Brief Australian History  - Thor May 2006

1. The aboriginal people were established in Australia by 45,000 years ago. Some may have been Australia up to 60,000 years ago.

2. Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers. They did not live in one place, and they did not have houses. The land was too harsh for permanent settlement. Aborigines lived in small groups. Each group had a large territory (or "nation"). Their religion was complex, and closely linked to the 'spirit of the land'.

3. European (English) people first settled in Australia about 200 years ago.

4. The industrial revolution in England in the 18th Century caused millions of people to move from farming to the new cities. There was no social security. The cities were unhealthy and dangerous. Working conditions were terrible : up to 16 hours a day for very low wages. There was a lot of unemployment and a lot of crime. The rich ruling classes were very afraid and used the law harshly. So many poor people were put in prison that the prisons filled up.

5. For a while, the British government sent ships full of prisoners to America. However, after the American war of independence (1775–1783), America was no longer part of the British empire. Britain had no place to send its prisoners.

6. In 1770 the British navigator, Captain James Cook, sailed around the world and for the first time made maps of Australia; (before that Australia was unknown to Europeans except as a rumour, although some Dutch sailors had touched the coast of Western Australia 100 years earlier).

7. In 1788 a fleet of British prison ships under the command of Captain Arthur Philip sailed to Australia, and founded a settlement in Sydney cove. The Aborigines were unable to resist the invaders, and many Aborigines died from new European diseases.

8. Life in early Sydney was very, very hard. The settlers had to make everything with their own hands. Farming was difficult, and completely different from Europe. The prisoners were treated very cruelly. They were often whipped for small offences, or hung for more serious crimes. Later settlements were established in Tasmania, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

9. Gradually free people also began to come to Australia. Some people found gold in Australia from 1814, but the government forced them to keep it a secret ! In 1851 the first gold mining licences were issued. Between 1851 and 1871 Australia's population increased from 430,000 to 1,700,000. People rushed from all over the world to look for Australian gold.

10. At first Australia was not one country. Each state was a separate English colony. When many free people came to live in the colonies they stopped being prison camps. The new settlers had very independent characters. They did not like the old European ideas of "rule by the rich and nobility." They felt that all people are born equal. They struggled very hard for democracy. As a result, Australia was the first place in the world to give a vote to everyone. It was also the first place in the world where everyone could get a free education.

11. In 1901 the states of Australia joined together to make one country. They could not agree about whether to make Sydney or Melbourne the capital, so eventually they built a new capital city called Canberra.

12. At first, Australian workers had bad conditions and low wages, like the workers in England. However, they made trade unions and after many years of struggle got laws passed to give them good wages and conditions. They were very afraid to lose these conditions if many poor people came from China (especially). They thought the Chinese would work for very low wages. Therefore, in 1901 the new Australian parliament passed a law called the Immigration Restriction Act ("White Australia Act"). This was a racist law to stop Chinese and other Asians coming to Australia. It remained law until 1973, but was rarely enforced after World War 2.

13. During the 20th Century Australia became an industrialized country, much like England and America. Many Australians suffered during the great worldwide economic depression of the 1930s. However, Australian farming was very efficient. Wool, meat and wheat was exported. Later, mining brought much wealth to the country.

14. Australia sent many soldiers to Europe to help England in World War 1 and World War 2. When Japan tried to attack Australia during World War 2, America came to help.

15. In 1945 there were only 9,000,000 people in Australia, and their ancestors were 97% English. However, the Japanese attack taught Australians a tough lesson. The government decided that Australia must "populate or perish". In 1947 Australia began to welcome immigrants from all over Europe. Later, immigrants were allowed to come from all over the world. Today, many Asian people (including Koreans) live in Australia. Usually immigrant parents have their heart in two countries, but their children think like Australians. Today 76.9% of Australians are Australian born, 23.1% foreign born. 1.7% of Australians are Aborigines. 7% of Australians are Asian born (the percentage is much higher in Sydney and Melbourne).


"Brief Australian History " copyrighted to Thor May 2006; all rights reserved; all rights reserved