An old saying claims that stability, common sense and national pride is obviously paramount in those countries that hardly ever appear in the news programmes. This adage might not have proven correct in the case of Iceland, which was there, but you did not know it until her economy went bust. New Zealand only appears in international news programmes when one of its islands is struck by a tsunami, or an earthquake is suffered. Nevertheless, this immense country has an interesting history, though not interesting enough to encourage mass immigration; the population is sparse for a land mass of 267, 844 sq. kilometres.
New Zealand is just over 1,900 kilometres (1,180 miles) to the south-east of Australia. It is comprised of two massive islands, called unadventurously North and South Island, together with lots of much smaller islands in the south-west Pacific Ocean. The two main islands are separated by the relatively narrow Cook Straits (named after explorer James Cook who was killed by Hawaiian islanders), and the two islands together stretch north-east to south-west some 1,600 kilometres or 1000 miles.
The boundary between the Indo/Australian plate and the Pacific plate passes immediately south of North Island, and right through South Island, which is the reason why so many earthquakes occur along it. The weather in both main islands is mostly warm, wet and mild, brought by the westerlies blowing across the Tasman Sea. Frequently, snow is falling in South Island while the North Cape is blessed with hot sun.
The snow-capped Southern Alps, with Mount Cook overlooking everything, run the length of South Island. The beauty of the main islands, crested by mountains, covered by high glaciers, narrow lakes, deciduous and evergreen forest, rivers and endless grazing lands for sheep, is almost beyond compare anywhere in the world. Much of it can be seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson. With the virtual collapse of Hollywood, New Zealand has become a successful film producing country.
The country has a largely agricultural economy, with major exports of meat (especially mutton and lamb), wool and butter. The economy was much affected by the loss of preferential treatment by the United Kingdom when that country joined the European Community in 1973. New Zealand has to import most manufactured goods, and apparently suffers from a long-standing balance of payments deficit. Being sensible people, the islanders brought about economic reforms in 1984 which reduced government control of the economy and cut welfare provision. An agreement leading to closer economic relations with Australia has been signed.
New Zealand seems to have been first populated by Macri tribes from Polynesia around 800 A.D., and European contact began in 1642 with an exploration made by Dutch navigator Tasman. Captain James Cook made a number of expeditions from 1769 onwards. He effectively charted the islands, and ‘brought them within the British ambit’, which includes commercial exploitation from New South Wales and the founding (in 1837) of The New Zealand Association – later Company.
In 1840 the country became a colony, with the pretext of improving native Maori/settler relations, in the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1846 the British government allowed a limited constitution (which was rescinded in 1848), in which New Zealand was divided into the provinces of New Munster and New Ulster (definite Irish influences at work here!) and in 1852 the islands achieved a representative government. Responsible self-government came in 1856.
Settlement of South Island prospered rapidly, following the gold rushes of the 1860s, but North Island fell into the disastrous Anglo-Maori Wars as a result of too rapid acquisition of Maori land by settlers. Later, in 1881 regulations restricted immigration of Asians, who were seen as a threat to the ethic purity of New Zealanders. These regulations were confirmed by The Immigration Restriction Act of 1920, but the terms were gradually made more liberal. Women got the franchise in 1893, whereas in Britain the ladies had to wait for the vote until 1923.
By 1931 New Zealand was an independent Dominion, though she chose not to ratify the State of Westminster until 1947. Before then New Zealand had actively and expensively supported the Allies in both world wars, losing many of her sons. When asked to by the United States, New Zealand sent an active and successful military force to Vietnam.
The Labour Party had ruled for most of the 20th century until 1997, when for the first time a right-wing female politician and Minister (Jenny Shipley) became New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister.
The capital of both islands is Wellington, the population is nearly 4 million, the currency is the New Zealand dollar, and ethnic groups are divided into European Origin 82.2%; Maori 9,2% and Pacific Island Polynesian 2.9%. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the U.N., as well as the South Pacific Forum and the Colombo Plan.