/sup 13/C solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy was used to characterize 32 low-rank coals from New Zealand and Australia. A combination of high magnetic field (4.7 T) and resolution enhancement was used to extract spectral details beyond those seen in published spectra of coals of similar rank. Signal heights were used to characterize organic functional distributions. The spectra showed close similarities between Australian brown coals and low-rank New Zealand subbituminous coals, particularly those mined in the North Island. The spectra of New Zealand lignites all showed stronger signals from cellulose, methoxyl groups and phenols. Almost all of the New Zealand coals showed a relatively strong signal from polymethylene chains, compared with the Australian brown coals. This led to a prediction of higher alkene yields from pyrolysis of the New Zealand coals. Variations in phenolic substitution patterns were attributed to variations in the relative proportions of tannins and lignins in the depositional environments.