Story: Australians

Page 4. Arrivals 1890–1910

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Exodus to Australia

In the late 1880s times were hard in New Zealand, while Australia prospered. An exodus from New Zealand was the result: nearly 25,000 people left for Australia between 1886 and 1891.

… and to New Zealand

In the 1890s, as depression overtook Victoria and New South Wales, New Zealand’s economy became more buoyant. The flow of people to Australia slowed and reversed during Australia’s great drought, which was at its worst in the early 1900s.

Between 1901 and 1906 New Zealand’s Australian-born population increased from 26,991 to 47,256. By 1911 they numbered 50,693, a level not reached again for 60 years. Most who arrived in the early 20th century remained.

New Zealand gained around 60,000 people from Australia between 1891 and 1914. This included some returning New Zealanders, and British migrants moving on to New Zealand.

Rural Australians

The rural Australians who came in these years were ‘men of the very best type; hardy, self-reliant, sinewy men, really seeking work’. 1 Many went to the farming frontiers of the central North Island.

When drought struck in Queensland there was, for the first time, significant migration from that state to New Zealand.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, shearers from New Zealand and Australia followed an annual cycle that began in Queensland and ended in Southland. Australian shearers tended to come and go, rather than settle. But Charles Stephen Boreham, who first came in 1884, eventually stayed and became prominent in the trade union movement.

Australian radicals

The Maoriland Worker was a left-wing publication of the early 20th century. It may have had a New Zealand name, but was founded by an Australian shearer, Mick Laracy. He was succeeded as editor by two more Australians, R. S. Ross and Harry Holland. All three are names of significance in New Zealand’s labour history.

Miners and militants

In the early 20th century depression hit the Australian coal industry. Australian miners migrated to the West Coast coalfields, and also to quartz gold mining areas such as Waihī and Īnangahua counties.

These miners had a profound impact. They included socialists who helped to revive militant unionism in New Zealand, and to form the ‘Red’ Federation of Labour in 1908.

Among the Australian-born radicals who came to New Zealand were Michael Joseph Savage, Robert Semple, William Parry, Patrick Webb and Mark Fagan. All five were later members of the 1935 Labour cabinet, and Savage became prime minister. Another Australian who for many years led the Labour Party, Harry Holland, arrived in 1912.

These reformers saw what had happened in Australia as an object lesson. They hoped New Zealand could avoid, for example, allowing run holders to wield excessive power, or capitalists to exploit workers.

Cultural influences

A woman mountaineer

Mountain-starved Australian climbers have been crossing the Tasman Sea for more than a century, to make ascents in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. At a time when women climbers were frowned on by many, a young woman from Sydney, Freda du Faur (1882–1935), made notable ascents in the Southern Alps and became an inspiration to others. A main divide peak, Du Faur Peak, is named after her; next to it is Cadogan Peak, named after Muriel Cadogan, her companion of many years.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was ‘an Australasian cultural world based in Sydney and Melbourne, with Queensland and New Zealand as its provinces’. 2 By reading publications such as the Bulletin, the Australasian and the Sydney Mail, New Zealanders stayed abreast of Australian affairs. They also enjoyed books by such Australian authors as Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson (who spent a year in New Zealand). Stage shows toured from Sydney or Melbourne. Later, popular radio shows, movies and comic books passed on Australian values and attitudes to New Zealand audiences.

  1. Quoted in Murray McCaskill, ‘The Tasman connection: aspects of Australian–New Zealand relations.’ Australian Geographical Studies 20 (April 1982): 12. › Back
  2. Jock Phillips. ‘Musings in Maoriland – or was there a Bulletin school in New Zealand.’ Historical Studies 20, no. 81 (October 1983): 522. › Back
How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Australians - Arrivals 1890–1910', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

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