Skip to main content

Story: Australians

Since the early 1800s Aussies have crossed the Tasman Sea and made their mark. Whalers, prime ministers, gold miners, trade unionists, farmers, business people – they have contributed in almost every sphere to the development of their neighbour and ally.

Story by John Wilson
Main image: Australian shearing team, 1984

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Neighbouring nations

From the earliest days there was constant traffic between Australia and New Zealand – two British colonies far from the rest of the world. Their citizens have always sought new opportunities across ‘the ditch’ (the Tasman Sea). Personal, business and cultural links are mixed with national rivalry.

Early settlers

From the early 19th century, sealers, whalers and escaped or former convicts came to New Zealand from Australia. Although most of these early immigrants were British-born, by the 1840s and 1850s many who were born in Sydney and other parts of Australia arrived, especially in Auckland.

In the 1850s there was also a drought in Australia, and many sheep farmers who brought stock across became run holders in Canterbury.

In 1861 the Australian Gabriel Read discovered gold in Otago, sparking a rush to the South Island. Over 50,000 Australians followed him, and by the mid-1860s Hokitika was likened to a suburb of Melbourne. Thousands remained, some influencing the political scene with their left-wing beliefs.

Around the same time, Australian troops were brought to fight in the New Zealand wars.

Immigration 1890–1910

Depression and severe drought in Australia drove out thousands; by 1911 there were over 50,000 Australians in New Zealand. Tough, hardworking men tackled farming in the central North Island. Shearers headed for New Zealand's shearing sheds, and miners migrated to the West Coast coalfields. Many were left-wing radicals, and some immigrants such as Michael Joseph Savage became leading politicians. Others excelled in business.

20th century and beyond

The number of Australian residents declined to about 37,000 in 1945, when people still came by steamship. By 1976, with cheaper air travel, they numbered over 50,000 (mostly in Auckland), but this was only 2% of the population. Increased economic ties have brought Australian professionals, business people, industrial workers and others to New Zealand. In 2013 New Zealand’s Australian population was 62,712. By contrast in 2011 there were 480,000 New Zealanders in Australia, and the number was growing.

Australian and Kiwi soldiers forged powerful bonds as ‘mates together’ in both world wars. And although the two countries have distinct cultures and compete fiercely in rugby, cricket and other sports, once they are living in New Zealand, Australians are happy to mix in with the wider community.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Australians', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/australians (accessed 27 April 2017)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 10 Mar 2015