Brief history of Australia summarized
A brief review of the history of Australia, the sixth largest country in the world.
Aborigines in Australia
Aboriginal people are believed to have arrived in Australia around 40,000 BC during an ice age, when Australia was connected to Asia by a land bridge. Tasmania became isolated from Australia around 8,000 BC when the last ice age ended and sea levels rose.
The Aborigines were a hunter-gatherer society. However, dingoes were domesticated around 4000-3000 BC Aborigines hunted with wooden spears and sometimes stone or bone blades. They also used nets. In addition to hunting mammals, they hunted reptiles such as snakes and lizards.
The aborigines also ate insects and eggs. They also hunted birds such as ducks, parrots, cockatoos, and emus. Aboriginal people dug up roots and collected fruits and nuts. Though considered primitive by European settlers, in fact the Aborigines survived in Australia for tens of thousands of years and had a rich culture.
However, in 1770, when Captain Cook arrived at Botanic Bay. He claimed all of Australia (or New South Wales) for Great Britain. To Cook and his contemporaries, Australia was terra nullius or empty land (ignoring the Aborigines who lived there!).
The first convicts transported to Australia
Life was hard for ordinary people in the 18th century, and punishments, even for minor crimes, were severe. In England you could be hanged for more than 200 different crimes. However, as an alternative to hanging, prisoners are sometimes sentenced to transportation.
In the 18th century, convicts were transported to Virginia and Maryland in what is now the United States. Transportation was a relatively humane punishment. In any case, it was better than hanging!
However, after the American War of Independence (1775-1783) this was no longer possible and the government began to search for a new destination for the transports. In 1786 it was decided to send them to the Botanic Bay.
Getting rid of undesirable members of society may not have been the only reason for founding a colony in Australia. The British hoped to establish a naval base in the Pacific. They also hoped that Australia would be a source of timber and flax.
In any event, on May 13, 1787, a fleet of 11 ships set sail from Portsmouth. On board were 759 convicts, most of them men with sailors and marines to guard the prisoners. Captain Arthur Phillip commanded them.
With them they took seeds, farming tools, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses and chickens, and a 2-year supply of food. The first settlers came ashore at Port Jackson on January 26, 1788.
At first things were difficult for the colonists and food was scarce, although Phillip sent a ship to South Africa for more supplies, which returned in May 1789. Food was rationed and rations were anything but generous.
However, things gradually improved. A second fleet arrived in 1790 and a third in 1791. At first the settlers lived in simple log cabins, but later the recluses made bricks for the houses.
Captain Phillip left Australia in December 1792. When he returned to England, he took samples of Australian plants and animals. He also took two indigenous people.
At first, convicts worked on government land in exchange for provisions, but from 1793 well-behaved convicts were released and granted land. Also the first free settlers arrived in 1793. Although hopes of growing flax in Australia came to nothing, but whales were hunted in the Pacific and seals were hunted in Bass Strait.
Early 19th century
Relatively few new people were sent to Australia during the long wars with France from 1793 to 1815 because warfare at sea made it difficult. However, the colony continued to grow. The second Governor of Australia was John Hunter between 1795 and 1800.
He was followed by Philip King between 1800 and 1806. Under King, the first settlers settled in Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania in 1803. In 1804 a new settlement was founded in Newcastle for convicts who committed a second offence.
In 1813 Europeans discovered a pass through the Blue Mountains. That allowed them to spread inland. Berrima was founded in 1829. Bathurst and Goulburn followed in 1833. In 1825 the white population of Australia was about 25,000, while Tasmania had a population of about 4,500.
Transport to New South Wales ended in 1840. Transport to Australia ended completely in 1868. Meanwhile, the system of granting land to the population ended in 1831. Thereafter, land in Australia was sold.
Early rebellions in Australia
However, at the beginning of the 19th century all was not well in Australia. In March 1804, some Irish convicts led by Philip Cunningham participated in a rebellion on Castle Hill. On March 4 they captured a Parramatta police station. The next day they fought a “battle” with government soldiers. As a result, the rebellion quickly collapsed and the ringleaders were hanged.
A second rebellion, the Rum Rebellion, took place in 1808. William Bligh, famous captain of the Bounty, was appointed governor in 1806. At that time, rum was used as currency in Australia. Bligh forbade it. However, on January 26, 1808, a group of soldiers led by Major George Johnston arrested Bligh.
He was held prisoner for over a year before finally agreeing to leave Australia. Shortly after setting sail, however, Bligh decided to turn back. In 1809 the British government decided to replace Bligh and in 1810 he was succeeded by Colonel Macquarie.
In 1797 merino sheep were brought to Australia. The number of sheep in Australia increased rapidly. Their wool was in great demand in England. By 1820 there were 100,000 sheep in Australia. By 1830 the figure had reached one million.
There were a million sheep in Tasmania. In 1850 there were 13 million sheep in New South Wales. In 1850, half of all wool knitted in Britain came from Australia/Tasmania.
In 1798 George Bass and Matthew Flinders sailed through the strait and showed that Van Diemen’s land was separated from mainland Australia. The first settlers arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania in 1803. Launceston was founded in 1805. Hobart was founded in 1804 and Launceston in 1805.
In the 19th century there was a whaling industry in Bass Strait. There were also seal hunters until the 1830s. A significant shipbuilding industry also grew in Hobart in the mid-19th century. In 1825 Tasmania was separated from Australia for administrative reasons. Transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853.
In the 1870s tin was discovered in Tasmania and a new industry grew. In the 1890s, copper mining in Tasmania boomed. Tasmania’s population grew rapidly. From only about 4,500 in 1820, it grew to 57,000 in 1861 and 115,000 in 1881. The University of Tasmania was founded in 1890.
In 1803 there could have been as many as 8,000 people in Tasmania. Many were killed by Europeans, especially during the “Black War” of the 1820s. Others died from diseases introduced by Europeans. The “war” between Europeans and indigenous people began in 1804 with the “battle” of Risdon Cove.
About 300 Indians stumbled upon a European camp while hunting kangaroos and were shot by soldiers. Many more indigenous Tasmanians were killed in the years that followed.
The Governor of Tasmania from 1824 to 1837 was George Arthur. In the years 1828 to 1832 he declared martial law in the hope of ending the war between Europeans and indigenous people.
In 1830 he ordered all able-bodied white men to form a line across Tasmania and go through it forcing all other indigenous people into the Tasman Peninsula. However, this movement, known as the Black Line, failed.
Eventually, a preacher named George Robinson agreed to try to persuade the rest of the Indians to go to a reservation on Flinders Island. The survivors agreed to go there. However, they continued to die of disease and in 1847 the few survivors were allowed to return to Tasmania.
New colonies in Australia
Meanwhile, European settlements spread to other parts of Australia. Brisbane was founded in 1825. Western Australia was founded in 1829. The city of Perth was founded in that year.
In 1834 a man named John Batman decided that the site of Melbourne was a good place to found a settlement. In 1835 he made a treaty with the indigenous Australians in which he gave them land trade goods. However, the treaty was not recognized by the British government, which ignored it. However, the city of Melbourne was laid out on the ground in a grid pattern.
In 1836 another colony was founded at Port Adelaide, which grew up in South Australia. The city of Adelaide was planned by Colonel William Light (1786-1839) the first Surveyor General of Australia.
After 1815 thousands of new settlers came to Australia each year fleeing poverty in Great Britain. In 1840 the white population of Australia was about 160,000. In 1851 there were about 430,000. Meanwhile, explorers such as Charles Sturt 1795-1869 and Thomas Mitchell 1792-1855 explored the Australian outback.
In 1851 Victoria became a separate state from New South Wales.
Queensland grew out of a settlement at Moreton Bay, founded in 1824. Queensland became independent in 1859.
War with indigenous Australians
When the first convicts and their guards were sent to Australia, they were ordered to “live in friendship and kindness” with the indigenous Australians. That, of course, did not happen. The Europeans came to expel the indigenous people from their lands.
Naturally, indigenous Australians resented it and fought back. However, there were no battles between Europeans and indigenous Australians. Indigenous people fought in hit-and-run raids and groups of Europeans went out to kill indigenous Australians.
One of the leaders of the indigenous resistance was Pemulwuy, who fought against the British from 1790 to 1802. However, he was eventually shot. European diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles, which they did not resist, also devastated indigenous Australians.
The intermittent ‘war’ between Europeans and indigenous people continued for decades. As Europeans seized more and more hunting land from indigenous peoples for sheep hunting, tensions rose and violence erupted. Indigenous Australians sometimes attacked settlers and carried off sheep. In retaliation, Europeans sometimes massacred indigenous Australians.
One of these massacres occurred on June 9, 1838 when a group of 12 Europeans massacred a group of 28 indigenous men, women and children who were peacefully encamped near a cabin belonging to two convicts. Of the 12 men, 11 were brought to justice.
At their first trial all 11 men were acquitted. However, 7 were retried, found guilty and hanged. It is rare for settlers to be prosecuted for killing indigenous Australians. Many (but not all) of the colonists considered the indigenous people as inferior and not fully human.
By the end of the 19th century, the population of European descent far outnumbered indigenous Australians. The number of indigenous Australians has fallen dramatically since the turn of the century. From the late 19th century to the 1960s, middle-caste children were separated from their parents, and in 1918 a law prohibited a man of European descent from living with an indigenous woman.
Also, beginning in the 1850s, Chinese people came to work in Australia. At the end of the 19th century, all Australian colonies restricted their immigration. Meanwhile, in the late 19th century, Polynesians came to work in the northern sugar fields. In 1901 an Immigrant Restriction Act was passed to stop Asian immigrants.
The gold rush of 1851
In 1851 there was a gold rush in Victoria. The result was a huge influx of new settlers to Australia. From 430,000 inhabitants in 1851, the population of Australia increased to 1.2 million in 1861. In 1861 Melbourne was the largest city with a population of about 125,000 inhabitants. Sydney had about 100,000 people.
The Eureka Rebellion
Meanwhile, the Eureka Rebellion of 1854 occurred. The government introduced licenses for gold miners. This was greatly resented, especially when the price went up and the police carried out “hunts” to find license evaders. The miners claimed that the authorities were corrupt and unfair.
Resentment grew and on October 17, 1854, the Eureka Hotel was burned. On November 29, 1854, the miners rallied under a new flag, the “Eureka flag.” They were led by an Irishman named Peter Lalor (1827-1889).
The men swore to defend their rights and freedoms. They demanded not only an end to the licenses, but also political reform. On December 2, 1854, they built a palisade on Eureka Lead.
However, in the early hours of December 3, 1854, soldiers and policemen attacked the stockade. The exact number of people killed is unknown, but it was about 30. After the “battle”, 120 men were captured and 13 were sent for trial, but all were acquitted.
Despite the collapse of the rebellion, all the demands of the rebels were met. Licenses were removed. The Eureka Rebellion entered Australian folklore as a fight for freedom. A Eureka Stockade center was opened in 1998 to commemorate the event.
Burke and Wills
In August 1860, 18 men led by Robert Burke (1821-1861) and William Wills (1834-1861) attempted to cross Australia from north to south. They had 23 horses and 25 camels with them. When they reached Menindee in October 1860, Burke divided the expedition. An advance party would go to Cooper’s Creek. The rest of the expedition would follow.
Burke reached Cooper’s Creek on November 11, 1860. However, he decided to proceed without waiting for the rest of the expedition to arrive with the rest of the supplies. He took three men with him, William Wills, Charles Gray and John King. They had 1 horse and 6 camels. A man named William Brahe was left in charge of supplies at Cooper’s Creek.
On February 9, 1861, Burke, Wills, Gray, and King came to a salty creek and realized they were close to the sea. However, they could not reach the sea. Instead, they turned around. They were forced to eat the horse and some of the camels. Charles Gray died on April 17.
Meanwhile, William Brahe waited at Coopers Creek until April 21. He then decided to leave, just a few hours before Burke, Wills, and King returned. Burke and Wills starved to death. Only King survived because he was rescued by indigenous Australians.
Late nineteenth century
In the late 19th century, Northern Australia began to grow. Darwin was founded in 1869. In 1872 a land telegraph was made from Darwin to Adelaide. Cattle were very important to the northern economy. Due to the hot weather there were also sugar plantations.
In 1901 the population of Australia was 3,370,000. The largest city was Melbourne, with a population of about 420,000. Second was Sydney with some 360,000. Adelaide had about 115,000 and Brisbane 86,000. Hobart was much smaller with only 34,000 people.
Meanwhile, Australia had gained its first universities. The University of Sydney was founded in 1850. It was followed by the University of Melbourne in 1853 and the University of Adelaide in 1874.
There was also a rail boom in Australia in the late 19th century. Although Australia’s first railways were built in the early 1850s, by 1875 there were only about 1,600 miles of railway. In 1891 there were more than 10,000 miles of rail.
Communications also improved with the invention of the telephone. The first telephone call in Australia was made in Melbourne in 1878. Telephone exchanges were opened in Melbourne and Brisbane (1880), Sydney (1881), Adelaide, Hobart and Launceston (1883), and Perth (1887).
However, in the 1890s Australia suffered a recession, compounded by the drought of the late 1890s. Not surprisingly, immigration fell dramatically during the decade.
On the other hand, in 1882 gold was found in Western Australia. Another find in 1892 led to a gold rush. However, this time the gold was mined by large companies rather than lone prospectors. Western Australia’s population grew as a result of the gold rush.
Early 20th century
In 1901 Australia’s population was over 3.7 million and growing rapidly. The population of New South Wales was about 1.4 million.
At the end of the 19th century the different states agreed to form a federation. So the Commonwealth of Australia was formed on January 1, 1901. After 1913 a new capital was built in Canberra. Parliament House in Canberra opened in 1927.
After 1900 Australia recovered, to some extent, from the recession of the 1890s, but then came the First World War. Then, in 1907, a court case ended in the picker’s trial which said that an unskilled laborer must earn at least 7 shillings for an 8-hour day. (In other words, enough for a decent standard of living.) This became the basis of Australia’s basic salary.
However, in 1900, the bubonic plague hit several Australian cities. In Sydney alone, 103 people died. Sydney also suffered an outbreak of smallpox in 1913, but luckily only four people died.
First World War
War was declared in August 1914. The first Australian soldiers left by ship in November 1914. They were headed for Egypt. Turkey was Germany ‘s ally and the British government had a plan to seize the Dardanelles (the straits leading to the Black Sea). This would allow the British and French to open a sea route to their ally Russia. It would also take Turkey out of the war. First they needed to capture the Gallipoli peninsula because the Turkish guns controlled the straits there.
In April 1915 the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were sent to Gallipoli. However, they were unable to dislodge the Turks. The Anzacs were withdrawn in December 1915, having suffered nearly 8,000 casualties. The Anzacs were sent to the Western Front. Some 60,000 Australian men died in the First World War.
In the 1920s immigration from Britain continued and Australia continued to grow. Sydney became the first Australian city to have a population of 1 million in 1922. Melbourne followed in 1928. The Sydney Harbor Bridge opened in 1932.
In the late 1920s there were industrial riots in Australia. The riverside workers went on strike in 1928-29. They were followed by the lumber workers in 1929 and the miners in 1929-1930.
The first commercial flight in Australia was in 1921 between Geraldton and Derby in Western Australia. In 1923 radio broadcasting began in Australia. In 1928, a certain Bert Hinkler (1892-1933), named Queenslander, made the first solo flight from Great Britain to Australia. That same year, 1928, the flying doctor service began.
However, in 1929 the depression hit Australia. The economy crashed and unemployment rose sharply. In 1932 unemployment in Australia was 29%. However, after that year things improved and by the end of the 1930s unemployment had fallen to around 10%.
Second World War
During World War II, Australia once again joined Great Britain in fighting Germany. In 1940, the Anzacs were sent to North Africa, where they played a vital role. However, when Japan entered the war in December 1942, Australia itself was in danger.
When Singapore fell in February 1942, 16,000 Australians were captured. Then in February 1942 the Japanese began air raids on Darwin. These continued until November 1943. On May 31, 1942, three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour.
One of them managed to sink a cargo ship, the HMAS Kuttabul, with the loss of 21 lives. Meanwhile, in September 1942, the Australians fought in New Guinea and repulsed the Japanese Army. For the remainder of World War II, the Australians fought under the command of Douglas Macarthur. Some 37,000 Australians died in World War II.
Late 20th century
After 1945, the Australian economy boomed. In the 1950s and 1960s there was full employment and prosperity. Meanwhile, the Australian National University was founded in 1946.
The School of the Air began in the Alice Springs area in 1951 and television began in Australia in 1956. The Sydney Opera House, a symbol of modern Australia, opened in 1973.
In the late 1940s, “displaced people” left homeless after the war in Europe were welcomed to Australia. However, the Asians were not. Asians who had fled to Australia during the war were deported.
Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration, said: “Two Wongs do not make a white.” However, in the 1960s immigration policy changed and many Asian immigrants arrived in the 1970s and 1980s. There were also many immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.
There were many immigrants from Britain after 1945. However, links with Britain weakened. In 1949, the National Citizenship Act changed Australians from being citizens of the United Kingdom and the colonies to becoming citizens of Australia.
Finally, in 1982, all appeals to the British courts ended. The High Court of Australia became the highest court of appeal.
Meanwhile, in 1957 a trade agreement with Japan was signed and links with Asia became more important.
Treatment of Indigenous Australians was improved. From 1959, indigenous Australians were granted social benefits and after 1962 they were allowed to vote. In 1971, Indigenous Australians were included in the census for the first time.
The Snowy Mountains Plan
From 1949 to 1974 a major civil engineering project, the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Program, was built. The plan was to collect water from melting snow in the Australian Alps and divert it through tunnels to power hydroelectric plants.
The water then flowed into the rivers for irrigation. During 25 years, 16 dams, 12 tunnels and 7 power plants were built. Workers from more than 30 nations worked on the scheme.
On November 11, 1975, the Governor General dismissed the Australian government, which caused much controversy.
After 1975 the period of growth and prosperity in Australia came to an end. On the one hand, inflation increased. Also, in the late 1970s, unemployment began to rise. In 1983 it had reached 10%. It fell to about 6% in 1988, but then started to rise again.
In 1977, following a referendum, Advance Australia Fair became the national anthem.
The Mabo sentence
A turning point in Australian history came in 1992 with the Mabo ruling. The indigenous Australians claimed that the island of Mer belonged to them and not to the crown. A court eventually struck down the ‘terra nullius’ doctrine, the idea that Australia belonged to no one when the Europeans arrived.
In 1993, the government passed the Indigenous Land Title Bill to clarify land ownership rights. However, in 1993 the Wik judgment was passed, which said that even in Queensland government land was leased to pastoralists, indigenous Australians still had some right to use it as long as they did not interfere with the activities of the pastoralists.
In 1998, the government was forced to amend the Native Title Act 1993. As a symbol of reconciliation between the different peoples of Australia, more than 250,000 people crossed the Sydney Harbor Bridge on May 28, 2000.
Australia in the 21st century
Australia’s population is currently 23 million. In 2006 the indigenous population was estimated to be around 500,000 people, about the same as when Europeans first arrived in Australia in the late 18th century.
Unemployment was high in the 1990s, but at the beginning of the 21st century the situation improved. Today Australia is a prosperous country.
In 2008 Quentin Bryce became Australia’s first female Governor General. In 2010 Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister.
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