Australia and Oceania: Human Geography

Cultural Geography

By 1000 CE, Polynesian sailors sailing in large canoes and navigating by the stars arrived and colonized some of the islands. They were able to domesticate plants and animals, and transport them to other islands. This allowed Polynesians to establish stable, permanent communities with a unique, ocean-oriented culture.

The Maori reduced New Zealand’s forest cover by about half, using controlled fires to clear land for agriculture. Nearly 40 species of birds became extinct, including the giant Moa birds, which stood 12 feet tall. The Maori also introduced dogs and rats to New Zealand.

Aboriginal Australian cultures have strong spiritual relationships with the environment. They developed myths to explain the landscape. Modern scientific research has proven that many of these myths are fairly accurate historic records.

Papua New Guinea is culturally unified at the national level, even with its 700 indigenous groups and 850 languages. The indigenous groups’ traditional lands are recognized by law.

The tourism industry is a unifying economic force in Australia and Oceania. However, it negatively affects ecosystems, leading to overcrowding and overuse of isolated islands’ scarce resources. Tourism often focuses on fishing and other recreational water sports. This tourism can lead to overfishing, and pollution from boats and cruise ships affects the tropical ocean.

Political Geography

European exploration in the region began in the 16th century. Today, many countries have mainly European populations and a strong European culture. English is the dominant language throughout most of the continent.

Indigenous populations were treated harshly by colonizers who brought their own systems of government, land management, and trade.

During the Cold War, the isolated islands were a popular location for American, British, and French nuclear testing. These tests had devastating human and environmental impacts on the islands, and the ecosystem and habitats of the island were permanently altered. Many people were forcibly removed from their homes. People who witnessed the tests suffered from cancer.

Aboriginal Australians and New Zealand Maori are now marginalized populations, and they have often been treated as less significant than the majority population. They suffer from higher rates of disease, imprisonment, and unemployment.

Source: Australia and Oceania: Human Geography
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