A brief history of Australia

The history of Australia is relatively short when looked through a European’s perspective, but before the arrival of western settlers Australia was home to the Aboriginal people who have called the vast country home for 48,000 years. The Aborigines were hunter gatherers and like their modern day descendants deeply in tune with land and the ‘spirits’.

The first European discovery of Australia was made by the Dutch Navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. As time passed more and more sailors visited the land and by the end of the 17th century the Dutch had chartered the Western and Northern coastlines. These Dutch explorers named the land ‘New Holland’ but no Dutch settlers arrived to colonise it.

Later in the 17th century English explorers arrived with the first landing taking place in 1688 by William Dampier an English privateer. In 1770 the famous adventurer Captain James Cook mapped the eastern coast which he named New South Wales and claimed the territory for the fledgling British Empire, a decade after Cooks discovery the first settlers set sail for Australia. Initially the first colonists were comprised of exiled prisoners, criminals and the families of the soldiers sent to guard the new penal colony. The settlers arrived at port Jackson on 26th of January 1788, the date that became the national holiday of Australia Day.

The Aboriginal population living in Australia prior to the arrival of European colonists is estimated to have been around 750,000 to 1million. After colonisation that number declined rapidly over the following 150 years, thanks to a combination of disease and abuses carried out by the settlers on the Aboriginal peoples. Between 1788 and 1868 the colony of New South Wales was officially a penal colony. During this period about 160,000 convicts were sent to Australia from Britain. Depending on their skills, education, and behaviour they were put to work in this new society. Besides convicts, the settlement was made up of mostly marines and their families. The six colonies (New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia) gained their own government between 1855 and 1890 and started to manage their own affairs, but still as part of the British Empire.

When World War One broke out, Australia along with the other colonies of the Empire joined the British in the fight against the Germans. Of about the 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded.

In 1931 Britain issued the statute of Westminster which formally ended most of the constitutional links between the Empire and Australia. In World War 2 the Australians once more fought alongside the commonwealth nations playing important roles in a number of battles against the Axis powers and the forces of Imperial Japan. The shock defeat of the British in Asia to the Japanese caused Australia to seek a new protector and ally in the form of the United States. The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the 1986 Australia act, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States. Since then Australia has remained a member of the commonwealth but has a close relationship with the USA. It has become a successful, modern country and is a strong leader of exporting raw materials to the powerhouse economies of India and China.