History of Australia

The history of Australia is longer than you may think.

Australia is a young country when it comes to European history.


But Australia's indigenous people have the longest continuous culture in the world!
Aboriginal Coroboree in Van Diemen's Land
Aboriginal ceremony. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Aboriginal History
Aboriginal People are believed to have arrived in Australia some time up to 60,000 years ago, and they have the longest continuous culture on Earth. They lived as hunters and gatherers in different parts of Australia, in different groups and tribes, and had at least 300 different languages. They had no written language and the knowledge was passed on to new generations by arts, music, dance and storytelling. They had strong beliefs about how the world was created and how they belonged to the nature. They practiced religious ceremonies at sacred sites. Aboriginal People used their resources sustainably and knew how to make the most of what was available.
Port Jackson, New Holland: Aboriginal Burial Ceremony, from 'Voyage Autour du Monde'
Aboriginal ceremony. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

The lifestyle of a tribe could be very different depending on where they lived. Australian climatic regions cover snowy mountains, dry deserts and moist rainforests. In the places with good food availability they could live at least semi permanently, but in places with little food they were nomadic. Kinship laws ruled their social structure, and they were happy people, with a good balance in life. About 3000-4000 years ago they introduced dingo.

Aboriginals Hunting Kangaroo
Aboriginal hunting. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Torres Strait Islanders
The other group of Australia's indigenous people are Torres Strait Islanders. They arrived in Australia much later than Aboriginal People, probably only about 2000 years ago. They are islander people, with Melanesian and Papua New Guinean background, and they never lived in large parts of Australia like Aboriginal People. Torres Strait Islanders live on Torres Strait Islands north of the tip of Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland, as well as in a few mainland communities in northern Cape York. They were more permanent than Aboriginal People, and practiced agriculture instead of gathering.
Fishing for Pearls in the Torres Straits Australia
Pearling in Torres Strait. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - European Seafarers
In the early 1600s, when Europeans started getting around in exploration and search for new colonies, they discovered the continent of Australia. Like Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, a lot of the early seafarers first approached Australia from the north. In the 1600s, some Spanish and Dutch seafarers visited, including Abel Tasman who later gave name to Tasmania. Different colonialisation plans were made, but finally abandoned as it was decided it would cost more than bring any benefit.
Abel Tasman Staking the Dutch Claim to Tasmania
Abel Tasman. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Captain James Cook
In the 1700s, British started getting interest in the Australian continent. In 1770, Captain James Cook visited the eastern coast from south to north, with longer stops in today's Botany Bay (south of Sydney) and Cooktown. It was the coast not previously visited by other European explorers, and Cook formally claimed the eastern coast of Australia to England on Possession Island, north-west of the tip of Cape York peninsula. French and Swedes checked out other coasts with no colonisation following, before in 1787 England decided to send the First Fleet to New South Wales to start a penal colony.
Captain James Cook
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History of Australia - Convict Colony
A year later, in 1788, the First Fleet arrived with 11 ships and about 1000 settlers in Botany Bay. Captain Arthur Phillip didn't like Botany Bay and on the 26 of January - today's Australia Day - they moved to where Sydney Harbour is today, and started building the colony at the Rocks and Circular Quay.
The First English Fleet Sails into Botany Bay
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History of Australia - the Early Days
The times were tough in the beginning as the establishment of agriculture was difficult and the arrival of supplies far between. Conditions were poor, diseases spread, and there were wars with indigenous people. Although many died, the colony survived, and only a few years later even free settlers started to arrive.
Captain Arthur Phillip Lands in Sydney Cove and Has His First Encounter with the Aboriginals
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History of Australia - New Colonies
A second convict colony was established in Tasmania in the very early 1800s. In the early 1820s, a colony was established in today's Brisbane. In the mid-1820s, England claimed the whole continent of Australia, and in the late 1820s, another colony was established in today's Perth.

In the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, new colonies were established in South Australia, New Zealand, Victoria and Queensland. Some, particularly in South Australia, were free and not convict colonies.

Infamous Penal Colony of Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula
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Large scale land clearing, as well as introduction of European diseases and introduced animals had a bad impact on Australia's native ecosystems and indigenous people. Aborignal People were forced to relocate to reserves and missions, and there was also a lot of fight and resistance.

In the 1860s, Northern Territory was founded, but the largest areas of the continent were still undiscovered (so called "back o' Burke", or "beyond the black stump").

The Return of Burke, Wills, and King to Cooper's Creek, 1st March 1838
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History of Australia - European Land Exploration
Shorter exploration trips started in the very early 1800s. But from the mid-1800s onwards, many long exploration trips went from south to north to the inland as well as today's Darwin, Gulf Savannah and Cape York. Some of the most famous ones were those of Edmund Kennedy, Burke and Wills, and John McDouall Stuart.

Edmund Kennedy run a few different expeditions in the 1840s to the inland of the eastern half of the continent. His last one, to Cape York, did reach almost to the tip of the peninsula, but was ill fated from starters, and ended up with most of the men, including Kennedy himself, killed.
Edmund Kennedy Explorer is Killed by Aboriginals
E. Kennedy. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

In 1860, Burke and Wills departed from Melbourne to cross the inland eastern half of the continent and reach up to Gulf Savannah. Even that expedition was a disaster, with both Burke and Wills, and others killed. They did reach almost to the Gulf Savannah.

Two years later, in 1862, John McDouall Stuart crossed the continent from Adelaide in the south to today's Darwin in the north, much the same way that the Stuart Highway goes today.
Burke and Wills
Burke and Wills. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Federation - the Commonwealth
The six British colonies finally united in a federation in 1901. New South Wales was the first state to gain a state government, followed by Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. In south-eastern Australia, cities and population grew.
Hannan Gold Field, Western Australia
Gold diggers. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Gold
Traces of gold were found in Australia in the early 1800s, however the first bigger finds were made in Victoria in the 1850s. Victoria's population quickly grew to seven times of the pre-gold numbers as British, Irish, American and Chinese gold diggers started to arrive.
Dry Digging, Turon Gold Fields, Australia
Gold diggers. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy


Later, in the 1870s, there were more findings in Queensland, particularly in the north, and on Cape York peninsula. A few decades later the Western Australia goldfields around Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie were found.

The Story of Australia: Gold
Gold diggers. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - the Bush and the Outback
In the early days, some convicts managed to run away, learn the bush survival skills and become what was called 'bushrangers' - people who committed robberies of banks, Cobb & Co coaches and gold diggers in order to survive in the bush, and some also rebellious. There were many of them around in the 1850s and 1860s, particularly in the bush in Victoria, but with the population growth and police improvements things got harder for them. About the last bushrangers were those of the Ned Kelly gang, who were finally caught in 1880 in Glenrowan.
Ned Kelly : the Police Attack the Glenrowan Hotel
Ned Kelly's last stand. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy


History of Australia - Shearers Srtike and Tree of Knowledge
Outback Queensland also started to get inhabited. In 1891, there was the famous Shearer's Strike that lead to the formation of Australia's Labour Party. The tree under which the shearer's meetings were hold was called the Tree of Knowledge and stands (now dead) in the main street of Barcaldine.
Australian Sheep Shearers at Work
Sheep shearers. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Waltzing Matilda
In 1895, Banjo Paterson visited Winton and the areas around it, and wrote the popular song Waltzing Matilda that was first performed at one of the town's pubs North Gregory Hotel. The scenes in the song are from Combo Waterhole between Winton and Kynuna in the outback Queensland.
The Story of Australia: Colony into Continent
Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - First World War
In the First World War, Australia fought on Britain's side. The date of the first Australians to arrive in Gallipoli on the Turkish coast, where more than 8000 Australians were killed, is now celebrated as ANZAC Day to remember the war veterans and those who were killed.  

A View of Anzac Cove, West Coast of Gallipoli
Gallipoli. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Between the Wars
In 1920, QANTAS (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service) was founded. You can still visit the first hangar and the QANTAS museum in Longreach in the outback Queensland. In 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service was founded by John Flynn. There is also a place to learn all about that - at the John Flynn's Centre in Cloncurry.
Australian Flying Doctor
Royal Flying Doctor. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Second World War
While during the First World War Australians fought for Britain in Europe, the Second World War also came to Asia and Australia. Australian soldiers first fought for Britain, against Hitler forces in the Middle East, southern Europe and northern Africa. Then they fought against Japanese in Papua New Guinea, and allied with the United States. And finally, after New Guinea fell, the Japanese started approaching Australia from the north.

You can see war bunkers, radar towers, airplane wrecks, and all kinds of WWII relics today in many coastal places like Darwin, Cape York and Magnetic Island, while off the coast, for example on Atherton Tablelands, you can still see remains of training camps.

All the northern towns were prepared. You can still visit underground hospitals and museums in Mount Isa and learn about Darwin bombings in museums in Darwin. There were bombings and battles even in the south, in places like Sydney and Newcastle.

Aborigine Trying on a Gas Mask, Australia, Second World War
WWII. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

History of Australia - Post War Immigration
A major problem that Australia had during the Second World War was its small population compared to its large size. It was hard to defend such a big piece of land with so few people. So a post war immigration program was established, which invited Europeans to migrate to Australia. The timing was good as Australia recovered relatively quickly from the Second World War compared to European countries where the economies suffered from large scale war destruction. Millions arrived as it was easy for the migrants to find a job and start a new life in Australia. British and Irish, Italians and Greeks, and a lot of other nationalities including eastern Europeans fleeing from communism, moved to Australia. It was in those times as the popular novel They're a Weird Mob was written by the Australian-born Irish John O'Grady.

Prince Charles on the Beach with Friends in Australia, December 1979
Prince Charles in Australia. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Triple Alliance with the UK and US
Over the time, Australia's tight ties with Britain gradually declined, while those with the US have meant Australian soldiers have since the Second World War participated in the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Afganistan.

Prince William with Prince Charles and Princess Diana in Australia, April 1983
Charles, Diana and Will in Australia. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Growth of Economy and Nationalism
During the 1950s and 1960s, things further improved. Wool, wheat and mineral industries were doing well, and soon Australia's own car - Holden - came out. Entertainment industry also grew with the arrival of TV, locally made comedies and dramas, and programs such as Skippy the Bush Kangaroo becoming internationally renown. Australian country music also went international for the first time with Slim Dusty's A Pub With No Beer. During the 1970s the first Australian films such as Sunday Too Far Away, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli came out.

Young, Smiling Aboriginal Girl Stands Amid Blooming Bougainvillea
Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Indigenous people started to get civil rights and be represented in the parliaments.
Australian Governments started to admit the discrimination and exclusion that had been practiced in the European history of Australia. In 2008, Prime Minester Kevin Rudd said a public sorry to the Aboriginal stolen generation members.















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