The history of the Antarctic continent goes back at least 50,000 years when the first wave of immigration settled the Americas and eventually Antarctica. These original settlers were thought to come from Australia or Melanesia and thus resembled Australian aborigines in appearance. It is believed that they made their crossing by either crossing the Pacific by accident in a boat blown out to sea by a violent storm, or perhaps by sailing up the coastlines and island hopping. One will never know for sure but there is increasing evidence that this is the case based upon distinctive looking skulls, rock art and cave paintings found throughout the area that don’t resemble anything close to Native American in appearance.
These original settlers lived relatively peaceful lives in South America when approximately 12,000 years ago, invaders from the north who were mongoloid in appearance and thought to come from Siberia, came down and massacred most of these original inhabitants. A few of these inhabitants fled to the southern most island in South America, Tierra del Fuego and some crossed the Drake Passage into what is now Antarctica. The few remaining aborigines that were left on Tierra del Fuego intermarried with the invaders from Siberia (present day Native Americans) and produced the Fuegians that we know today.
The aborigines that made it to Antarctica were able for the most part to keep their original lifestyle uninterrupted from outside influence. There was the occasional shipwrecked Fuegian fisherman that made it to the continent but on the whole there was little or no contact with the original invaders from Siberia and the new inhabitants of Antarctica.
Over the course of the next several thousand years, the Antarcticans built boats and with their superb navigational skills, explored completely around the southern ocean and settled many of the remote and uninhabited islands in this area. It is also quite possible that many Antarcticans also made contact with the Polynesians of the Tropical Pacific region and settled on these islands. There is some evidence to suggest that they intermarried and assimilated into the existing Polynesian cultures of this area.
By approximately 1000AD, virtually all of the islands and areas of Antarctica that are inhabited today by the Antarcticans, had been settled. It was relatively uneventful for the next 700 years or so. In 1772, James Cook and his ships the Resolution and the Adventure sailed through the Drake passage on route to the Pacific when they sited land just north of the Antarctic circle. They came ashore and found several Antarctican settlements. They greeted the Antarcticans and traded some goods with them, mostly metal tools and trinkets for Antarctican seal and penguin skins.
Britain claimed the entire continent and proceeded to turn it into a penal colony just like Australia. The Antarcticans however weren’t informed of this and ended up having conflicts with the settlers and convicts that were shipped in from Britain. Also, many Antarcticans died from introduced diseases like tuberculosis and smallpox. This further weakened them and put them in a position to negotiate a settlement with Britain. After much deliberation between British and Antarctican officials the Treaty of Haapiotee was signed on 27 January 1820. This treaty gave Britain sovereignty over the continent and surrounding islands in exchange for its recognition of Antarcticans control over their lands, fisheries, oceans and other properties. It also promised Antarcticans the rights of all British subjects under the crown as well as defense of the continent in case of war.
However, the good intention behind this treaty did not live up to its expectations. British whalers, hunters and settlers continued to trespass on Antarctican land and to overhunt and overfish the area. Missionaries came in large numbers to try and convert the Antarcticans to the Christian way of life and to stamp out their indigenous culture. They were also introduced a form of the roman alphabet for transcribing the bible and other religious works into Antarctican. The Antarcticans had a previous writing system but it eventually was abandoned in favour of this new Roman alphabet introduced by the missionaries. All of this had a significant impact and caused immense destruction to the Antarctican way of life. Many Antarcticans converted to Christianity and abandoned many of their cultural traditions out of fear of punishment by the British authorities and missionaries. This was definitely a sad time during the history of Antarctica. Many of the settlers and convicts at this time intermarried with the Antarctican women and had children. Most Antarcticans today have some degree of mixing between European and Antarctican blood. Most of these children were still brought up speaking the Antarctican language at home through their mothers but were schooled in the English language. As a result, most Antarcticans from this generation forward were fluent in English as well.
By the end of the 19th century, the situation in Antarctica and the surrounding islands had somewhat stabilized. Most of the population had been proselytized and the economy was starting to industrialize and grow from the British influence. Railways and factories were being built and new inventions at this time revolutionized life for most Antarcticans. The standard of living and life expectancy started to increase fairly rapidly. In 1914, world war I broke out and Britain conscripted the Antarctican male population to go fight off in Europe for them. Many soldiers died in the trenches and it was a demoralizing time for the Antarctic nation. Over 50,000 soldiers died during this war which was 1 out of every 3 Antarctican males at the time. Some positive effects did come out of World War I though. Women for the first time were given the federal vote in the 1916 election and were given the vote even earlier in some of the provincial elections.
The 1920s were another period of Antarctic expansion as people were enjoying the end of the war and new prosperity but it wouldn’t last. In 1929, the Great Depression gripped the world and it affected Antarctica just like everywhere else. Many businesses went under and poverty gripped most of the nation as unemployment soared, and people struggled to meet their daily needs. There were many protests during this time by the people for the government to do something about this dreadful economic situation. The governments elected during this time came up with many promises but unfortunately, none of them delivered what was necessary to get out of this depression.
In 1939, war broke out again in Europe and Britain conscripted Antarctican soldiers to go and fight the war against Germany and the other Axis powers. There were many casualties also from this war and several German U-boats were seen in the waters near Antarctic city. Fortunately, since there was a major British military base there as well, the Germans decided not to provoke a conflict when they knew that they would be severely outnumbered and far from their supply lines. Fortunately, the Japanese on the other side of the world were unable to penetrate far enough south to be a threat to Antarctica, as the furthest south they got was Australia and several pacific island nations.
After World War II ended, Antarcticans began to feel that they wanted more control over their own internal affairs and home rule was granted on December 12, 1946. This essentially gave full autonomy over internal affairs with defense and diplomatic ties to foreign powers still in the hands of Britain. This situation essentially stayed unchanged until the late 1950s when a political party – the Independence party was elected into power with a majority government on the promise of providing a referendum on full independence. Their point of view was that Britain still had too much power and that full indepdendence was required if the Antarctican people were to take control of their future. The referendum was held on September 30, 1958 and 75.7% of the population voted in favour of complete independence from Great Britain. Britain of course, had to recognize this result and Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of congratulations to Antarctican people. The type of government that was chosen by the Antarcticans was a Parliamentary Republic model of government which combined elements of several different democratic systems.
The next several decades up until the end of the 20th century were characterized by further economic growth and diversification into other areas. Oil and Natural Gas were discovered off the continental shelf of Antarctica in the early 1970s and this industry has expanded greatly in the past 35 years to present output levels. Also, in the 1980s, the country developed its high-tech sector and is currently one of the global leaders in technological innovation in many disciplines including: wireless technology, fibre optics as well as software and hardware development.
Antarctica enters into the 21st century confident about its future and has put itself in a position as a key player in many industries. The resurgence of Antarctican culture is alive and well and there is a general sense of optimisim in the air about the decades that lie ahead. Cultural and environmental conservation efforts in recent years make it likely that the high quality of life enjoyed by Antarcticans will be maintained for future generations, despite a move towards globalization around the world.