A longer history of Australia

I wanted to find out when the first settlers settled in Australia. So I asked Google and to my dismay the first page and a half brought only result of the first European, namely English settlers. From a European point of view that even makes sense because Australia, like North and South America, only became interesting with the settlements of European colonialists. That is why I put the Australian flag as a main photo.

However, unfortunately too often we forget that there had been hundred thousands of people in various tribes or groups that had lived in those areas before Europeans came.

At the beginning of creating and writing down our history, we were not interested in indigenous history at all because it just didn’t count. It was just not considered important. Indigenous people, here in Australia called Aboriginals, were just wild, uneducated, uncultivated, and godless animals, basically. Once we realized and understood about their importance it was too late. Millions of those people had been killed or put in reservations or were forced to assimilate (see e.g. The Stolen Generation) to our western culture.

Another difficulty historians encounter is the lack of any written documents made by the peoples themselves. Writing may have consisted of petroglyphs, drawings on stonewalls, but not on paper as we know it. History in form of legends and stories was passed on orally. Unknown languages are another factor that made and still makes understanding and learning about old cultures difficult and sometimes still impossible.

Interestingly enough, the official website of the Australian government starts its history at the beginning of the 20th century, with 1 January 1901 to be precise. The reason for that? That’s the date when they became somewhat independent from England and formed the Commonwealth of Australia. And they had their first Prime Minister in the history of Australia. Australia’s true independence happened much later but that is too complicated here for me to explain. If you are interested in the details, let me encourage you to research them yourself.

Let me now give you now a slightly longer overview of the history of Australia than the one in the other post I’ve published. Like with any history of a country or even continent, telling it fills books. We don’t have time for that here nor do I want to do that. I’ not a historian, just want a short overview myself. Here we go:

Archaeological finds have shown that Australia was populated at least 50,000 years ago when the first Homo sapiens or Homo erectus, scientist are still debating which, crossed the water between Asia and New Guinea. New Guinea back then was still connected to Australia so it formed an even bigger landmass. I won’t go into further archaeological detail here, let’s just say those ‘pre-us’ beings settled in Australia, evolved further and wandered around to eventually inhabit basically the whole continent while global warming the rising of sea water changed the physical structure of Australia for the next several millennia.

When the first Europeans discovered the coast of what was later to be named the continent of Australia, the first Aboriginal people were sighted. That was in 1606 and again in 1642 when Dutch and Spanish navigators sailed the shores of Australia. We still know their names because of toponyms. We have the Torres Strait, the stretch between the northern coast of Australian and New Guinea, named after Luis Váez de Torres, a Spanish navigator. Tasmania, the island south of Australia is named after the Abel Tasman, a Dutch navigator and explorer.Even though we knew about this piece of land, it was not interesting enough to settle there.

Over a hundred years later, in 1770, it was James Cook who actually set foot on land and claimed part of the continent for Britain. He called this area Botany Bay because of the large variety of plants to be found there. It wasn’t Cook who collected the plants but his companion Sir Joseph Banks. The crew stayed only for about a week before they set sail again and left the area to continue exploring the Pacific. The continent with its aggressive and wild inhabitants – they had attacked Cook and his men, how dare they – was still too hostile for the Europeans.

It took the declaration of independence of the Americans in the British colonies and the loss of the war of the British to remember the enormous piece of land on the other side of the world. British prisons were still filled and overfilled with criminals. Stealing bread had become a capital crime. The sentence for that was death. It didn’t matter that many prisoners were in prison because of necessity. People were starving and committing crimes in order to survive.

Since England had lost its penal colonies in North America, they needed to come up with a new solution. That’s when Australia became interesting. Shiploads full of criminals were shipped to Australia and new penal colonies were founded in Down Under. The first colony was the one in Sydney Cove founded on 26 January 1788. The colonies managed to survive in the rather tough environmental conditions. Several years later, free settlers came over to find their luck in Australia and so the story of conquering and settling a new country repeated itself. It was almost like the history of North America only instead of Native Americans, the Indians, you had Native Australians, the Aborigines. (I will come back to the terms Aborigine/Aboriginal in a separate post because it is important to explain them.)

The colonization of the continent had begun and more and more settlers came throughout the 19th century. The last convict transportation ended in 1868. In the 1850s gold was found and it wasn’t North America alone that experienced a huge gold rush. Today Australia is still the second biggest gold producing country after China.

In the 20th century Australia became an important country in several areas. It was a strong economic power, it has become a country of immigrants from all over the world with a huge focus on people from southeast and east Asia. Australia’s military has since the country’s independence played an important role in all wars. Now in the 21st century Australia has to deal with similar problems like every other big country, it has gone through ups and downs and has many problems to solve. One thing you will hear form everybody who has been to Australia, however, is how laid back the Ozzies are. They make sure they enjoy life a little bit more than the rest of the super busy world it seems.

Alright, I realize I’m leaving the path of history here and digress in describing the mentality of the people. Fair enough. History lesson is over. Let’s enjoy a nice cool white wine then. Cheers, mate!





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