Covering some 12% of New Zealand’s area, Southland has just 2.2% of its population: 93,339 residents in 2013.
Southland’s urban population grew steadily from the 1870s (apart from a dip in the late 1880s). This paralleled the rise of its farming economy. By 1916 Invercargill was a substantial town of nearly 18,000, second only to Whanganui among the country’s regional centres.
Farming boomed in the quarter-century after the Second World War, and the towns thrived as a result. Between 1945 and 1976 Invercargill’s population nearly doubled (from 27,500 to 53,800), as did Gore’s (5,000 to 9,000).
One Southland family has been recognised by Guinness world records as the world’s largest known English-speaking family. The Taylor family was descended from James and Betty, who arrived in Port Chalmers in 1860 with eight children. Developing a carrying business, James shifted to Winton in 1862 to cart gravel for the roads that helped hundreds of farmers settle in the area. First-generation family members settled around the province, and bred prolifically. By 2002, one in every 20 Southlanders was a member of the Taylor dynasty.
Levelling off in rural areas …
Through most of the 20th century the rural population of Southland grew little, despite expanding farm output. An exception was the newly developed lands of western Southland.
Pastoral industries needed less labour, and the linked schemes at Manapōuri (hydroelectricity) and Tīwai Point (aluminium smelting) only needed intensive labour during construction in the 1960s and early 1970s.
… and in towns
The towns eventually followed suit. Mataura reached its peak population in 1966, Winton in 1971 and Gore and Invercargill in 1976.
Since then, the region’s population has been static or declining. Figures from the 2013 census show a gradual drop:
- Invercargill: 47,892 (down from 53,762 in 1976)
- Gore: 7,353 (down from 9,179 in 1976).
Southland’s total population decreased by 6.3% between 1996 and 2001 – the largest fall of any region. Between 2001 and 2006, it was the only region to see a decline, although this was small: 0.1%. Buoyant farming, construction and energy industries then reversed the trend, with growth of 2.7% between 2006 and 2013.
In 2013 half of the region’s people lived in the Invercargill urban area and 8% in Gore. Five other towns had between 1,000 and 2,200 residents:
- Mataura – once home to a paper mill and freezing works
- Winton – a farm service centre
- Riverton – commercial fishing and holiday homes
- Bluff – commercial fishing and an aluminium smelter
- Te Anau – a centre for Fiordland tourism and the farming districts of the upper Waiau valley.
Other townships include:
- farm service centres: Lumsden, Mossburn, Balfour, Wyndham, Edendale, Ōtautau and Tūātapere
- former mining settlements: Ōhai and Nightcaps.
Industry and employment
In 2013, 17.0% of Southland’s labour force worked in agriculture, forestry and fishing, compared with the national average of 5.7%. Manufacturing accounted for 16.8% of the labour force, compared with 10.9% for New Zealand as a whole. Education employed 6.6% (8.6% nationally).
Southland’s occupational and income structure is less ‘developed’ than that of other regions. Although it has a higher proportion of managers than the national average (reflecting the high number of farms), the ratio of professionals to labourers was nearly the reverse of the national figures – 14.6% for professionals (22.5% nationally) to 18.9% for labourers (11.1%).
In 1987 the Waitangi Tribunal began hearing claims by the South Island tribe Ngāi Tahu over land loss and fishery rights. Four years later the tribunal found in the tribe’s favour, including the failure of the Crown to provide adequate reserves for Māori.
European and Māori
Southland is more ethnically homogeneous than New Zealand as a whole: 89.0% identified as European in 2013, compared with 74.0% nationally.
The Māori population has historically been concentrated around Bluff.
In 1961 there were 377 Māori in the Invercargill urban area (including Bluff) compared with 321 in the Dunedin urban area, which was twice the size. This was still only about 1% of the total urban population.
In 2013, 14.3% of Invercargill residents identified as Māori, as did 13.0% of Southlanders – not far off the national figure of 14.9%.