Introduction to Australia, Oceania, and Antarctica
*This week we will look at everything left in the world, Australia,
Antarctica, and the Pacific Islands often known as Oceania.
*Australia is the world’s smallest continent and the second (or perhaps
third)-least populous. It is also the only continent in the world
to be entirely under the government of one country—which makes it the
sixth largest country in the world and the largest in the region.
It covers 2,967,909 square miles and has 20.4 million people, making it
the 52nd most populous country in the world.
*Australia is divided into six states and two territories (one of which
is the Australian Capital Territory).
*Australia takes its name from the Latin australis, meaning
southern. It was the next-to-last continent discovered, first
reported by the Dutch in 1638.
*Antarctica is the fifth-smallest continent, larger than only Europe
and Australia, and it is the least populous, with no permanent
residents, and under a thousand researchers and other temporary
*Its name simply means ‘the opposite of the arctic.’ ‘Artic’
comes from a Greek word meaning ‘bear,’ because the Artic Circle lies
beneath the constellations known as the Great Bear and the Little
Bear. It was the last continent to be found, with the first
verified sighting dated to 1820 (although it was probably seen earlier).
*Today Antarctica is treated as neutral ground, although seven
countries have claimed parts of it (which sometimes overlap) for
*Oceania is a name often given to the islands of the Pacific.
Once they were divided into Polynesia (many islands: the Eastern
Pacific), Melanesia (black islands: New Guinea and a few things
near it), and Micronesia (small islands: between Polynesia and
Melanesia). The terms are not considered geologically accurate
any more, and are not used as much as they once were, although all of
them, particularly Polynesia, will still be encountered from time to
*Sometimes Hawaii and even the Aleutian islands are considered part of
Oceania. They are usually treated as part of North America
because they belong to the USA however.
*Oceania is sometimes regarded as a continental group in and of
itself. If so, it is the smallest continent by land area and the
second least populous (beating only Antarctica).
*There are (by the textbook’s definition) 14 independent countries in
this region, as well as possessions of many other countries, including
the USA, UK, and France.
*Of the independent countries in the region, five are Commonwealth
Realms: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon
Islands, and Tuvalu.
*Three Oceanic nations are in association with the United States
(meaning that they use the US Dollar, and are heavily dependent on the
USA for financial aid and defence, but in most other ways act as
independent countries). These are the Marshall Islands, the
Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.
*The region’s demographics are dominated by the three largest
countries, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand, the only
countries to have populations over one million people.
*English is by far the most important language in the region, although
French is also used on some islands.
*Local languages are also significant in some areas, particularly in
Papua New Guinea, where over 700 distinct local languages
survive. There is a language group called the Papuan Languages,
which, for the most part, are not really related except for the fact
that they are all found in more of less the same region (although there
are sub-families of the Papuan group that are related). Overall,
however, the group is defined by the fact that its languages are not
members of any other major family.
*Many of the other languages in the region are Austronesian Languages.
*Religiously, the region is predominantly Christian—over 80% of all
people in the region are Christian. 30% are Catholic, 20% are
Anglican, 28% are other forms of Protestants, and 2.6% are Eastern
Orthodox. 1.3% of the people in the region are Hindu. 4.6%
follow various local religions or other faiths. 13.6% describe
themselves as non-religious.
*Throughout most of Oceania, the major economic activity is subsistence
farming (which includes fishing).
*Australia and New Zealand are famous for commercial agriculture.
*About 5% of Australians are involved in agriculture, mostly on vast
ranches in the Outback called stations.
*Over half of New Zealand’s land is used for agriculture, again mostly
for grazing of sheep, cattle, and other livestock. Farm animals
outnumber people in New Zealand by over 25 to 1.
*The smaller islands of Oceania also export food products, mainly rare
*Extractive industries are also important in this region. Many
islands still have rare woods, and the timber industry is
important. Some islands also have important mineral resources,
although those were usually stripped away before decolonisation.
*Manufacturing is important in Australia and New Zealand, although
their major industries are food processing, and they still have to
import a great deal of their machinery and other high-tech
equipment. Most of the rest of the region is not particularly
engaged in manufacturing at all.
*As in most developed countries, the majority of Australians and New
Zealanders are employed today in service industries. Service
industries are also growing in some of the smaller island nations, many
of which have long had tourist industries, and some of which are
beginning to develop banking and other financial services as well.
*Overall, the region is very poor, although Australia and New Zealand
are relatively wealthy and developed nations. Australia has the
13th highest nominal GDP in the world (16th if adjusted for purchasing
power) and New Zealand is 42nd (57th adjusted for purchasing power).