Australia/History

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Australia's first inhabitants, who possibly arrived through what is now Indonesia or Papua New Guinea, arrived approximately 40,000 years ago. It is likely that there were additional groups of arrivals, but tracking these is extremely difficult, with only paleolotological evidence available. By the time of European arrival in 1788, there were approximately 300,000 native inhabitants forming hundreds of distinct cultural and language groups. They remained hunter-gatherers, though some did develop quite complex land-management practices.

Portuguese, Spanish, Netherlands, and English explorers observed the island before 1770, when Captain Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain (three United States colonists were crew members aboard Cook's ship, the Endeavour).

We need to talk about aboriginal history. For now, see stolen generation, but that's only a small part of the story --Robert Merkel

After the independence of the United States, Britain's overcrowded prisons (full mainly due to the unemployment created by the Industrial Revolution) needed somewhere to send their overflow, and the newly discovered land was viewed as the best option. On January 26, 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day), the First Fleet under Capt. Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney, and formal proclamation of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales followed on February 7. Thus European settlement began with a troupe of habitual (if petty) criminals, second-rate soldiers, and a crew of sailors. While reasonably well-equipped, little consideration had been given as to the skills required to make the colony self-supporting - virtually none of the convicts had farming or trade experience (nor did the soldiers, for that matter), and the lack of realisation about Australia's seasonal patterns saw initial attempts at farming fail, leaving only what animals and birds the soldiers were able to shoot. Some relief arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790, but life was extremely hard for the first few years of the colony.

Convict life was extremely harsh, in what by 20th century standards would be considered a concentration camp (and, in terms of relative remoteness to the inmate's homes, probably a concentration camp on Mars).

  • much more about early history, including rum rebellion, beginning of free settlers, wool, the French ship that almost claimed us etc.*

The mid-19th century saw the beginning of government policies to emancipate convicts and assist the immigration of free persons. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to increased population, wealth, and trade, and transportation of convicts at last ended completely soon after.

The six colonies that now constitute the states of the Australian Commonwealth were established in the following order: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, 1825; Western Australia, 1830; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; and Queensland, 1859. Settlement had preceded these dates in most cases.


In the 1890's, economic depression (the most severe Australia has ever faced) made the inefficiencies of the six colonies seem ever more ridiculous, and, particularly in border areas, aa push for an Australian Federation began. Several referenda on the issue were held, the third attempt finally passing in 1897 (?). Discussions between Australian and British representatives led to adoption by the British Government of an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900.

The first federal Parliament was opened at Melbourne in May 1901 by the Duke of York (later King George V). In May 1927, the seat of government was transferred to Canberra, a planned city designed by an American, Walter Burley Griffin. The first session of Parliament in that city was opened by another Duke of York (later King George VI). Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act on October 9, 1942, which officially established Australia's complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs. Its passage formalized a situation that had existed for years. The Australia Act (1986) eliminated the last vestiges of British legal authority.

Australia sent many thousands of troops to fight for Britain in World War One. Thousands lost their lives at Gallipoli, on the Turkish coast.

Dot points for further discussion

  • WWII and the realignment away from britain and towards US.
  • Postwar immigration, the beginning of the end of the white australia policy.
  • economic expansion and cultural sleepiness of the Menzies years.
  • Vietnam war, protests and other clashes.
  • Whitlam government and the dismissal.
  • Arrival of vietnamese boat people, non-discriminatory migration policy
  • Economic deregulation of the 1980's.
  • Mabo case and Native Title
  • Republic debate, Howard's 1996 win, contemporary events, struggles for future