Geographic Origins

New Zealand is an island country in the south-west Pacific Ocean. Its main regions are the North and South Islands. It also includes several dozen much smaller islands.

History of Immigration and Settlement

New Zealanders of European descent have migrated to Australia since the second half of the nineteenth century. It is not known how many resided in South Australia.

The first significant group of European New Zealanders arrived in South Australia in the 1930s. Australia recovered from the Great Depression before New Zealand, and many people came to South Australia in search of work. In 1947 there were 715 New Zealand-born South Australians.

A second group of New Zealanders arrived in South Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. It is thought that a number of Maoris were among these arrivals. As Maoris were British citizens, they were exempt from the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, better known as the White Australia Policy. In 1961 there were 1,826 New Zealand-born South Australians. By 1966 there were 2,188.

Before the early 1980s New Zealanders and Australians were able to move freely between the two countries without any kind of travel documents. Since 1982 people have needed passports.

After the National Party was elected to govern New Zealand in 1990 conservative economic rationalist policies were introduced that aimed to reduce national debt and promote industrial growth. These policies caused financial hardship for many New Zealanders and as a result many resettled in Australia. In 2001 changes to Australian residency laws meant New Zealanders were no longer considered permanent residents on arrival in Australia. Since then the number of New Zealanders heading to Australia has dropped considerably.

New Zealand-born South Australians are employed in a wide range of occupations. They have settled throughout the metropolitan area. Many Maori South Australians live in Christies Beach and in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

Community Activities

The Aotearoa Maori Club of South Australia was established in 1970 by Jim Tapara and Prince White to maintain and promote Maori culture. The club was registered as an official body in 1973. Its members were from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Aotearoa gave regular performances of traditional Maori songs and dances from New Zealand’s seven tribal regions and held hangi, Maori feasts.

According to the story passed down through generations of Maoris, the Polynesians who settled in the Land of the Long White Cloud travelled to its islands aboard seven waka, canoes. An eighth waka, Marami, was used to store supplies. Waka became the Maori word for tribe. The Aotearoa Maori Club of South Australia performed ‘action songs’ from New Zealand’s seven waka, or tribal regions. Action songs tell stories about wars or love or they impersonate animals. Members of the Aotearoa performed action songs in traditional dress from their waka and with age-old tattoo designs drawn on their faces. The haka is the best-known Maori cultural performance. It was performed by men preparing to go to war to instil fear in their enemies.

Hangi was held for special occasions. To make a hangi members of Aotearoa first dug a deep hole, lined the pit with stones, and built a huge fire over them. After it had burned away, all of the ash and charred timber was removed, leaving only the hot stones. Meat, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and, if possible, taro, yams and cassava were wrapped in leaves or alfoil and placed on the stones. The pit was then filled in with dirt and left to cook for several hours. Hangi usually accompanied Maori performances.

Maori ancestral beliefs place great importance upon the acknowledgement of major shipping ports, because they are traditionally places where people are welcomed and farewelled. The organisation Poi Ataareta, meaning Port Adelaide, was originally established by Mr and Mrs Matthews in 1984 to bring Maori South Australians together for a one-off performance at that year’s Expo to promote Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Poi Ataareta promoted the Maori concepts of whanau, family; whangai, extended or foster family; and tautoko, support. Poi Ataareta staged educational performances of traditional Maori songs and dances and held hangi and cabaret evenings for the South Australian community. The organisation encouraged local craftspeople to produce traditional Maori crafts. Poi Ataareta was also involved in raising money for local charities such as the former Crippled Children’s Association. Poi Ataareta’s members came from diverse cultural backgrounds.

In 1993 members of Poi Ataareta toured the Northern Territory to share Maori culture with Tangatawhenua, Aboriginal peoples.

The South Australian Maori Council was established in 1987 to organise a National Maori Council and the first National Maori Cultural Competition. The South Australian Maori Council acted as an umbrella body for South Australian Maori clubs. It provided them with information about Maori cultural activities across Australia, and occasionally organised celebrations for February 6, Waitangi Day, the anniversary of the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between Maoris and New Zealand’s European settlers.

Patiki was established by the Heremaia family in 1989 as Te Whanau, The Family. By 1992 Te Whanau had grown to include many people from non-Maori backgrounds. Patiki’s main aim was to foster the Maori language and culture and a sense of Maori cultural identity in South Australia. Patiki’s members included Maori South Australians, Pacific Islanders and others who shared an interest in Maori traditions. It staged cultural performances and hangi at schools and sports clubs and raised money for local charities. Like other Maori South Australian groups, members of Patiki regarded the maintenance of Maori culture as an important spiritual and emotional way of acknowledging and giving thanks to their ancestors.

The above organisations are no longer in existence and in present times there are no Maori organisations active in South Australia.

The New Zealand Association was founded in 1985. Its members ranged from many cultural backgrounds. It held two or three functions including hangi throughout the year. The Association disbanded around 2016.

Organisations and Media

  • 5EBI-FM Radio Program Te Reo Maori
  • Former organisations/groups:
  • The Maori Council of South Australia
  • Aotearoa Maori Club of South Australia Inc.
  • Poi Ataareta
  • Patiki Maori Culture Group
  • New Zealand Association


According to the 1981 census there were 6,618 New Zealand-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 8,287. Of these, 2,389 people said that they were of New Zealand descent, while 603 stated that they were of Maori descent. The remainder probably said that they were of European ancestry.

According to the 1991 census there were 10,087 New Zealand-born South Australians. 11,535 people said that their mothers were born in New Zealand, and 11,860 that their fathers were.

According to the 1996 census there were 9,704 New Zealand-born South Australians, and a second generation of 8,325.

The 2001 census recorded 10,989 New Zealand-born South Australians. 4,629 people said that they were of New Zealand descent; a further 2,124 stated their ancestry as Maori, and 3 as New Zealand Peoples.

The 2006 census recorded 11,365 New Zealand-born South Australians, while 6,061 people said that they were of New Zealander descent and 2,606 of Maori descent.

The 2011 census recorded 12,848 New Zealand-born South Australians, while 6,519 people said that they were of New Zealander descent and 3,239 of Maori descent.

The 2016 census recorded 12,933 New Zealand-born South Australians, while 6,803 people said that they were of New Zealand descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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