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Australia was the last great habitable land mass to be surveyed and colonised by Europeans. Aeons before the explorers made their landfall, the Aborigines took possession of the vast empty continent. They are believed to have travelled from Asia along transitory land bridges created by the rising and ebbing seas of the Ice Age. For thousands of years they occupied the continent undisturbed and undiscovered.

In 1606, a Dutchman, Willem Jansz sailed down the west coast of Cape York Peninsular. In 1616 another Dutchman, Dirk Hartog made landfall about 700km north of Perth, and another Dutchman, Abel Tasman, skirted Tasmania in 1642.

James CookThe first Englishman known to have visited these shores was William Dampier. He was a navigator and pirate who reached the north-west coast in 1688. But it was Captain James Cook who finally put the Great South Land on the map when he discovered and charted the east coast in 1770. He paved the way for eventual British settlement.

Map of Botany BayDuring much of the eighteenth century, Britain sent criminals from their overflowing gaols to the American colonies. Following the American War of Independence this outlet was closed. In 1788, the First Fleet under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip set off for Botany Bay to establish a penal settlement. When he arrived there, he thought the bay inadequate for his purposes so sailed further north to Port Jackson. He named his settlement, Sydney.

Gregory BlaxlandIn 1813, Gregory Blaxland, William Charles Wentworth and William Lawson finally crossed the Great Dividing Range west of Sydney. They were the first Europeans to see the land west of the mountains. The inland climate was thought to be perfect for sheep and so the Australian wool industry was born. Until very recently it was always said that "Australia rides on the sheep's back" - so important was the industry to our economy.

The discovery of gold in 1851 meant that Australia was no longer totally reliant on the pastoral industry. Gold fever set in with a vengance and soon New South Wales and Victoria were dotted with goldfields. The population grew threefold within a decade.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a feeling that the separate states should combine into a Federation. A Constitution was drafted and received royal assent in 1900. The first Commonwealth Parliament opened in Melbourne on May 9th, 1901.

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