Poles apart

We often think about the Arctic and Antarctic regions as similar and while these polar edges of the planet have some similarities in terms of climate and geology, they could not be more different in so many other ways. They are literally poles apart.

The Arctic region has a series of ethnically diverse and well established Indigenous or Circumpolar cultures. An estimated 4 million people live in the Artic region and 13 million in the broader circumpolar area. An estimated 10% are Indigenous and comprise around 40 different ethnic groups spanning places like Russia, Northern Europe, Canada, Greenland and Alaska.

These peoples face common threats to their culture and traditional lifeways via globalisation and shifts in the effects of climate. They have traditionally relied on subsistence lifestyles centred around activities such as reindeer herding, hunting and fishing.

In contrast, the continent of the Antarctic was completely uninhabited by people throughout recorded history. It is the fifth largest continent on earth with twice the land area of Australia, the Antarctic has the highest average elevation of any continent and it is the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth.

It is the only place on earth with no evidence of an Indigenous population. First colonised in the late 19th century, it hosts a varying population of between 1,000 and 4,000 people who form a multinational scientific community.

The Antarctic is one of Australia’s near neighbours but to Australian people it remains probably one of the least understood places on earth. One of the reasons for this lack of engagement and enduring mystery may be the lack of an identifiable culture and people.

For me this highlights the important link of people and place. The place of Indigenous cultures in defining our geography with the rhythms of their lives and culture cannot be underestimated. Antarctica has none of this and the lack of an Indigenous people and culture means its history and sense of place seems sadly undefined.