Australian History - An Overview

Contrary to popular belief in much of the world, the British were not the first settlers in Australia, nor were they the first Europeans to set foot on the continent. About 60,000 years ago, the aboriginals arrived by sea from Asia. They adapted to the land well and moved across the land as they were nomadic hunters.

In fifteenth century Europe there was a increase in exploration and the hunt for the controversial great southern land was on. The Dutch were aggressively searching for riches such as gold in the southern hemisphere. William Jansz, a Dutch ship captain, discovered the Cape of York in 1606 and found the land inhospitable and moved on. Other Dutch explorers discovered the west coast of Australia and found the dry, arrid land of no economic value to their homeland.

The British had an overcrowded prison population in the mid 18th century and they required a new penal colony. In 1768, Captain James Cook set sail for Australia and found the more desirable east coast. In 1770, King George III claimed the east coast and named it New South Wales. In 1788, the first fleet arrived carrying 750 convicts. This was the first penal colony that is now the Sydney area. The second penal colony developed was to the south in Tasmania. This colony was called Port Arthur which is a tourist attraction now. Over the following decades, these colonies grew. Australia grew into a productive farming land and a major wool producer. In the 1850's there was a gold rush in Victoria and New South Wales. Australia remains a major producer of mining products to this day. Opals are just one example.

On January 1st 1901, Australia became it's own nation. The six colonies were federated to form one nation. Over the following decades, Australia continued to expand and after World War 2, there was a mass immigration from Europe. At one point in time, Melbourne became the largest Greek populated city outside of Athens. More recently, the immigration has come from Asian neighbours.

 

Suggested Reading:

  • The Fatal Shore: Robert Hughes: An historical account about how and why British settlement occurred in Australia.
  • For the Term of His Natural Life: Marcus Clarke: An historical novel about convict life during the early years.
 

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