and the Pacific Islands have many celebrations that bring people together. Some are unusual. Two take place in the outback in Alice Springs. The “Henley-on-Todd Regatta” is a unique boat race. It is held on the dry bed of the Todd River. People make boats out of bottomless cans. Then they run the length of the course. Alice Springs also has a camel race every year.

Australia portrait Henley-on-Todd Regatta

Every year on the first Tuesday of November, Australians hold a special horserace. It is called the Melbourne Cup. Melbourne is the capital city of Victoria. The country stops while the race is run. People dress up on race day, wearing their best clothes.

Australia portrait Melbourne horse race

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

The population of Australia and the Pacific Islands is made up of descendants of native peoples and Europeans. This area is isolated from the rest of the world. But people still developed their own language, religion, customs, and traditions.

Australia portrait Australia: Where People Live

Australia portrait

What Is Australia and the Pacific Region Like Today?

Australia portrait

When you compare, you think about how ideas, people, or events are alike. When you contrast, you think about how these thinks are different. By comparing and contrasting, you can better understand what you read.

Despite its isolation, Australia is a rich and well-developed country. Ninety-two percent of Australia's population is European. Although 93 percent of the people live in cities or near cities, there are large sheep and cattle stations in the outback. About 7 percent of Australians live in rural areas.

Children in Australia must go to school between the ages of 6 and 15. Primary school is 6 years. Secondary school is 5 or 6 more years. The school day is from about 9:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M.

Australia portrait Rabaul, Papua New Guinea

But what if you live far out on one of the sheep or cattle stations? Is there a school nearby? For these children, a two-way radio is necessary. They tune into “School of the Air.” They use the radio to talk to their classmates and teacher. When these students get older, they might go to secondary school at a boarding school. They will go home on weekends.

Living in the outback can be lonely. But today more people have phones, computers, and radios to help them stay connected.

Australia portrait Waterfront in Papeete

Close to 9 million people live in the Pacific Island region. Tourism is important to the islands as well as to Australia. But the islands do have some special problems. The region's isolation makes trade difficult and expensive. Many of the people are poor.

Global warming is also a concern. When polar ice melts, it raises the ocean level. Many low-lying islands could be covered by water. From the 1940s to 1990s, many of the islands were used for nuclear testing. This raises health concerns for people living in the region.

The islands are filled with contrasts—from the climates to how people live. Some small fishing villages look the same as they did in ancient times. Homes are still made of bamboo - d palm leaves. There is no ctricity. The bigger cities on some islands have modern buildings, roads, and cars.

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

Because of Australia s isolation, many animate can be found only in this country. Almost all mammals are marsupials, animals that carry their young in a body pouch. A few of these are the kangaroo, koala, platypus, and emu.

Australia portrait

Australia portrait

Today, Australia is a rich and well-developed country. People have adapted to the harsh climate in the outback. Modern conveniences help people stay in touch. Because of their isolation, many of the people on the islands struggle economically. There are also concerns about global warming and health issues.

Additional topics

History Reference: Ancient History & World HistoryThe Eastern Hemisphere - Australia and the Pacific Region