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.
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.
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.
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
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.