Australia and Pacific

Australia’s Empty Countryside—and the Melbourne/Sydney Rivalry

Australia is well known for its low population density. With roughly 23 million people living in 2.9 million sq mi (7.7 million sq km) of land, it ranks sixth from bottom in this regard, following Mongolia, Namibia, Iceland, Suriname, and Mauritania. Australia is also known for its high degree of urbanization, although its 89.2 percent official urbanization figure places only in the world’s 16th position. Such a ranking is misleading, however, as many of the more urbanized countries are microstates or city-states, such as Nauru, San Marino, Monaco, and Singapore. Australia is also unusual in the degree to which its top metropolitan areas tower over its smaller cities. More than half of Australians live in greater Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

As a result of such intense metropolitanization in a low-density framework, maps of Australian population density can be misleading. A quick glance at a typical map in this genre shows the vast Outback as sparsely populated indeed, but also seemingly indicates moderately high populations densities in the climatically favored eastern, southeastern, and southwestern reaches of the country. But the brown areas on the map to the right, with only 1.1-10 residents per square kilometer, are still sparsely settled by global standards. On the map of Europe posted here, all such areas would fall into the lowest population density category.

The scarcity of rural population even in the relatively thickly settled Australian southeast was recently impressed upon me while driving on back roads from Sydney to Canberra.  The trip took my family and me through the administrative districts of Lithgow, Oberon, Upper Lachland, and Yass Valley, an area highlighted in blue on the map to the left. Part of the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, this low-elevation (2,000-3,000 feet [600-900 meters]) hilly plateau is devoted largely to livestock production. I found the scenery delightful, with tree-dotted pastoral landscapes alternating with woodlands and the occasional pine plantation. Human habitations were few and far between, and the miniscule hamlets that dot similar areas in the American West were absent. The small towns that I did pass through, such as Oberon proper (population 2,500), struck me as economically healthy and relatively well-nucleated, without the sloppy sprawl that characterizes most towns of a similar size in the western United States.

Although such claims are based merely on casual observation over a single transect of the Australian countryside, the basic demographic realities can easily be gleaned from census records. Lithgow, Oberon, Upper Lachland, and Yass Valley together cover 7,457 square miles (19,300 square kilometers), an area about the size of Wales, Slovenia, or New Jersey. The region’s total population, however, is a mere 48,000. One way to appreciate the low density of the region is to contrast it to California, where a similar scarcity of settlement is encountered only in the most remote counties in the far north and the desert east. Siskiyou County makes a good analogue, with 45,000 people living in 6,347 sq mi (16,440 km2) of land. But Siskiyou is a remote, rugged, and partly desert county, whereas the Lithgow to Yass Valley corridor is a gentle pastoral land situated in the Australian national core zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The area in question has registered moderate population gains over the past decade, as can be seen in the map to the left. The same map, however, shows population decreases in most rural areas of New South Wales, along with a major expansion in greater Sydney, which has registered three-quarters of the state’s total population growth during this period. Similar patterns are evident in most parts of the country. Such trends indicate an intensification of Australia’s already stark urban/rural divide. While the pastoral Outback and the main agricultural regions continue to lose population, Australia’s major metropolitan areas are all expanding, especially along their suburban fringes. As a recent press release puts it:

Population growth in Australia between June 2001 and June 2011 was strongest in the outer suburbs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The five areas with the largest growth in the country were all on the outskirts of Melbourne, with the largest increase in South Morang (up 32,200 people). Point Cook, Caroline Springs and Tarneit in Melbourne’s west followed, each with growth of more than 20,000 people.

If present trends continue, greater Melbourne will surpass greater Sydney before too long to become, once again, Australia’s largest urban area. Considering the deep rivalry between the two cities, such trends are significant. But as a recent article in The Punch (“Australia’s Best Conversation”) argues, the actual differences between Sydney and Melbourne are insignificant:

Melbourne is the city in the world most similar to Sydney. Well, it is. Forget the differences. …Sydney and Melbourne have much, much more in common than either of them ever care to admit. Truth is, the brashness of Sydney (as seen through Melbourne eyes) and the bleakness of Melbourne (as seen through Sydney eyes) are just two examples of differences between the cities which are wildly overblown.

The 200 comments posted on the article, however, indicate that the rivalry is taken seriously indeed, especially by Melbournians. Intriguingly, one of the commentators (“TheBrad”) argued that the distinctive cultures of two cities are most clearly evident in one media segment: “you can tell a lot about a state by their morning radio breakfast shows – Sydney is in your face & Melbourne is a yawn…” The comment seems tragically prescient, considering the fact that the antics of two Sydney radio “shock jocks”  has been linked to the suicide of a duped British nurse, Jacintha Saldanha.

Although Sydneysiders may tend to view Melbourne as bleak and stuffy, many knowledgeably observers think that it has a more vibrant music and arts scene than its rival. Emblematic of the cultural differences between the two cities, some argue, is the fact that the Kiwi (New Zealander) singer-songwriter Kimbra—“the mesmerizing trans-Tasman pop sensation”—recently decided to relocate to Melbourne, not Sydney.

 

Australia’s Empty Countryside—and the Melbourne/Sydney Rivalry Read More »

Australia’s Climatic Anomalies

(Having just returned from a family trip to Australia, I feel compelled to muse over a few Australian topics over the next few days….).

In the various indices of the world’s “most livable cities,” those of Australia generally rank quite high. In the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s (EIU) most recent global liveability report, Melbourne places first, Adelaide fifth, Sydney seventh, and Perth ninth. The EIU index does not consider climate; if it did, Sydney would probably rank higher. What constitutes an ideal climate is of course a highly subjective matter; judging from various web postings on “the world’s best climate,” some people prefer mild conditions and while others favor warmth, some like aridity and while others prefer periodic rain, and some revel in year-round constancy while others demand seasonality. Sydney’s climate, however, would appeal to many: summers are on average warm but not hot (with an average January high of 78°F [26°C]*), while winters are cool but not cold (with an average July high of 61 F [16 C]). Although real heat is occasionally experienced (the city’s record high temperature is 113°F [46°C]), true cold is unknown, allowing tropical vegetation to flourish (the record low is 36°F [2°C]). Although some might find Sydney too wet (with average annual precipitation of 47 inches [1,213 mm]), in every month one can expect at least five hours of mean daily sunshine. By the same token, summer days tend to be fairly damp, with an average January relative humidity of 64% at 3:00 PM, but given the city’s mild temperatures, such a figure remains within the comfort range of most individuals.

Sydney’s moderate summers surprise many casual visitors, who often associate Australia with blistering heat in the high-sun season. Even geographically aware travelers might be taken aback. Climatic conditions in general are predictable on the basis of latitude, altitude, position on a landmass (whether located in the west, east, or center), orientation of mountain ranges, and so on. First-year students in physical geography are typically introduced to the “hypothetical continent” on which ideal climate zones are mapped. As an east-coast city situated at a latitude of 34°, Sydney lies on the poleward side of the humid subtropical zone on such a map. (On Australian climate maps, Sydney is variably depicted in either the subtropical or the temperate belt.) As such, it would be expected to experience ample year-round rainfall—which it does. But it should also have hot summers and cool winters with occasional cold-snaps—which it does not. Many similarly situated cities are much less equable. The subtropical east coasts of North America and Asia in particular show marked contrast with Sydney. Analogous cities here include Charleston, South Carolina and Nagoya, Japan, each of which has a sweltering average high in the hottest month of 91°F (33°C). Both cities are also appreciably colder than Sydney in the winter: Nagoya’s average January high is 48°F (9°C) and Charleston’s record low is 6°F (-14°C).

It is not coincidental that Charleston and Nagoya are both located in the northern hemisphere. Similarly situated cities in the Southern Hemisphere are more like Sydney. Montevideo, Uruguay, for example, has an intermediate average summer (January) high temperatures of 83°F/28°C, whereas East London, on South Africa’s east coast at a latitude of 33°, is more moderate than even Sydney, with an average winter (July) high temperature of 70°F (21°C).

The differences between the hemispheres in this regard is likely generated by a combination of ocean currents, which are shaped by landmasses, and the fact that the south is the much more oceanic half of the planet. Sydney owes much of its moderate summers to its maritime location—even its interior suburbs have hotter summers and cooler winters. The subtropical zones in eastern North America and eastern Asia lack such marine moderation owing to the warm currents off their coasts and the greater size of the continents on which they sit. Although the warm East Australian Current does affect Sydney, its influence in the summer is somewhat limited; summer water temperatures off Charleston, South Carolina average about 10°F higher than those off Sydney.

The seeming anomaly of Sydney’s climate is not mentioned in the standard reference work on topic, Glen Trewartha’s The World’s Problem Climates. Trewartha rather regarded coastal New South Wales, like most of the rest of Australia, as climatically unexceptional. As he put it, “Australia approximates in nearly ideal form the climatic arrangement that one would expect on a hypothetical continent where the great planetary controls largely regulate the weather” (75). The one real exception that Trewartha noted (p. 80) is Australia’s lack of an extremely arid but rather cool desert on its coastal flank of its western subtropical belt.

Despite Trewartha’s assessment, Australia is climatically unusual in several regards. Its deserts are both more extensive and less arid than those of other continents. Much of the landmass is also characterized by greater annual variation in rainfall than most other places. Australia owes this characteristic largely to its position relative to the Pacific Ocean, which makes it especially vulnerable to the perturbation of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). As can be seen on the map, rainfall variability is pronounced in Australia’s more arid interior, but is relatively modest in most costal zones.

Concern is mounting that climate change could accentuate the continent’s already pronounced precipitation variability. The so-called Millennial Drought that began in the late 1990s and lasted until 2009 was the worst dry-spell on record—which is saying a lot. It was followed by an extremely wet period beginning in 2010 and lasting into 2012. The past three months have again been dry over the southeastern half of the country. Long-range forecasts continue to predict a wet summer over much of this region, but they also indicate a drought striking northern Queensland. Forecasting that far into the future, however, is still notoriously unreliable.

* All climate data from the Wikipedia articles on the cities in question, except for the relative humidity data for Sydney, which is from the Times World Weather Guide.

 

 

 

 

Australia’s Climatic Anomalies Read More »

Separatism in French Polynesia

As previously noted on GeoCurrents, the political entities that comprise the French Republic exhibit a multitude of different administrative designations with varying legal responsibilities. One such possession is French Polynesia, which was officially designated an “overseas country” in 2004, though legally its status is indistinguishable from that of France’s other overseas collectivities (see map at left). Overseas collectivities yield control of foreign affairs, monetary policy, and security to Paris while otherwise exercising legal autonomy. In recent years, increasing chaos and animosity have come to define the political landscape of French Polynesia. Elected officials are split over the question of greater autonomy or independence, and legislative coalitions often prove ephemeral.

French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru is at the center of the controversy. Temaru and his pro-independence party, Tavini Huiraatira (People’s Servant), have recently stepped up their separatist rhetoric. On October 8, Temaru reportedly removed the French flag and a portrait of the French President from French Polynesia’s assembly chamber. Pro-independence members of the assembly have also begun using a Tahitian name for the territory, “Maohi Nui”, rather than “French Polynesia”. According to Temaru’s main political opponents, the anti-independence Tahoera’a Huiraatira (Popular Rally), Temaru’s actions are illegal. They further charge that he is becoming more of a dictator than a president.

Opposition to French rule is colored by a history of controversial nuclear testing. Between 1966 and 1996, 193 nuclear tests were conducted in French Polynesia. At first, such tests enjoyed a measure of support, but overtime they became an environmental scandal. France’s final series of tests, conducted in 1995 and 1996 on the French Polynesian atoll of Moruroa, provoked worldwide controversy and condemnation in the South Pacific Forum. After the last 1996 test, France signed and ratified both the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and the Treaty of Rarotonga, which creates a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Pacific. In 2006, President Temaru renamed a prominent park in Papeete—the Place Chirac—the Place de 2 Juillet 1966. The new name references the date of the first nuclear test to take place in French Polynesia, and the park now hosts a memorial dedicated to all nuclear detonation sites around the Pacific.

French Polynesia’s independence movement faces several political and economic obstacles. Aside from tourism in Tahiti, French Polynesia’s economy has little to stand on, and depends on roughly a billion of dollars in annual subsidy from Metropolitan France to maintain its standard of living. Politically, conservative parties within French Polynesia that oppose independence consistently control about half of the government’s elected positions, including—at times—the presidency. Tahoera’a Huiraatira, founded by Gaston Flosse, is the largest such party and garners the support of most French settlers. The peculiar instability of French Polynesian politics further confounds the situation. The former Tahoera’a Huiraatira President, Gaston Tong Sang, fell to a contentious no-confidence vote in 2006, paving the way for President Temaru’s ascendancy and splitting the anti-independence Tahoera’a Huiraatira into two competing parties. Though independence is certainly one of the largest issues in French Polynesian politics, it would be a mistake to interpret each parliamentary election as something approaching a referendum on the subject.

Temaru and other independence-seekers within Tavini Huiraatira point with hope to recent comments made by French President Francois Hollande during a visit to Senegal. Hollande promised an end to “Françafrique”, a term used to refer to France’s special relationship with its former African colonies. Tavini Huiraatira’s hopes may be somewhat overstated, especially given that the demise of Francafrique is itself a nebulous notion. For the near future, French Polynesia will almost certainly continue on with the status quo, and there are currently no plans for a independence referendum, as is the case in New Caledonia. In the longer term, though, an independent French Polynesia appears to be quite possible, perhaps even likely.

Separatism in French Polynesia Read More »

The Australian Asylum Controversy Extends to Indonesia

The on-going Australian asylum-seeking controversy has recently spread to the Indonesian island of Java. On August 20, the Jakarta Post announced the arrest of “28 illegal immigrants hiding in a forested coastal area of South Cianjur, West Java. The immigrants were part of a large group of asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran who were heading to Christmas Island.” The report went on to note that a total 61 asylum seekers have been detained, and that a number of others are still being sought. The Australian government had previously reached an agreement with Indonesia that would allow its navy to turn boats with asylum seekers back to Indonesian waters, but it has announced that it will not pursue that option.

Christmas Island is a small (135 km2; 52 sq mi) Australian territory located much closer to Java than to the Australian mainland.  Asylum seekers bound for Australia are held in detention centers on the island for processing. Because many detainees are eventually given visas and allowed into the country, boats carrying refugees often head for the island. Detainees on the island now number almost 1,700, as opposed to 1,400 permanent residents. Overcrowding is resulting in serious shortages of milk, fuel, and other goods on the island.

To cope with the record number of new arrivals, the Australian government has ordered the reopening of the detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea that had been employed by the previous, much more conservative, government. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the Labor Party is now taking a hard line herself, threatening “indefinite detention for boat arrivals”—a maneuver much opposed by the Green Party. According to a recent report, the Australian intelligence service has discovered that “people smugglers have been overheard telling clients that even if they are sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, they will eventually get to Australia if they are patient enough,” informing their customers that that “Nauru is ‘just another Christmas Island.’”

Australian law courts, meanwhile, are handling dozens of suits brought forth by former detainees on Nauru, many of who claim to have been suffered physical abuse along with “forced solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for as many as four weeks.” Over the past year, the government awarded former detainees with several million dollars in compensation funds.

 

 

The Australian Asylum Controversy Extends to Indonesia Read More »

Australia’s “Devil Ark” Captive Breeding Program

The Tasmanian devil, a wolverine-like marsupial carnivore, has been reintroduced to mainland Australia, where it has been extinct for hundreds of years. The formidable animals are not roaming free in the outback, however, but are rather confined to the “Devil Ark” in a free-range captive breeding project: “Devils are kept in densely vegetated pens of between two and three football fields in size enclosed by a climb and burrow-proof fence, and their pen mates are chosen by experts from a genetic ‘stud book’ to optimise breeding.”

With a screeching cry and the strongest bite of any animal relative to its size, the Tasmanian devil has a fearsome reputation. Although they vanished from mainland Australia after the introduction of the dingo, they were until recently quite common on Tasmania. Without human intervention, however, devils are likely to go extinct in the wild due to the rapid spread of a particular kind of facial cancer, spread by fighting. As Tasmanian devils have extremely low genetic diversity, due to a previous population bottleneck, their immune systems are unable to recognize cancer cells that spread when one of the aggressive animals bites another, as they frequently do. Numbering roughly 250,000 twenty years ago, the devil population has been reduced to the low tens of thousands.

Thus far, the program is proving successful. As recently reported in Chanelnewsasia:

 They just love being here, all the signs are that they are happy and healthy devils.
… Social dominance is a constant battle in the wild and Devil Ark is no different — having to share their territory with others forces the devils to fight for their food and mating rights, skills they can quickly lose in a zoo.

Those wild traits are crucial for them being able to survive when they’re re-released.

According to current plans, devils from the Ark will be reintroduced to Tasmania after the wild population dies out.

Australia’s “Devil Ark” Captive Breeding Program Read More »

U.S. Drone Base on Australia’s Cocos Islands?

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Australia recently announced that it might allow the United States to establish an airbase on its remote Indian-Ocean Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Such a base would be used primarily for a fleet of surveillance drones, but it has been suggested that it could potentially serve as a partial replacement for the massive U.S. military complex on the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago, which is leased from the United Kingdom. Australia and the United States have recently heightened their military cooperation. The U.S. is establishing a contingent of Marines in the northern Australian city of Darwin, and negotiations are underway to station U.S. aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the Western Australian capital of Perth. Most observers link the enhancement of military ties between Australia and the U.S. to the rapid growth of the Chinese military.

The plans for the drone base have generated opposition in Australia. Shortly after the announcement was made, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith insisted that the proposal was merely a ”long-term prospect.” Australian opposition leaders, however, stated that they have a ”very positive” attitude about the proposed base. Australian military experts caution that major investments would be necessary before the Cocos Islands could be transformed into a drone base: “The harbour is really a lagoon while the island lacks significant infrastructure such as a shopping centre and the limited supply of freshwater significantly affects the numbers of people the islands can sustain.”

The Indonesian government has formally objected to the proposal, stating that it “threatens Indonesian sovereignty and security.”

U.S. Drone Base on Australia’s Cocos Islands? Read More »

Violence against Women in Solomon Islands

According to Australia Network News, a recent World Bank report lists Solomon Islands as suffering from more violence against women than any other country. The Bank’s recent Gender Equality and Development Report states that 64 per cent of women in the Melanesian country claim that they have been victims of domestic violence. Most of the violence against women in Solomon Islands is reported to be sexual in nature. Laws to criminalize domestic violence have not been instituted in the island country.

An earlier Australian governmental report claims that violence against women is common across most of Melanesia:

In Melanesia and East Timor, violence against women is severe, pervasive and constrains development. The impacts of violence against women include escalating health care, social services, policing and justice system costs and restrict women’s participation in political, social and economic life.

 

Violence against Women in Solomon Islands Read More »

Oceania GeoQuiz Answers

Yesterday’s GeoNote introduced this Oceania GeoQuiz. This page shows the answers in bold, so if you would like to first take the quiz without seeing the answers, see yesterday’s post before scrolling down.

 

 

 

1. The area marked A:

a. is a major agricultural region, marked by large sugar and cotton plantations in the north and intensive sheep and cattle ranching in the south.

b. is an Australian territory rather than state (owing largely to its small population) that has a relatively high proportion of Aborigines in its population.

c. is an Australian state characterized, like the rest of the country, by low population density overall, but with high density in its capital city – which contains well over one million people.

d. is a large Aboriginal reserve; Australians of European or Asian descent are encouraged to visit, but they are not allowed to live there.

With only 230,000 people, the Northern Territory is not a state. But is population is expected to cross the half-million mark by mid century.

2. The country, with two main islands, marked B:

a. is the most economically successful country in the region, thanks to its mineral wealth and high tech industries.

b. is almost entirely English in its cultural and genetic background, with fewer than 5%  of its population derived from other parts of the world.

c. is primarily British and Irish in its cultural background, but has a substantial and growing indigenous (Maori) population, as well as significant populations derived from Asia and from other Pacific islands. 

d. is a largely rural society (unlike Australia), with few major cities.

According to the Wikipedia, “67.6 percent of the population [of New Zealand] identified ethnically as European and 14.6 percent as Māori. Other major ethnic groups include Asian (9.2 percent) and Pacific peoples (6.9 percent), while 11.1 percent identified themselves simply as a “New Zealander””

3. The island group marked C is:

a. an independent country, in Free Association with the United States, that contains large U.S. military installations, used mainly for missile testing.

b. a dependent territory of the United States; a strong independence movement here has threatened U.S. interests, leading to a withdrawal of military forces.

c. an independent country that maintains a highly traditional way of life; immigration is not allowed, and even tourism is discouraged.

d. a “Commonwealth” of the Unites States (like Puerto Rico): the people of the islands are US citizens and can freely migrate to the mainland, but they do not have U.S. voting rights.

The Marshall Islands, a former U.S. “Trust Territory,” is now independent, but “Free Association” status means that islanders can emigrate freely to the U.S.  Kwajalein Atoll, site of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Defense Test Site, is the world’s largest target.

4. The area marked D is:

a. a self-governing, “sui generis” dependency of France, with major ethnic conflicts, that is scheduled to vote on independence within a  few years.

b. an independent country that has experienced pronounced political turmoil due to the tensions between its main island and its smaller islands.

c. an overseas department of France, and hence as much a part of France as Hawaii is part of the United States.

d. an independent country that has experienced pronounced political turmoil due to the tensions between its indigenous population and its population of Indian ancestry.

New Caledonia is a French dependency of ambiguous status. Conflicts between the indigenous Kanaks, the Caldoches (those of European descent), and Polynesian immigrants from the French islands of Wallis and Futuna can be heated.

5. The area marked E:

a. is one of the more populous and prosperous countries of the Pacific, owing to its combination of large, fertile, volcanic “high” islands and numerous atolls.

b. is an American dependency – and is the site of numerous American naval bases.

c. is an independent country with a small (roughly 100,000) population concentrated in its western atolls  — presenting it with a problem in patrolling its huge “exclusive economic zone” of oceanic territory.

d. maintains strict control over its ocean territory through the use of its powerful navy –- much to the distress of its neighboring countries.

Kiribati (pronounced “Kiribas”) is an independent country that covers a vast oceanic expanse. It was formerly a British colony.

6. The area marked F:

a. is an independent country that has experienced intense struggles between its main island and its outer archipelago, requiring Australian military occupation in 2004.

b. is more prosperous than most of its neighboring Oceanic countries owing to tourism and to its successful development of an off-shore banking industry.

c. is noted for its extreme linguistic diversity; its unifying language, Tok Pisin (“Pidgin English”) is based on English.

d. was a former French colony that maintains close ties to France, especially in terms of its economy (it is a major exporter of nickel).

Papua New Guinea is said to contain some 850 indigenous languages. Tok Pisin is an increasingly successful national language.

7. The large triangular area marked H at each apex:

a. is differentiated from the rest of the Pacific-island world by the fact that most of its people are of European or Asian descent, with indigenous populations everywhere forming a relatively small minority.

b. is called “Polynesia,” but this term has little meaning, as the so-called Polynesian peoples actually speak a number of very different languages and follow very different cultural traditions.

c. was uninhabited before the coming of Europeans, hence it has no truly indigenous peoples.

d. is called Polynesia; before the coming of the Europeans, similar languages and customs were found throughout this huge region.

Although Melanesia and Micronesia have little if any cultural unity, Polynesia is a coherent cultural unit. Polynesian languages and cultures are found outside of the triangle, however, on so-called Polynesian outliers found in Melanesia areas. 

Oceania GeoQuiz Answers Read More »

GeoQuiz on Oceania

Oceania Quiz

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. The area marked A:

a. is a major agricultural region, marked by large sugar and cotton plantations in the north and intensive sheep and cattle ranching in the south.

b. is an Australian territory rather than state (owing largely to its small population) that has a relatively high proportion of Aborigines in its population.

c. is an Australian state characterized, like the rest of the country, by low population density overall, but with high density in its capital city – which contains well over one million people.

d. is a large Aboriginal reserve; Australians of European or Asian descent are encouraged to visit, but they are not allowed to live there.

2. The country, with two main islands, marked B:

a. is the most economically successful country in the region, thanks to its mineral wealth and high tech industries.

b. is almost entirely English in its cultural and genetic background, with fewer than 5%  of its population derived from other parts of the world.

c. is primarily British and Irish in its cultural background, but has a substantial and growing indigenous (Maori) population, as well as significant populations derived from Asia and from other Pacific islands.

d. is a largely rural society (unlike Australia), with few major cities.

3. The island group marked C is:

a. an independent country, in Free Association with the United States, that contains large U.S. military installations, used mainly for missile testing.

b. a dependent territory of the United States; a strong independence movement here has threatened U.S. interests, leading to a withdrawal of military forces.

c. an independent country that maintains a highly traditional way of life; immigration is not allowed, and even tourism is discouraged.

d. a “Commonwealth” of the Unites States (like Puerto Rico): the people of the islands are US citizens and can freely migrate to the mainland, but they do not have U.S. voting rights.

4. The area marked D is:

a. a self-governing, “sui generis” dependency of France, with major ethnic conflicts, that is scheduled to vote on independence within a  few years.

b. an independent country that has experienced pronounced political turmoil due to the tensions between its main island and its smaller islands.

c. an overseas department of France, and hence as much a part of France as Hawaii is part of the United States.

d. an independent country that has experienced pronounced political turmoil due to the tensions between its indigenous population and its population of Indian ancestry.

5. The area marked E:

a. is one of the more populous and prosperous countries of the Pacific, owing to its combination of large, fertile, volcanic “high” islands and numerous atolls.

b. is an American dependency – and is the site of numerous American naval bases.

c. is an independent country with a small (roughly 100,000) population concentrated in its western atolls  — presenting it with a problem in patrolling its huge “exclusive economic zone” of oceanic territory.

d. maintains strict control over its ocean territory through the use of its powerful navy –- much to the distress of its neighboring countries.

6. The area marked F:

a. is an independent country that has experienced intense struggles between its main island and its outer archipelago, requiring Australian military occupation in 2004.

b. is more prosperous than most of its neighboring Oceanic countries owing to tourism and to its successful development of an off-shore banking industry.

c. is noted for its extreme linguistic diversity; its unifying language, Tok Pisin (“Pidgin English”) is based on English.

d. was a former French colony that maintains close ties to France, especially in terms of its economy (it is a major exporter of nickel).

7. The large triangular area marked H at each apex:

a. is differentiated from the rest of the Pacific-island world by the fact that most of its people are of European or Asian descent, with indigenous populations everywhere forming a relatively small minority.

b. is called “Polynesia,” but this term has little meaning, as the so-called Polynesian peoples actually speak a number of very different languages and follow very different cultural traditions.

c. was uninhabited before the coming of Europeans, hence it has no truly indigenous peoples.

d. is called Polynesia; before the coming of the Europeans, similar languages and customs were found throughout this huge region.

 

Answers tomorrow!

GeoQuiz on Oceania Read More »

The Culture of Queensland and the Desire to Divide the State

Queensland has a reputation of being the most conservative state in Australia, especially in regard to social and racial issues. As such, it has been deemed Australia’s “Deep North,” in reference to the “Deep South” of the United States. Such attitudes, however, have changed significantly in recent years. A study from the 1990s concluded that there were no longer any “significant differences between Queenslanders and New South Wales residents.” Significantly, Queensland passed a same-sex civil union bill in late 2011. Such unions are now accepted across eastern Australia, but not in the west or the south of the country.

But if one digs a little deeper, a more complex picture emerges. Although the residents of the Brisbane area in southeastern Queensland, the state’s demographic core, are now relatively liberal on social issues, the same cannot be said for the people of central Queensland. As indicated on the first map posted here, a 2010 study showed that residents of central-eastern Queensland have the most pronounced anti-homosexual attitudes in Australia.

Intriguingly, central Queensland along with northern Queensland have long maintained separatist movements devoted to creating one or two new Australian states. In earlier times, the main complaints were distance from the state capital of Brisbane and neglect by the state government. Today, difference in political philosophy figure more prominently. One of the proposals for division would create a new state of Capricornia, depicted on the second map posted here.

The economy of central Queensland rests heavily on natural resources. The region contains Australia’s largest coal reserves, located in the Bowen Basin. This area is noted for its high-quality coking coal, vast quantities of which are exported annually. The business is currently expanding rapidly. According to the Wikipedia, “In mid 2011, evidence of a continuing mining boom was provided by state government figures which showed more than 50 mining projects are under consideration in the Bowen Basin.” Natural gas is also abundant in the region.

The “Capricornia movement” is by no means the only drive to create a new state in Australia. In recent years, a more organized movement has sought to carve out a state of “New England” from the northeastern portion of New South Wales. As the first map indicates, this area is also more socially conservative than the rest of the state in which it is located.

The Culture of Queensland and the Desire to Divide the State Read More »

Jervis Bay: Australia’s Hidden Territory

I had always thought that Australia proper* contained six states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania) and two territories (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory [ACT] around Canberra). In actuality, it contains three territories. Missing from the standard list is the Jervis Bay Territory, a small coastal peninsula (67 km2 [26 sq mi]) located 150 km (93 mi) south of Sydney. Jervis Bay was separated from New South Wales in 1915 to provide the new capital of Canberra with ocean access. Jervis Bay is thus often regarded as an exclave of the ACT, but it is actually a separate territory in its own right. Not quite 400 people live in Jervis Bay, most of them on the local Royal Australian Navy Base. Most of the territory is now legally recognized as Aboriginal land.

Jervis Bay is perhaps best known as the site of the South Coast Pipe, one of Australia’s most famous surfing spots. As described by Surfing Australia, it features a  “hollow, intense left tube, offering a shorter, punchy right. … Pipe will hold 10, even 12 ft. tubes, if conditions are perfect.”

Jervis Bay has been in the news recently as a test site for director’s James Cameron’s deep-sea submersible. Cameron hopes “to become the first human to visit the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep, which plummets 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) down in the Pacific Ocean, for more than 50 years, and bring back data and specimens.”

*Excluding the country’s minor outlying islands, that is.

 

Jervis Bay: Australia’s Hidden Territory Read More »

More Flooding in Australia

Interior Australia is noted for its extreme climatic oscillations, especially in regard to precipitation. If anything, the change from wet to dry periods seems to be getting more extreme. In the first decade of this century, much of Australia suffered its worst drought in a thousand years, which is saying a lot for such a drought-plagued region. But in 2010, a transition to a wet phase occurred. As one of the maps posted here shows, almost the entire continent has received much more rainfall than average over the past 18 months.

Since late February, much of central Australia has received drenching rain, leading to widespread flooding. In a five-day period before March 2, Alice Springs in the heart of the outback received more than its average annual precipitation. As result, the normally bone-dry Todd River has begun to flow. Rain continues to fall in the area, leading to concerns about further flooding. The rainfall is also turning Australia’s “red center” to a verdant shade of green, delighting those in the livestock industry.

 

More Flooding in Australia Read More »

The Pilbara to Populate?

Australia Map, Highlighting the Pilbara

Australia Map, Highlighting the PilbaraThe Pilbara is a vast, sparsely settled region in northwestern Australia noted for its gargantuan reserves of iron-ore and other minerals. Covering 193,823 sq mi (502,000 km2), the Pilbara is substantially larger than California, yet it has fewer than 50,000 permanent inhabitants. The region’s workforce, however, is much larger than its population would indicate, as most of the employees in the booming mining sector are classified as transient. They typically reside in the Perth area, the metropolitan core of Western Australia, and fly up to the mining country for working stints of a week or two.

The government of Western Australia, however, has recently decided that the “fly in; fly out” model of Pilbara employment is inefficient, and that more workers should reside permanently in the region. In mid-February, as noted by Perth Now, “Planning Minister John Day released the Pilbara Planning and Infrastructure Framework…, which will support the State Government’s lofty ambitions to attract 140,000 permanent residents to the region in just over two decades…”

The climate of the Pilbara is rigorous. This semi-arid region is brutally hot for half of the year; the town of Marble Bar holds the world’s records for the most consecutive days—160—in which the high temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius). Much of the precipitation that does fall comes in the form of drenching tropical cyclones, which strike on average in seven out of ten years.

Complaints about settling in the Pilbara, however, seem to focus more on urban amenities than climate. As commentator John Smith noted in regard to the article cited above:

I have been flying in and out for 2 years and I would agree that it is not a particularly nice place to live. Scenery is nothing compared to the East Coast or many other places, and infrastructure is only to support the miners. No movie theatres, no decent restaurant, can’t get a decent coffee even if paying $5 minimum. And housing costs are absolutely ridiculous. Someone needs to fix that if anything is to change, it will take the government to force them to release a million acres of land from the 400 million available. Give it away for free. Otherwise Australia will price itself out of the market for minerals—it is already starting to happen.

The Pilbara to Populate? Read More »

Cultural Hybridity in New Zealand

 

A newly released study in New Zealand argues that many English-speaking immigrants to the country are held back by their inability to comprehend the “small talk” that typically takes places in New Zealand workplaces. Such informal conversations, the study indicates, are conducted in a “distinct form of ‘New Zealand English’ … developed from the merging of Maori and European cultures.” It is unclear, however, how much such misunderstandings stem from actual linguistic differences, as New Zealand English is fairly close to British English, from which it developed. Cultural presuppositions seem more important. In the New Zealand workplace, the study contends, self-deprecating humor, informality, and chatting are greatly valued. Such a style is said to derive from the attitudes of both the English settlers and the indigenous Maoris. Employees from Hong Kong and Japan, the study states, have a particularly difficult time adapting to such a cultural milieu.

Maori cultural influences are stronger on New Zealand’s North Island than its South Island. It would be interesting to see if workplace culture differs on the two islands.

Cultural Hybridity in New Zealand Read More »

La Niña Floods and Droughts

La Niña conditions have recently brought unusual weather conditions to much of the world. In the Southern Hemisphere, large areas of Australia have been hit by torrential rain. In the semi-arid outback of central and southwestern Queensland, the intermittent Warrego River and a number of ephemeral streams have turned into torrents, flooding several towns and inundating extensive areas of pasture. Cattle producers, who rely mostly on natural forage, are pleased, but cotton farmers fear that they will lose their crops.

In Paraguay and northern Argentina, meanwhile, drought conditions are threatening corn and soybean production, and have reduced the flow of the mighty Paraguay River to its lowest flow in twenty years. On February 2, however, meteorologists finally saw substantial rains on the horizon. Agricultural commodity traders are closely following such weather news.

La Niña Floods and Droughts Read More »