History of Oceania

History of Oceania

The History of Oceania is the history of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and other Pacific island nations.

First settlement

Australia was settled by the Indigenous Australians between 40,000 and 125,000 years ago. Oceania was first settled by Austronesians or Polynesian people around 2,000 years ago.

The Tu'i Tonga Empire was founded in the 10th century AD and expanded between 1200 and 1500. The Tu'i Kanokupolu is the title held by Tongan monarchs since 1600. George Tupou II of Tonga became the first king of Tonga in 1893.

From the 1850s Seru Epenisa Cakobau tried to unite the Fijian Islands, and became the first Tui Viti, or king of Fiji, a title which passed to the British Crown after 1874. The Great Council of Chiefs was established in Fiji in 1876.

European exploration

Oceania was explored by Europeans from the 16th century onwards, the Spanish, with Ferdinand Magellan in the expedition achieved the circumnavigation of the world for the first time, discovered the Marianas and other islands of Oceania. Abel Tasman's voyages in the 1640s visiting north-western Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Tonga and the Fijian islands. James Cook explored the Pacific islands and the east coast of Australia in the 18th century.

In 1789 the Mutiny on the Bounty against William Bligh led to several of the mutineers escaping the Royal Navy and settling on Pitcairn Islands, which later became a British colony.


The British followed with colonies in Australia in 1788, New Zealand in 1840 and Fiji in 1872, with much of Oceania becoming part of the British Empire. Other European powers also controlled parts of Oceania, with French New Caledonia from 1853 and French Polynesia from 1889, while the Germans established colonies in New Guinea in 1884, and Samoa in 1900. The United States also expanded into the Pacific, beginning with Baker Island and Howland Island in 1857, and with Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory from 1898. Disagreements between the US, Germany and UK over Samoa led to the Tripartite Convention of 1899. Among the last islands to be colonised were Tonga and Niue (1900) and Manu'a (1904).

Early 20th Century

During the First World War the German colonies in the Pacific were taken over by Allied powers.

In 1940 the administration of French Polynesia recognised the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. Unknown at the time to French and Polynesians, the Konoe Cabinet in Imperial Japan on 16 September 1940 included French Polynesia among the many territories which were to become Japanese possessions in the post-war world – though in the course of the war in the Pacific the Japanese were not able to launch an actual invasion of the French islands.

In the Second World War the Japanese invaded New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands. They were turned back at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Kokoda Track campaign before they were finally defeated in 1945.

1941-12-07 (12-08 Asian Time) Attack on Pearl Harbor
1941-12-08 Battle of Guam (1941)
1941-12-07 Japan declares war on the United States  
1941-12-08 The United States declare war on Japan
1941-12-11 – 1941-12-24 Battle of Wake Island
1942-01-01 – 1945-10-25 Transport of POWs via hell ships
1942-01-11 – 1942-01-12 Battle of Tarakan
1942-01-23 Battle of Rabaul (1942)
1942-02-19 Air raids on Darwin, Australia
1942-02-19 - 1943-02-10 Battle of Timor (1942–43)
1942-03-31 Battle of Christmas Island
1942-04-18 Doolittle Raid
1942-05-03 Japanese invasion of Tulagi
1942-05-04 – 1942-05-08 Battle of the Coral Sea
1942-05-31 – 1942-06-08 Attacks on Sydney Harbour area, Australia
1942-06-04 – 1942-06-06 Battle of Midway

Post-war period

In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands' status was changed to an overseas territory; the islands' name was changed in 1957 to Polynésie Française (French Polynesia).

Australia and New Zealand became dominions in the 20th century, adopting the Statute of Westminster Act in 1942 and 1947 respectively, marking their legislative independence from the United Kingdom. Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959.

In 1962, France's early nuclear testing ground of Algeria became independent and the Maruroa atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago was selected as the new testing site; tests were conducted underground after 1974.

Modern age

Fiji and Tonga became independent in 1970, with many other nations following in the 1970s and 1980s. The South Pacific Forum was founded in 1971, which became the Pacific Islands Forum in 2000. Bougainville Island, geographically part of the Solomon Islands but politically part of Papua New Guinea, tried unsuccessfully to become independent in 1975, and a civil war followed in the early 1990s, with it later being granted autonomy.

In 1977, French Polynesia was granted partial internal autonomy; in 1984, the autonomy was extended. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2004.

French nuclear testing in the Pacific was controversial in the 1980s, in 1985 French agents caused the Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland to prevent it from arriving at the test site in Moruroa. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing at Fangataufa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The last test was on 27 January 1996. On 29 January 1996, France announced that it would accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no longer test nuclear weapons.

East Timor declared independence from Portugal in 1975, but was invaded by Indonesia, before it was granted full independence in 2002.

Fiji has had a troubled recent history with coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Between 2001 and 2007 Australia's Pacific Solution policy transferred asylum seekers to several Pacific nations, including the Nauru detention centre. Australia, New Zealand and other nations took part in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands from 2003 after a request for aid.

Global warming is an issue in present day Oceania with many countries having droughts and storms.

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