Brief History of Australia

What has moulded this country into what it is today.

Indigenous Culture

The Aboriginal people are a proud people. During time of English settlement, Aborigines were not known to be violent, and for the most part integrated with other Aboriginal clans, They originally traded with white settlers as peers in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia for approximately 40 years. British authorities eventually decided the Aborigines were not worthy of owning land, and land grants were given priority over existing land owners, most of whom were Aboriginal.
There are many different cultures within the Aborigine tribes, along with many different languages. During settlement times, there were more than 250 languages spoken by Aborigines. In general, Aborigines believe/believed that the world was made by the Ancestors, back in the Dreamtime.
Some of the languages spoken by Aboriginals:

Anjumarla Jaru Ndjébbana Wangkatha
Arabana Jingulu Ngadjon Wardaman
Arrernte Jiwarli Ngalakan Warlmanpa
Awabakal Kala Lagaw Ya Ngarrindjeri Warrungu
Ayapathu Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay Noongar Warumungu
Bardi Kaurna Ngiyampaa Wemba
Bunganditj Kayardild Nhirrpi Wiradjuri
Bunuba Koko-Bera Nyangumarta Yaegl
Dalabon Kriol, pidgins Paakantyi Yandrruwandha
Darug Kuku Yalanji Pakanh Yanyuwa
Dyirbal Kukatja Palawa Kani Yindjibarndi
Ganai/Kurnai Kutthung Pitjantjatjara Yolngu
Garawa Malyangapa Pitta Pitta Yorta Yorta
Gooniyandi Marriammu Tiwi Yugambeh
Gumbaynggir Martuthunira Tjapukai Yukulta
Gunggari Mawng Oykangand Yuwaalaraay
Gurindji Meriam Mir Wagiman
Guugu Yimithirr Murrinh-Patha Wambaya

History & Colonisation

The first records of European mariners sailing into ‘Australian’ waters occurs around 1606, and included their observations of the land known as Terra Australis Incognita (unknown southern land). In 1606, the first European ship and crew to chart the Australian coast and meet with Aboriginal people was the Duyfken captained by Dutchman, Willem Janszoon . He only charted the north & north western coast.
Between 1606 and 1770, an estimated 54 European ships from a range of nations made contact. Many of these were merchant ships from the Dutch East Indies Company and included the ships of Abel Tasman. Tasman charted parts of the north, west and south coasts of Australia which was then known as New Holland.
In 1770, Englishman Lieutenant James Cook charted the Australian east coast in his ship HM Barque Endeavour  Cook claimed the east coast under instruction from King George III of England on 22 August 1770 at Possession Island, naming eastern Australia ‘New South Wales’. The coast of Australia, featuring Tasmania as a separate island, was mapped in detail by the English mariners and navigators Bass and Flinders, and the French mariner, Baudin. A nearly completed map of the coastline was published by Flinders in 1814.
This period of European exploration is reflected in the names of landmarks such as the Torres Strait, Arnhem Land, Dampier Sound, Tasmania, the Furneaux Islands, Cape Frecinyet and La Perouse. Expeditions between 1790 and the 1830s, led by D’Entrecasteaux, Baudin, and Furneaux, were recorded by the naturalists Labillardière and Péron.

The First Fleet and a British colony

Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet, comprising 11 ships and around 1,350 people, arrived at Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788. However, this area was deemed to be unsuitable for settlement and they moved north to Port Jackson on 26 January 1788, landing at Camp Cove, known as ‘cadi’ to the Cadigal people.
Governor Phillip carried instructions to establish the first British Colony in Australia. The First Fleet was under prepared for the task, and the soil around Sydney Cove was poor. The young colony relied upon both the development of farms around Parramatta, 25 kilometres upstream to the west, and also trading food with local Aboriginal clans.
The Second Fleet‘s arrival in 1790 provided badly needed food and supplies; however the newly arrived convicts were too ill, with many near to death, to be useful to the colony. The Second Fleet became known as the ‘Death Fleet’ – 278 of the convicts and crew died on the voyage to Australia, compared to only 48 on the First Fleet.
The colony experienced many other difficulties, including the fact that there were many more men than women – around four men for every woman – which caused problems in the settlement for many years.

Contacts & Colonisation of Australian Regions

In the winter of 1791, the process of British colonisation of Western Australia began when George Vancouver claimed the Albany region in the name of King George III. In the summer of 1801, Matthew Flinders was welcomed by Nyungar upon his arrival aboard the Investigator and various items were exchanged. On the 1802 voyage from Sydney, Flinders recruited two Aboriginal people, Bungaree, who had sailed with him on the Norfolk, and Nanbaree. The visit of Flinders and other mariners to the coast of Arnhem Land is recorded in the paintings of ‘praus’ and European ships at rock art sites.
Initially, relations between the explorers and the Aboriginal inhabitants were generally hospitable and based on understanding the terms of trading for food, water, axes, cloth and artefacts, a relationship encouraged by Governor Phillip. These relations became hostile as Aborigines realised that the land and resources upon which they depended and the order of their life were seriously disrupted by the on-going presence of the colonisers. Between 1790 and 1810, clans people of the Eora group in the Sydney area, led by Pemulwuy of the Bidjigal clan, undertook a campaign of resistance against the English colonisers in a series of attacks.

In 1821 Bundle/Bundell sailed on board H.M. Brig Bathurst, under the command of Phillip Parker King, on a surveying voyage to the northern coast of Australia. Bundle replaced, at short notice, Bungaree, who had sailed with Flinders. After surveying the northern and north-western coastline of Australia, Bundle accompanied King on his survey work of the western coast of Australia between 1821-22, travelling to Mauritius for repairs. Bundle, an Eora man who ranged from Port Jackson to Parramatta, in the company of Tedbury, the son of Pemulwuy, was renowned for his tracking skills. Bundle had accompanied the Surveyor George William Evans on board the Lady Nelson in the party sent to explore Jervis Bay in 1812 and, with another Aboriginal named ‘Broughton’, accompanied Charles Throsby on his exploratory expedition into the southern region in 1818.

Law and land in New South Wales

From 1788 until 1823, the Colony of New South Wales was a penal colony. This meant that there were mainly convicts, marines and the wives of the marines although free settlers started to arrive in 1793. In 1823, the British government established a New South Wales parliament by setting up a Legislative Council as well as a Supreme Court under the New South Wales Act 1823 (UK) . This Act is now seen as a first step towards a ‘responsible’ Parliament in Australia.
It was also intended to establish English law in the colony with the establishment of NSW criminal and civil courts. However, there were significant departures from English law when the first cases were heard in the courts. The first civil case heard in Australia, in July 1788, was brought by a convict couple. The convicts successfully sued the captain of the ship in which they had been transported for the loss of a parcel. In Britain, as convicts, they would have had no rights to bring this case forward.
The question of land ownership by Indigenous people was not dealt with by the colonisers until the mid-1830s. In 1835, John Batman signed two ‘treaties‘ with Kulin people to ‘purchase’ 600,000 acres of land between what is now Melbourne and the Bellarine Peninsula. In response to these treaties and other arrangements between free settlers and Indigenous inhabitants, such as around Camden, the NSW Governor, Sir Richard Bourke issued a proclamation. Bourke’s proclamation established the notion that the land belonged to no-one prior to the British crown taking possession.
To effectively over-ride the legitimacy of the ‘Batman treaty‘ the British Colonial Office felt the need to issue another Proclamation. The Colonial Office proclamation stated that people found in possession of land without the authority of the government would be considered trespassers. This was despite and because many other people, including a report to the House of Commons in 1837, recognised that Aboriginal occupants had rights in land. Nevertheless, the law in New South Wales variously applied the principles expressed in Bourke’s proclamation. This would not change until the Australian High Court’s decision in the Mabo Case in 1992.
In 1861, the NSW government opened up the free selection of Crown land. The Crown Lands Acts 1861 permitted any person to select up to 320 acres on the condition of paying a deposit and living on the land for three years. The Acts also limited the use of Crown lands by Aboriginal people as until this time, pastoral lands were still able to be legitimately used by them.
As a result of Crown Land being available for selection, great conflicts between squatters and the selectors ensued. Scheming in selecting and acquiring land became widespread. The Acts had a powerful impact on the ownership of land. The Acts also affected the use of bush land across vast regions of the colony. In the view of some observers, these disputes over access to land also encouraged bushranging.
Despite its problems, the colony of New South Wales grew, and the Port Jackson settlement is now the site of Australia’s largest city – Sydney.


Establishment of other British colonies

Western Australia

Western Australia was established in 1827. Major Edmund Lockyer established a small British settlement at King Georges Sound (Albany) and in 1829 the new Swan River Colony was officially proclaimed. Captain James Stirling was its first Governor. The colony was proclaimed a British penal settlement in 1849 and the first convicts arrived in 1850.

South Australia

The British province of South Australia was established in 1836, and in 1842 it became a crown colony. South Australia was never a British convict colony, although a number of ex-convicts settled there from other colonies. Around 38,000 immigrants had arrived and settled in the area by 1850.


In 1851 Victoria (Port Phillip District) separated from New South Wales. The first attempt at settlement was made in 1803 by Lieutenant David Collins but the harsh conditions forced him to move on to Tasmania where he eventually settled Hobart in February 1804. It was not until the Henty brothers landed in Portland Bay in 1834, and John Batman settled on the site of Melbourne, that the Port Phillip District was officially sanctioned (1837). The first immigrant ships arrived at Port Phillip in 1839.


In 1859 Queensland separated from New South Wales. In 1824, the penal colony at Redcliffe was established by Lieutenant John Oxley. Known as the Moreton Bay Settlement, it later moved to the site now called Brisbane. Around 2,280 convicts were sent to the settlement between 1824 and 1839. The first free European settlers moved to the district in 1838 and others followed in 1840.

Northern Territory

In 1825 the area occupied today by the Northern Territory was part of the colony of New South Wales. It was first settled by Europeans in 1824 at Fort Dundas, Port Essington. In 1863 control of the area was given to South Australia. Its capital city, Darwin, was established in 1869, and was originally known as Palmerston. On 1 January 1912, the Northern Territory was separated from South Australia and became part of the Commonwealth of Australia.


Recognition of Australia

The name ‘Australia’ was first suggested by Matthew Flinders and supported by Governor Macquarie (1810 – 1821). At a meeting in 1899, the Premiers of the other Colonies agreed to locate the new federal capital of Australia in New South Wales, and added this section to the Australian Constitution. In 1909, the state of New South Wales surrendered a portion of this territory to the Commonwealth of Australia, the site of present day Canberra.
While formal dinners and informal celebrations to mark the landing of the First Fleet at Camp Cove were held on 26 January each year, the first official celebration of English colonisation was held in 1818. During the colonial period, 26 January was called Foundation Day in New South Wales. Other colonies celebrated with their own dates of significance relating to the founding of their colonies. Western Australia, for example, celebrated Proclamation Day on 21 October each year.
Since 1901, when Australia became a federation of the six colonies, the landing of the First Fleet at Camp Cove has evolved from a small commemorative New South Wales holiday into a major national celebration, recognised as Australia Day. From 1994 all states and territories agreed to celebrate Australia Day on the actual day.
For many Indigenous Australians however, 26 January is not a day of celebration but one of mourning and protest. On the morning of the 26 January for the 1938 sesquicentennial (150th) celebrations, Aboriginal activists met to hold a ‘Day of Mourning’ conference aimed at securing national citizenship and equal status for Aborigines. Citizenship rights for all Aborigines were recognised following a referendum on the issue in 1967. In an attempt to heal some of the pain of Australia’s past, there is now an advanced Reconciliation movement.
At the time of colonisation of Australia, Great Britain was in need of new land to place its convicts. After early sightings of Australia by James Cook, it was decided that Australia would become a new British colony where convicts would be sent and used for labour in establishing the new colony. In 1788, the first fleet of ships landed in Botany Bay and so began the colonisation of Australia.
Before the English officially landed on Botany Bay in 1788, there were many expeditions to find the Great Unknown South Land, that was believed to be full of gold. The first European to discover was thought to have been Willem Jansz, a Dutchman who sailed along part of the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606 and landed on Australian soil.

In August 1786, the British government decided to start a convict settlement in New South Wales. This also allowed England to claim Australia and stop France or Spain from taking it.
Governor Phillip left Sydney in December 1792. By then the settlement had survived its first and worst five years. Sydney was a rough place but it was still there and growing.
After the troubles and hardships of the early years, the administration were pushing to find out more about what lay beyond the shores and coastline of Australia.
During the period between 1788 and 1868, about 160,000 convicts were sent to Australia. What happened to them when they got to Australia depended on their skills or education, how they behaved themselves and some luck.
Many people believe that in 1851 Edward Hargraves was the first person to discover gold. This isn’t true. Before 1851 gold had been found by convicts, shepherds, a clergyman and a Polish explorer. Hundreds more people probably found gold but did not bother telling others about it.
In the early days of Australia’s history, bushrangers roamed the countryside. They lived by stealing horses, holding up farms and travellers and robbing banks and stores. Many were escaped convicts.
Others were just young men looking for adventure and freedom from the boredom of everyday work.


Australian Native Flora

One of Australia’s greatest treasures is her flora – 24,000 species of native plants have been identified, compared to England’s 1700 native plants. Australia has more species of native flora than all of Europe combined.
Australia’s native plants vary across the many different natural environments of the country. In the tropical regions of north Queensland, Arnhem Land and the Kimberleys there are many native fruit trees, such as figs and plums. Where water is scarce in central Australia, the plants are spread thinly over the land and Aborigines rely on fruits such as bush tomatoes and quandong (native peach).
Plants were used for many other things besides food. Medicines also came from plants. Native mints were remedies for coughs and colds, and the gum from gum-trees, which is rich in tannin, was used for burns.

Botanical interest and ignorance

William Dampier first introduced Europeans to Australian plants in 1703 in his book A Voyage to New Holland which presented illustrations of specimens from the Western Australian bush.

On Captain Cook’s journey in 1770, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected over 30,000 botanical specimens and Sydney Parkinson made 674 drawings on the voyage.
French naturalists and scientists, such as Labillardiere, extensively promoted Australian plants with the publication of seven volumes. Napoleon’s wife Josephine patronised botanists and the growing of Australian plants – growing over 100 Australian plants including grevilleas, banksias, eucalypts and casuarinas at Malmaison, outside Paris.
The clearing of Australian native plants during the last 200 years has markedly changed the Australian countryside. Robin Boyd in his book, The Australian Ugliness (1960) wrote that many people regarded even eucalypts and acacias as ‘primitive landscape and elements – unfamiliar, strangely primeval – which must be eradicated from the home environment’. Since the 1990s, Landcare programs and Greening Australia have begun to conserve flora and combat problems, such as soil erosion and salination, which have occurred as a result of large scale clearing.

Common species

Acacia is a genus of around 1200 species; 954 are currently recognised as occurring in Australia – from coastal zones and mountains to the dry inland. Collectively the Australian species are known as ‘wattles’.
As Australians became more patriotic towards the end of the 1800s, they began to appreciate Australian native plants more, and started a search for a floral symbol of the country. In 1912, the wattle was incorporated into the design of the Australian Coat of Arms.
In Spring, the golden wattle comes into flower with large fluffy, yellow, sweet smelling flower heads. Each flower head is a bunch of many tiny flowers.
Gum trees (eucalypts) are a vital part of the Australian natural environment. The only major environment where eucalypts are absent is rainforest. There are about 12 species which occur naturally outside of Australia but around 700 are native to Australia. Eucalypts serve as shelter for many species of native Australian animals and birds. A few varieties of gum leaves are the only food eaten by koalas.
Since early settlement, eucalypts have been a vital source of timber and firewood for Australians and they have been a key part of the hardwood timber industry. Soldiers returning by ship from the First and Second World Wars were able to smell the aroma of the eucalypt before land was visible on the horizon. A common use for eucalypts is eucalyptus oil.
Mountain ash (eucalyptus regnans) is a common eucalypt prolific within the Blue Mountains and many other areas. It is the second tallest tree in the world.


The genus Grevillea is probably the most popular and widely cultivated of all of Australia’s plant families. The plants occur in numerous shapes and sizes and the colourful flowers, in many cases, attract birds. Grevillea is a member of the Protea family (Proteaceae) and its close relatives include Banksia, Hakea, Dryandra, Isopogon and Telopea (the waratah).


Melaleuca is a genus of around 170 species in the Myrtle family (Myrtaceae). Melaleucas are commonly known as ‘paperbarks’ in the tree forms and ‘honey myrtles’ in the smaller form as well as ‘tea trees’. Melaleucas are often found along watercourses or along the edges of swamps. M. alternifolia is commonly used in the production of tea tree oil, an ingredient in many shampoos, antiseptic creams and soaps.


Callistemons are also a popular plant and just like Grevilleas, attract native birds. In fact, Callistemons are usually mistaken for Grevilleas as the bush and flowers are similar, but the species have different parents. Callistemon comprises of around 34 species of shrubs in the family Myrtaceae, all of which are endemic to Australia. Callistemon species are commonly referred to as bottlebrushes because of their cylindrical, brush like flowers resembling a traditional bottle brush. They are found in the more temperate regions of Australia, mostly along the east coast and south-west.


Eremophila is a genus of 214 species which are commonly called ’emu bushes’ found only in Australia. They are generally plants of semi-arid to arid regions The plants produce fleshy fruits which are often eaten by birds and animals. The foliage of some species is toxic and stock poisonings have occurred although some other species are useful as fodder plants.

A common use of emu bush is ’emu oil’ – as a skin tonic. Emu bush was important to the Adnyamathanha people of the northern Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Rosemary Pedler (1994) noted it’s use for medicinal purposes.

The bark of trunks was scraped off, reduced to ash and then mixed with emu oil. This preparation was then used for all manner of skin complaints with excellent results, according to several people in the group. This is still being used today.


Kangaroo paws are from the Haemodoraceae family, a family of herb like plants related to the lilies (Amaryllidaceae), comprising over 100 species. In general, the plants are small, clumping plants with strappy leaves reaching about one metre wide and high. Flowers have little or no fragrance. Kangaroo paw flowers are long, narrow and tubular-shaped, resembling the paw of a kangaroo, which are ideally designed for low-beaked birds.


Acaia, also known as a thorntree or wattle, is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae, and are found predominantly in Australia, but also in tropical Asia, Pacific Islands and Madagsacar. Previously, the species of Acacia was more widespread but in 2005 the Acacia species was subdivided, limiting that name of Acacia to the above areas. The rest became Acaieae. Non-Australian species tend to be thorny, whereas the majority of Australian acacias are not. All species are pod-bearing, with sap and leaves often bearing large amounts of tannins and condensed tannins that historically found use as pharmaceuticals and preservatives. The genus Acacia previously contained roughly 1300 species, about 960 of them native to Australia,

Australian floral emblems

The Wattle, Acacia Pycnantha, is Australia’s formal floral emblem, and is famous for it’s colour and spring time smell when pollen is expelled. Although wattles, and in particular the Golden Wattle, have been the informal floral emblem of Australia for many years, it was not until Australia’s bicentenary in 1988 that the Golden Wattle was formally adopted as the Floral Emblem of Australia. The wattle is a tree and grows up to 8m. It is from the Acacia family.

Each Australian state and territory has chosen a flower native to its region as an official floral emblem. These are:

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