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Australia and New Zealand



Australia is smallest, youngest continent, with the lowest population density. It is often said that Australia lies at the edge of the world, divided from other continents by long distances. Australia is located south-east of Asia. The Indian Ocean is west and the south Pacific (Coral and Tasmania Leas) is east. Tasmania lies 240 km south. Nearest is Indonesia, Papua New Guinea on north, Solomon, Fiji and New Zealand are on east. Its area is 7.7 million sq. k. Australia is an island continent. The Great Dividing Range along the eastern coast (The Australian Alps) has the highest Australian mountain, Mt. Kosciusko. The western plateau rises to 607 m with arid areas in the Great Sandy and Great Victoria Deserts. The north-east have heavy rainfalls (it is an area often visited by destructive hurricanes) and Cape York Peninsula has jungles. Rivers that flow permanently are to be found only in the north, east, and in Tasmania. The Murray Rivers flows from New South Wales to the Indian Ocean, the second longest river is the Darling. There are three big lakes here: Lake Eyre, Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner. The Australian climate varies from warm to subtropical. Australia has summer when we have winter and vice versa. The tropical forests in the north and north-east are displaced by savannah or grassland. The south-east is covered with forests of eucalyptus and other evergreen trees. The animals of Australia are numerous and some of them, like the kangaroo, koala bear, dingo, platypus, Tasmanian devil or barking lizards can’t be found elsewhere.


The population of Australia is some 16 million. Around 85% people live in urban areas mainly along the south-east coast. Deserts and the tropical northern part are predictably uninhabited. 95% of inhabitants are of British origin, 3% are made by other European ethnic groups and 1.5% are aborigines. Australian English and aboriginal languages are spoken here.


People lived there at a Stone Age level. They did not know of how to work the soil nor how to rear livestock. They had no plants suitable for cultivation and no original Australian animals were suitable for domestication. Thus, the Australians never became farmers or herdsmen. They made their tools and weapons only of wood and stone. The sole source of food was hunting and gathering. Men used to catch birds, snakes, crocodiles, and women with children used to pick fruits, caterpillars, ants, eggs and dig for roots. The dingo wild dog was the sole animal that became domesticated. The Australians were divided into about 650 tribes that spoke about 500 different languages. Each tribe usually had its own dialect, name and customs, its own territory and hunting grounds. Captain James Cook explored the eastern coast in 1770 when the continent was inhabited by a variety of different tribes. It became a convict colony in the18th century when immigration increased because gold was found here. The Commonwealth was proclaimed in 1901.

National Economy:

Main industries are iron, steel, textiles, electrical equipment, chemicals, cars, aircraft, ship and machinery. Australia belongs to the top exporters of beef, lamb, wool and wheat, although only 9% of land is arable. Other agricultural items are barley, oats, hay, sugar, wine, fruit and vegetables. Natural riches contain mainly bauxite, coal, copper, iron, lead, nickel, silver, tin, uranium ands zinc ores. Among the main trading partners belong Japan, the USA, the UK, New Zealand. Currency used in Australia is the Australian Dollar. In Australia there are many big cities. Sydney is the oldest. Brisbane is the third largest. Adelaide lies in the southern part of the country. There are two universities and a car-manufacturing factory here. Melbourne is one of the most beautiful cities. There are a lot of museums, galleries and parks. Perth is an important industrial city. Other important cities are Darwin, Alice Springs and Hobart.

Government type and administration:

The official title is The Commonwealth of Australia and it is a British dominion. It has a democratic, federal system and the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. represented by the Governor – General. The head of government is the Prime Minister. The Commonwealth of Australia consists of six states: New South Wales (capital Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne), Qeensland (Brisbane), South Australia (Adelaide), Western Australia (Perth), Tasmanian (Hobart) and two territories: The Australian Capital Territory (a part of the country surrounding Australia’s capital Canberra) and Northern Territory (thinly populated).

The Federal Parliament has its seat in Canberra and is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. Australia is a member of the important international organisations: UN, OECD and the Commonwealth.



New Zealand consists of two large islands (North and South Island) in south-west Pacific Ocean Nearest are Australia (on west), Fiji, Tonga on north. Its area is about 269 000 sq. km. Each of two main islands is mainly hilly and mountainous, the highest peak is Mount Cook (3764 m). The coast consists of fertile plains, especially the large Canterbury Plains on South Island. A volcanic plateau is in the centre of North Island. South Island has glaciers and 15% peaks over 3 000 m. The climate is quite pleasant. There is a lot of sun and it often rains there. Summers are not too hot and the winters are mild.


Population is about 3.3 million people. 83% of the whole population live in urban areas. 85% of people are of European (above all British) origin and about 9% are Polynesian. Officially English is spoken here but some people still speak Maori.


The Maoris, a Polynesian group from the eastern Pacific, reached New Zealand before and during the 14th century. Captain James Cook explored the coasts in about 18th century. British sovereignty was proclaimed in 1840 and the colony became a dominion in 1907. Now it is an independent member of the Commonwealth.

National Economy:

Food processing, textiles, machinery and forest industry are the main industries. Only 2% of land is arable and the main crop is grain. New Zealand is rich in oil, gas, iron ore and coal. The main trading partners of New Zealand are the USA, Australia, Japan and Great Britain.

Government type and administration:

New Zealand has a parliamentary system where the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II represented by the Governor – General. The head of government is the Prime Minister. Elections take place every three years. The country is divided into counties. The capital is Wellington, other big cities are Manukau, Christchurch and Auckland. New Zealand is member of UN, OECD and the Commonwealth.

The flag consists of the British Union Jack in the left upper corner and four red stars in the Southern Cross constellation.

Top Ten Things about Moas - Lost Giants of New Zealand
(extended dance mix)
1. They’re extinct.
Sure, we’d all like to imagine that there could be a few moa still lurking in an isolated corner. Every once in a while, somebody reports seeing one. But the chance of even a few moa surviving into the European era is slim; for a viable population to survive unnoticed is just ludicrous. These are big birds, people. We’ve had hunters and trampers combing every patch of bush for years now, and no physical evidence—footprint, dropping, photograph, recording—has been recovered. We’ve got more evidence for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and they’re imaginary.

2. Some were BIG.
Understandably, museums concentrate on the largest species, particularly Dinornis giganteus, which stood about two metres high at the shoulder. But the average was about the size of an emu, something that could look you in the eye. Euryapteryx curtus was the smallest species, weighing about 20 kg—as big as good-sized turkey. (There’s a picture in the Gallery)

3. They were eaten to extinction.
The evidence for a massive overkill of moa, set out best in Atholl Anderson's book is overwhelming. There are numerous butchering and cooking sites identified by archaeologists, and many skeletons with the tastiest portions removed and the rest discarded. Maori introduced rats and dogs as well, which must have had some impact on moa and their chicks, but mostly it's a textbook case of humans overexploiting an easily-harvested resource. This account is still controversial, and is sometimes dismissed as "Pakeha academic theory", but I think this reflects a desire to see Maori as natural conservationists and "noble savages", when they were just human beings.

4. There were 11 different species (not 13, or 26, or 38).
Last century many species were named and described based on single bones, and the tendancy of the time was to label every variant as a new species or subspecies. Joel Cracraft (Cracraft 1976) reorganised the classification into 13 species, and Phil Millener and Trevor Worthy in a series of papers have since whittled it down to 11, where it seems likely to stay. The inflated numbers still appear from time to time though, even from authors who ought to have done their homework.

5. They were ratites.
The living ratites are the ostrich (Africa), emu (Australia), cassowary (Australia and New Guinea), rhea (South America) and kiwi (New Zealand). Extinct ratites are the elephant bird (Madagascar) and of course the moa. Ratites are classified with the South American tinamous in a group called the paleognaths. The ratites are spread across four continents, but they are all flightless. Were they split apart by continental drift, or did all the lineages independently become flightless after dispersing? Recent DNA work (Cooper et. al. 1992) suggests the latter, with New Zealand being colonised twice, first by moa-ancestors, and then, 40 million years ago, by kiwi-ancestors. But the jury is still out on this.

6. Most lived in forest, not grassland.
Early descriptions of moa pictured them browsing the grasslands of the Canterbury Plains like cattle. This was overturned when stomach contents of moa trapped in swamps proved to be twigs and leaves of forest shrubs and trees. Even quite recently, though, some scientists were still arguing that at least half the moa species had to be open-country dwellers. The problem is that prior to Maori forest clearance New Zealand was almost entirely covered with dense forest right up to the treeline—the grasslands are a recent artifact. One species, however— Megalapteryx didinus, the Upland Moa—is known to have lived in the mountain tussock country, and we know from a remarkable mummified skeleton that it had feathers all the way down its legs for insulation.

7. They probably didn’t stand around with their heads in the air.
Early articulations of moa skeletons had them standing erect, legs straight, necks stretched vertically. This made them impressively tall. Most feathered museum reconstructions were of Dinornis giganteus, the very biggest species, invariably with head stretched up and with a human dwarfed in comparison. Recently, though, some scientists carefully fitted together a moa vertebral column, keeping all the vertebrae at the ‘most natural’ angle to each other, and what emerged was an S-shaped spine with the head held at the same height as the back. Now, a large moa could undoubtedly rear up to a considerable height if it wanted to, but reconstructing every skeleton in that posture seems a bit misleading to me. Check your local museum—how are their moa?

8. You can still find their bones.
In the open, bones just weathers away, but in a dry, cool cave, or buried away from oxygen-loving bacteria in a swamp or sand dune they can survive in good condition for thousands of years. In New Zealand, we usually call these bones subfossils; they’re not made of stone like a true fossil. New Zealand has a very poor fossil record of land animals, and the oldest fossil moa bones are only a couple of million years old. Subfossil bones, in contrast, are sometimes abundant, and a researcher can build up a good picture of life 2000 or 10,000 years ago by digging in the right cave. If you’re lucky, you can even find mummified skin or feathers.

9. They aren’t the only extinct New Zealand bird.
Moa get all the glory, but a couple of dozen other bird species went extinct at the same time as them (and for much the same reason). New Zealand was home to Harpagornis, the world’s largest eagle, capable of killing an adult moa. We also had a pelican, a swan, a crow, an owlet-nightjar, a big harrier hawk, two flightless geese, a snipe, a coot, several flightless ducks and rails, a whole suite of little flightless wrens, and my favourite, the adzebill; big as a turkey, and looked like a cross between a chicken and a dodo. See the Gill and Martinson book for details.

10. Moa (sing. and pl.) is pronounced more like MORE than MOWER.
One moa, two moa, three moa. Maori doesn’t use ‘s’ for plurals, and since it’s one of the official languages of my country I try to use it properly when I can. Encouragingly, some moa researchers seem to agree with me in this. Ditto for pronunciation: You can say “there ain’t no moa moa”, but not “there’s a [lawn] moa in my garden shed!” This, at least, is the theory. It may be a while before most New Zealanders break a lifetime’s habit and stop talking about ‘extinct mowers.’

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