The Incredible History Of Australia

The country of Australia has an incredibly unique and colorful history. The land was initially settled by convicts who were sentenced to exile by the British Empire. Of course, the vast majority weren’t hardcore criminals, more like the working poor and political dissidents. However, the land wasn’t completely unpopulated before Britain began using it as a convict dumping ground, as there were aboriginal people who had lived there for tens of thousands of years. Over time, the country developed, eventually separating from England and becoming its own independent nation that we know today.

Aboriginals Settled The Country Nearly 50,000 Years Ago

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Glenn Campbell/The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

While settlers from Europe first began coming into the country during the 1600s, they weren’t the first. The country had been settled much long before that. It is thought that the nation’s native residents have been there for 50,000 years.

This would make them one of the oldest living cultures on the planet. When Europeans began to come into the country, most aboriginals still lived in hunter-gatherer societies. That lifestyle would slowly change along with the state of the nation.

Contact From Europe

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first European contact with Aboriginals came in the year 1606 and was made by the Dutch sailor Willem Janszoon. Later trips were also made by the Spanish ship captain Luis Vas de Torres and English explorer William Dampier.

The territory was claimed under England in 1770 by the famous explorer James Cook, who initially wanted to rename the land New Holland. When he returned to England in 1771, he was promoted to the position of commander.

Australia Becomes A Penal Colony

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Print Collector/Getty Images

By 1783, The British Empire had recently lost control of the American Colonies. So, Australia seemed like the perfect place for Britain to plant a flag. However, they decided to do so in an interesting way, by settling the country with convicts.

The first ship of convicts landed in Australia on January 26th of 1788, establishing the land as a penal colony of Great Britain. Years later, other settlements would be created that was made up of people who saw Australia as a land of opportunity.

The European Settlement Was A Disaster For Aboriginals

Aboriginal people
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C. Poulsen/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The aboriginals had been living in Australia for tens of thousands of years. They had broken into many different groups, and it was estimated at their height, there were over 250 different languages spoken there.

The English settlement, however, was devastating to the Aboriginal population. Many of the natives died of disease brought to the land by the settlers. Many more died from conflicts with the new residents who claimed the land as their own. Even more, in 1869, the Aboriginal Protection Act gave the British political power over the lives of the aboriginal people.

The First Colonists Had It Really Hard

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first wave of settlers consisted of 3546 men and 766 women. The leader of this group was Arthur Phillip, who was deemed the first Governor of New South Wales.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the settlers did not have the skills to grow crops on the land they had never seen before, and many had fallen ill on the journey from England. The quality of the soil in the area they landed was poor, so Phillip conducted scouting trips in an attempt to find more habitable land.

Expansion Included Areas Free Of Convicts

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Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Once Australia began to take the shape of a livable country, more English citizens saw the appeal in settling there. Yet, these volunteers wanted to live in an area that was free of the convicts who had been sent there as a punishment.

So, the British Government created the South Australia Act in 1834, which allowed for free people to settled in the Southern part of the nation. The area was seen as more prosperous and allowed for freedom of religion and business opportunities. The town of Adelaide was the central city in this territory.

The Continent Is Explored And Mapped Out

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Mark Evans/Getty Images

As Australia continued to be settled, navigators wanted to investigate just how much land there actually was. The first explorers were George Bass and Matthew Flinders, who circumnavigated the island of Tasmania.

The country continued to be mapped out by numerous explorers. In 1824, Sir Thomas Brisbane and Hamilton Hume discovered the Murray River and fertile grazing land, with one of the nation’s largest cities, was later named after Brisbane. In 1828, Charles Stuart led an expedition where the Darling River was first discovered.

Gold Is Discovered

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Around the same time that gold was discovered in the United State’s western territories, it was being uncovered in Australia as well. The first gold discovery was by Edmund Hammond Hargraves in February of 1851.

Once word spread about the gold being found in Australia, immigrants flooded in from Europe to prospect. The region of Victoria saw its population increase sixfold over just ten years. The influx of new settlers led to multiple conflicts with local officials.

Ned Kelly Was The King Of The Bushrangers

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Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

Australia was a wide-open continent full of people with criminal pasts. If someone outside the law wanted to evade the authorities, there were plenty of places to escape, such as the Australian bush. However, the bush is an extremely dangerous place, though, so survival skills were necessary.

The most well known of these outlaw bushrangers was Ned Kelly. Kelly became a folk hero to many Australians after engaging in a shootout with the police while wearing crude body armor. He was eventually caught and executed but remains a popular figure in Australian history.

Government Began To Form In The 1850’s

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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

While still a part of the British Empire, the people of Australia wished to have some type of representative government. So, in 1825, the region of New South Wales formed a Legislative Council.

Following suit, in 1840, the Adelaide and Sydney City Councils were also officially established. The continent also created their own innovative way of voting, in which the votes were made on secret paper ballots where candidates were selected in private. The process became known as the Australian ballot and became commonplace around the world.

An Australian Sense Of Community And Culture Began To Develop In the Late 1880s

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Rischgitz/Getty Images

As the population grew in Australia, so did its culture. Artists like John Peter Russell and Rupert Bunny developed an international following, and the popular bush music, established by the convicts who first settled, began to spread around the world.

Sports also became a significant part of life in Australia, with cricket becoming popular in 1851, and the first formal rugby team began to play in 1864. The sport of Australian Rules Football later followed in 1858.

Australia Becomes A Commonwealth

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After decades of negotiations, Australia became a Commonwealth in 1901. The first elections took place on May 9th, and the future King George V opened the Parliament.

When elections were held, the Protectionist Party narrowly defeated the Free Trade Party. The first Prime Minister of the country was Edmund Barton, who promised to safeguard White Australia. Barton only served as Prime Minister from 1901 to 1903 and was succeeded in the role by Attorney-General Alfred Deakin.

Australian Troops Fought Alongside The British In World War I

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Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

When World War I broke out, Australians fought alongside British troops. The results of the war were devastating for the Commonwealth. Of the 330,000 Australians that were sent off to war, 60,000 of them were killed, and another 160,000 were wounded.

The participation and heavy losses from the war have contributed to the country’s identity. The soldiers who participated are honored every year on ANZAC day, which occurs on April 25th, the date of the first landings at Gallipoli.

A Great Depression Strikes In The Late 1920s

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Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

The Australian economy was largely based on selling products like wool and wheat to the British Empire. However, during the late 1920s, the demand for these products was in significant decline, and the economy subsequently collapsed.

The depression of Australia went on for a period of around three years. Thankfully, the nation began to pull itself from economic despair around 1932. During that time, Australia was also experiencing success in sports, which was credited with improving the mood of the country during the troubling times with international achievements made by cricketer Don Bradman and the racehorse Phar Lap.

Australia Became Heavily Involved In World War II

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George Lipman/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Like in the first World War, Australia played a significant role in World War II. Of the commonwealth’s 7 million person population, approximately 1 million Australians enlisted in the military to fight in the war.

Their effort was significant as soldiers served abroad in addition to protecting their homefront. Australia became an increasingly important ally once Japan entered the war. The Australian Navy carried out numerous missions in the Asian theater. Some of the most important were amphibious operations against Japanese bases in Borneo.

The Sydney Opera House Is An Iconic Landmark

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Wolter Peeters/The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images

In the 1940s The Director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music decided that the area needed a world-class event space. A design contest was held and was won by Danish designer Jorn Utzon.

After many years, the construction finally began in 1959, and it took quite a long time to be completed. The building didn’t officially open until 1973, and the wait was worth it as the opera house is now considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

Australia Booms Following WW2

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Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Many of the European countries had a difficult time recovering economically in the wake of World War II. However, Australia experienced an entirely different and their economy began to boom. The country began to welcome immigrants to work in manufacturing and a number of new hydroelectricity projects.

The country hoped to maintain a “British Identity” and recruited people coming from mainly European countries. What they experienced was an influx of people coming in from countries like Greece, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands.

The 1970s Saw A Shift In Australian Identity

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Michael Putland/Getty Images

For a significant part of its history, Australia was seen as a stepchild of the British Empire. Therefore, a lot of the culture that Australians enjoyed was inherited from either the United Kingdom and other countries.

However, the 1970s saw a focus on changing that. Australians began to celebrate their own culture, music, art, and television shows that had been developed in Australia. The opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 also boosted national pride and the South Australian Film Corporation help to promote the nation’s films.

Becoming A Sovereign Nation

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Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Australia may have become a Commonwealth in 1901, that didn’t mean, however, that the United Kingdom didn’t have input on the country’s legislation. Yet, the nation further extricated itself from British rule with the 1931 Statute of Westminster.

While Britain had minimal impact on the country throughout the next couple of decades, the presence was still there. In 1986, the Australia Act was passed. This severed the majority of the two nation’s ties and gave Australia all of the country’s constitutional documents, establishing itself as a sovereign nation.

Australia Hosts The 2000 Olympics

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TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP via Getty Images

One of the best ways a country could showcase themselves is to host the Olympic Games. Australia got this opportunity in 2000 when the summer games came to Sydney. The nation has previously hosted the games in 1956 in Melbourne.

The Sydney games celebrated all the citizens of the country with a particular focus placed on indigenous peoples. At the close of the Olympics, the IOC Juan Antonio Samaranch claimed that the 2000 games were the best ever.