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The history of New Zealand dates back at least 700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians, who developed a distinct Maori culture centered on kinship links and land. The first European explorer to sight New Zealand was Abel Janszoon Tasman on 13 December 1642. Captain James Cook, who reached New Zealand in October 1769 on the first of his three voyages, was the first European explorer to circumnavigate and map New Zealand. From the late 18th century, the country was regularly visited by explorers and other sailors, missionaries, traders and adventurers. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and various Maori chiefs, bringing New Zealand into the British Empire and giving Maori "equal rights" with British citizens. There was extensive British settlement throughout the rest of the century. War and the imposition of a European economic and legal system led to most of New Zealand's land passing from Maori to Pakeha (European) ownership, and most Maori subsequently became impoverished.

From the 1890s the New Zealand parliament enacted a number of progressive initiatives, including women's suffrage and old age pensions. The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, and 110,000 men fought in World War I (see New Zealand Expeditionary Force). After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles (1919) joined the League of Nations and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defense was still controlled by Britain. When World War II broke out in 1939, New Zealanders saw their proper role as defending their proud place in the British Empire. It contributed some 120,000 troops. From the 1930s the economy was highly regulated and an extensive welfare state was developed. Meanwhile, Maori culture underwent a renaissance, and from the 1950s Maori began moving to the cities in large numbers. This led to the development of a Maori protest movement which in turn led to greater recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in the late 20th century.

The country's economy suffered in the aftermath of the 1973 global energy crisis, the loss of New Zealand's biggest export market upon Britain's entry to the European Economic Community, and rampant inflation. In the 1980s the economy was largely deregulated and a number of socially liberal policies, such as decriminalisation of homosexuality, were put in place. Foreign policy involved support for Britain in the world wars, and close relations after 1940 with the United States and Australia. Foreign policy after 1980 became more independent especially in pushing for a nuclear-free region. Subsequent governments have generally maintained these policies, although tempering the free market ethos somewhat. In 1984, the Fourth Labour government was elected amid a constitutional and economic crisis. The economic reforms were led by finance minister Roger Douglas (finance minister (1984-1988), who enacted fundamental, radically neo-liberal and unexpectedly pro-free market reforms known as Rogernomics.

New Zealand was originally settled by Polynesians from Eastern Polynesia. The most current reliable evidence strongly indicates that initial settlement of New Zealand occurred around 1280 CE. Previous dating of some Kiore (Polynesian rat) bones at 50 - 150 CE has now been shown to have been unreliable; new samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 CE date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained, anthropogenic deforestation.

The descendants of these settlers became known as the Maori, forming a distinct culture of their own. The separate settlement of the tiny Chatham Islands in the east of New Zealand about 1500 CE produced the Moriori people; linguistic evidence indicates that the Moriori were mainland Maori who ventured eastward.

The original settlers quickly exploited the abundant large game in New Zealand, such as moa, which were large flightless ratites pushed to extinction by about 1500. As moa and other large game became scarce or extinct, Maori culture underwent major change, with regional differences. In areas where it was possible to grow taro and kumara, horticulture became more important. This was not possible in the south of the South Island, but wild plants such as fernroot were often available and cabbage trees were harvested and cultivated for food. Warfare also increased in importance, reflecting increased competition for land and other resources. In this period, fortified pa became more common, although there is debate about the actual frequency of warfare. As elsewhere in the Pacific, cannibalism was part of warfare.

Leadership was based on a system of chieftainship, which was often but not always hereditary, although chiefs (male or female) needed to demonstrate leadership abilities to avoid being superseded by more dynamic individuals. The most important units of pre-European Maori society were the whanau or extended family, and the hapu or group of whanau. After these came the iwi or tribe, consisting of groups of hapu. Related hapu would often trade goods and co-operate on major projects, but conflict between hapu was also relatively common. Traditional Maori society preserved history orally through narratives, songs, and chants; skilled experts could recite the tribal genealogies (whakapapa) back for hundreds of years. Arts included whaikorero (oratory), song composition in multiple genres, dance forms including haka, as well as weaving, highly developed wood carving, and ta moko (tattoo).

Birds, fish and sea mammals were important sources of protein. Maori cultivated food plants which they had brought with them from Polynesia, including sweet potatoes (called kumara), taro, gourds, and yams. They also cultivated the cabbage tree, a plant endemic to New Zealand, and exploited wild foods such as fern root, which provided a starchy paste.

The European population of New Zealand grew explosively from fewer than 1000 in 1831 to 500,000 by 1881. Some 400,000 settlers came from Britain, of whom 300,000 stayed permanently. Most were young people and 250,000 babies were born. The passage of 120,000 was paid by the colonial government. After 1880 immigration slacked off and growth was due chiefly to the excess of births over deaths.

Administered at first as a part of the Australian colony of New South Wales, New Zealand became a colony in its own right on 1 July 1841. It was divided into three provinces that were reorganized in 1846 and in 1853, when they acquired their own legislatures, and then abolished in 1876. The country rapidly gained some measure of self-government through the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, which established central and provincial government.

The Maori tribes at first sold the land to the settlers, but the government voided the sales in 1840. Now only the government was allowed to purchase land from the Maori, who received cash. The government bought practically all the useful land, then resold it to the New Zealand Company, which promoted immigration, or leased it for sheep runs. The Company resold the best tracts to British settlers; its profits were used to pay the travel of the immigrants from Britain.

Because of the vast distances involved, the first settlers were self-sufficient farmers. By the 1840s, however, large scale sheep ranches were exporting large quantities of wool to the textile mills of England. Most of the first settlers were brought over by a program operated by the New Zealand Company (inspired by Edward Gibbon Wakefield) and were located in the central region on either side of Cook Strait, and at Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson. These settlements had access to some of the richest plains in the country and after refrigerated ships appeared in 1882, they developed into closely settled regions of small-scale farming. Outside these compact settlements were the sheep runs. Pioneer pastoralists, often men with experience as squatters in Australia, leased lands from the government at the annual rate of £5 plus £1 for each 1,000 sheep above the first 5,000. The leases were renewed automatically, which gave the wealthy pastoralists a strong landed interest and made them a powerful political force. In all between 1856 and 1876, 8.1 million acres were sold for £7.6 million, and 2.2 million acres were given free to soldiers, sailors and settlers.

Gold discoveries in Otago (1861) and Westland (1865), caused a worldwide gold rush that more than doubled the population in a short period, from 71,000 in 1859 to 164,000 in 1863. The value of trade increased fivefold from £2 million to £10 million. As the gold boom ended Premier Julius Vogel borrowed money from British investors and launched in 1870 an ambitious programme of public works and infrastructure investment, together with a policy of assisted immigration. Successive governments expanded the program with offices across Britain that enticed settlers and gave them and their families one-way tickets.

First World War

Main article: Military history of New Zealand in World War I

The country remained an enthusiastic member of the British Empire, and 110,000 men fought in World War I (see New Zealand Expeditionary Force). 16,688 died. Conscription had been in force since 1909, and while it was opposed in peacetime there was less opposition during the war. The labour movement was pacifistic, opposed the war, and alleged that the rich were benefitting at the expense of the workers. It formed the Labour Party in 1916. Maori tribes that had been close to the government sent their young men to volunteer. Unlike in Britain, relatively few women became involved. Women did serve as nurses; 640 joined the services and 500 went overseas.

New Zealand forces captured Western Samoa from Germany in the early stages of the war, and New Zealand administered the country until Samoan Independence in 1962.[64] However Samoans greatly resented the imperialism, and blamed inflation and the catastrophic 1918 flu epidemic on New Zealand rule.

The heroism of the soldiers in the failed Gallipoli campaign made their sacrifices iconic in New Zealand memory, and secured the psychological independence of the nation. After the war New Zealand signed the Treaty of Versailles (1919) joined the League of Nations and pursued an independent foreign policy, while its defense was still controlled by Britain. New Zealand depended on Britain's Royal Navy for its military security during the 1920s and 1930s. Officials in Wellington trusted Conservative Party governments in London, but not Labour. When the British Labour Party took power in 1924 and 1929, the New Zealand government felt threatened by Labour's foreign policy because of its reliance upon the League of Nations. The League was distrusted and Wellington did not expect to see the coming of a peaceful world order under League auspices. What had been the Empire's most loyal dominion became a dissenter as it opposed efforts the first and second British Labour governments to trust the League's framework of arbitration and collective security agreements.

The governments of the Reform and United parties between 1912 and 1935 followed a "realistic" foreign policy. They made national security a high priority, were skeptical of international institutions, and showed no interest on the questions of self-determination, democracy, and human rights. However the opposition Labour Party was more idealistic and proposed a liberal internationalist outlook on international affairs.

The Labour Party emerged as a force in 1919 with a Socialist platform. It won about 25% of the vote. However its appeals to working class solidarity were not effective because a large fraction of the working class voted for conservative candidates of the Liberal and Reform parties. (They merged in 1936 to form the National Party.) As a consequence the Labour party was able to jettison its support for socialism in 1927 (a policy made official in 1951), as it expanded its reach into middle class constituencies. The result was a jump in strength to 35% in 1931, 47% in 1935, and peaking at 56% in 1938. From 1935 the First Labour Government showed a limited degree of idealism in foreign policy, for example opposing the appeasement of Germany and Japan.

Depression

Like most other countries, New Zealand was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s, which affected the country via its international trade, with farming export drops then going on to affect the money supply and in turn consumption, investment and imports. The country was most affected around 1930-1932, when average farm incomes for a short time dipped below zero, and the unemployment rates peaked. Though actual unemployment numbers were not officially counted, the country was affected especially strongly in the North Island.

Unlike later years, there were no public benefit ('dole') payments — the unemployed were given 'relief work', much of which was however not very productive, partly because the size of the problem was unprecedented. Women also increasingly registered as unemployed, while Maori received government help through other channels such as the land development schemes organised by Apirana Ngata. In 1933, 8.5% of the unemployed were organised in work camps, while the rest received work close to their homes. Typical occupations in relief work were road work (undertaken by 45% of all part-time and 19% of all full-time relief workers in 1934, with park improvement works (17%) and farm work (31%) being the other two most common types of work for part-time and full-time relief workers respectively).

The 1935 Labour Cabinet

Attempts by the conservative Liberal-Reform coalition to deal with the situation with spending cuts and relief work were ineffective and unpopular. In 1935, the First Labour Government was elected, and the post-depression decade showed that average Labour support in New Zealand had roughly doubled comparable to pre-depression times. By 1935 economic conditions had improved somewhat, and the new government had more positive financial conditions. Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage proclaimed that: "Social Justice must be the guiding principle and economic organization must adapt itself to social needs."

The new government quickly set about implementing a number of significant reforms, including a reorganisation of the social welfare system and the creation of the state housing scheme. Labour also gained Maori votes by working closely with the Ratana movement. Savage was idolized by the working classes, and his portrait hung on the walls of many houses around the country. The newly created welfare state promised government support to individuals "from the cradle to the grave", according to the Labour slogan. It included free health care and education, and state assistance for the elderly, infirm, and unemployed. The opposition attacked the Labour Party's more left-wing policies, and accused it of undermining free enterprise and hard work. The Reform Party and the United Party merged to become the National Party, and would be Labour's main rival in future years. However the welfare state system was retained and expanded by successive National and Labour governments until the 1980s.

Second World War

Main article: Military history of New Zealand in World War II

When World War II broke out in 1939, New Zealanders saw their proper role as defending their proud place in the British Empire. It contributed some 120,000 troops. They mostly fought in North Africa, Greece/Crete, and Italy, relying on the Royal Navy and later the United States to protect New Zealand from the Japanese forces. Japan had no interest in New Zealand in the first place; it had already overreached when it invaded New Guinea in 1942. (There were a few highly publicized but ineffective Japanese scouting incursions.) The 3rd New Zealand Division fought in the Solomon’s in 1943-44, but New Zealand's limited manpower meant 2 Divisions could not be maintained, and it was disbanded and its men returned to civilian life or used to reinforce the 2nd Division in Italy. Cooperation with the United States set a direction of policy which resulted in the ANZUS Treaty between New Zealand, America and Australia in 1951, as well as participation in the Korean War.

Fedorowich and Bridge argue that the demands of War produced long-term consequences the relationship with the government in London. The key component was the office of the high commissioner. By 1950 it was the main line of communications between the British and New Zealand governments.

Home front

New Zealand, with a population of 1.7 million, including 99,000 Maori, was highly mobilized during the war. The Labour party was in power and promoted unionization and the welfare state. The armed forces peaked at 157,000 in September 1942; 135,000 served abroad, and 10,100 died. Agriculture expanded, sending record supplies of meat, butter and wool to Britain. When American forces arrived, they were fed as well. The nation spent £574 million on the war, of which 43% came from taxes, 41% from loans and 16% from American Lend Lease. It was an era of prosperity as the national income soared from £158 million in 1937 to £292 million in 1944. Rationing and price controls kept inflation to only 14% during 1939-45.

Montgomerie shows that the war dramatically increased the roles of women, especially married women, in the labour force. Most of them took traditional female jobs. Some replaced men but the changes here were temporary and reversed in 1945. After the war, women left traditional male occupations and many women gave up paid employment to return home. There was no radical change in gender roles but the war intensified occupational trends under way since the 1920s.

Post-war

Mainstream New Zealand culture was deeply British and conservative, with the concept of "fairness" holding a central role. From the 1890s, the economy had been based almost entirely on the export of frozen meat and dairy products to Britain, and in 1961, the share of New Zealand exports going to the United Kingdom was still at slightly over 51%, with approximately 15% more going to other European countries. This system was irreparably damaged by Britain joining the European Economic Community in 1973, at a time of global economic upheaval regarding energy prices. Britain's accession to the European Community forced New Zealand to not only find new markets, but also re-examine its national identity and place in the world.

Maori urbanisation

Maori always had a high birth rate; that was neutralized by a high death rate until modern public health measures became effective in the 20th century when tuberculosis deaths and infant mortality declined sharply. Life expectancy grew from 49 years in 1926 to 60 years in 1961 and the total numbers grew rapidly. Many Maori served in the Second World War and learned how to cope in the modern urban world; others moved from their rural homes to the cities to take up jobs vacated by Pakeha servicemen. The shift to the cities was also caused by their strong birth rates in the early 20th century, with the existing rural farms in Maori ownership having increasing difficulty in providing enough jobs. Maori culture had meanwhile undergone a renaissance thanks in part to politician Apirana Ngata. World War II saw the beginning of a mass Maori migration to the cities, and by the 1980s 80% of the Maori population was urban, in contrast to only 20% before the war. The migration led to better pay, higher standards of living and longer schooling, but also exposed problems of racism and discrimination. By the late 1960s, a protest movement had emerged to combat racism, promote Maori culture and seek fulfilment of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Urbanisation proceeded rapidly across the land. In the late 1940s, town planners noted that the country was "possibly the third most urbanised country in the world", with two thirds of the population living in cities or towns. There was also increasing concern that this trend was badly managed, with it being noted that there was an "ill-defined urban pattern that appears to have few of the truly desirable urban qualities and yet manifests no compensating rural characteristics."

The "Muldoon years": 1975–1984

The country's economy suffered in the aftermath of the 1973 global energy crisis, the loss of New Zealand's biggest export market upon Britain's entry to the European Economic Community, and rampant inflation. Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister from 1975 to 1984, and his Third National government responded to the crises of the 1970s by attempting to preserve the New Zealand of the 1950s. He attempted to maintain New Zealand's "cradle to the grave" welfare state, which dated to 1935. His government sought to give retirees 80% of the current wage, which would require large-scale borrowing; critics said it would bankrupt the treasury. Muldoon's response to the crisis also involved imposing a total freeze on wages, prices, interest rates and dividends across the national economy. His conservatism and antagonistic style exacerbated an atmosphere of conflict in New Zealand, most violently expressed during the 1981 Springbok Tour. In the 1984 elections Labour promised to calm down the increasing tensions, while making no specific promises; it scored a landslide victory.

However, Muldoon's Government was not entirely backward looking. Some innovations did take place, for example the Closer Economic Relations (CER) free-trade programme with Australia to liberalise trade, starting in 1982. The aim of total free trade between the two countries was achieved in 1990, five years ahead of schedule. Also, in 1983 the term "dominion" was replaced with "realm" by letters patent.