It is hard to imagine anyone not enjoying travelling round a beautiful country like Australia. While the scenery is undeniably spectacular and the people fascinating, knowing a little bit about the country’s intriguing past can add that little extra something to your trip. Here we give you a quick low down on the events that have made Australia the place it is today:
Australia’s history starts about 45,000 years ago with the arrival of the Aborigines. These people lived off the land and developed farming techniques in order to be able to survive in the country’s harsh environment. The culture they gradually created was passed on in oral forms and many aspects of it are known about today. The lives of ancestors were celebrated in songs through the technique of ‘Dreaming’. At one time there were over 250 languages and 700 dialects spoken throughout Australia and Tasmania, each identifying a specific local area and clan. Before European settlement, Aborigines experienced contact with other nationalities: They traded with Southeast Asian fishermen and some European ships briefly touched on Australia’s shores during the 17th century. It is thought that there were around 1 million Aboriginal people living across the continent when the Europeans arrived in the 18th century.
The arrival of Europeans
European settlement in Australia began in January 1788 after Captain James Cook claimed the land in the name of King George III of England. The new arrivals saw the land as having no official owner and free for the taking. Eleven ships landed at Sydney Cove (now home to the Opera House, The Rocks and Circular Quay) laden with live animals, seeds, soldiers and over 700 convicts. A total of 160,000 convicts were eventually transported to Australia and overland migration gradually started to expand the British colony’s hold on the country. Initially, the Aboriginal people aided the Europeans with their expeditions. However, conflict between the two sides was common and the local population was killed off little by little: New settlers stole land that had traditionally served as a lifeline to the Aborigines and transported new diseases from Europe that proved fatal to the indigenous people.
The Gold Rush
A new wave of settlers began to arrive after the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851. The country was no longer seen as a prison-island and people came to make their fortunes from the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, America and later China. The non-Aboriginal population began to expand, damaging the indigenous culture further.
These days Australia consists of six states: Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, alongside the Australian Capital Territory of Canberra. Post-World War prosperity has seen a large majority of Australians now living in suburban settings. The country’s population of around 21 million is made up largely of European descent, but with around 10% coming from Aboriginal, Asian and New Zealand descent. Problems between Aboriginal people and other Australians still exist although recent governments have tried to ease problems by giving Aboriginals access to certain lands in order to visit sacred sites and to gather resources. National ‘Sorry Day’ was also created in 1998 in order to recognise and apologise for the suffering of the Aboriginal people at the hands of previous Australian governments. Australia and its people now look forward to developing and celebrating all aspects of the culture of this beautiful and fascinating country.