The Aboriginal history was passed on by word-of-mouth and is known as 'Dreaming', a complex intertwining of land, culture, language, family relations and spiritualism. There are 500 known tribes who speak 250 separate languages. The Aborigines were hunters and gatherers moving with the seasons, taking with them only those possessions that were necessary for the hunting and preparation of food. In areas of plentiful food sources they confined their movements to a relatively small area, something the size of Ireland, perhaps. In the arid desert regions they were forced to travel over vast tracts of land to obtain food and water. There is evidence they traded with Indonesian sailors circa 1451 BC.
Aboriginal society was a complex network of intricate kinship relationships. All members of the family unit had their own role and responsibilities. No formal government or authority existed, but social control was maintained by a sophisticated system of beliefs. These beliefs found expression in song, art, and dance. A rich oral tradition existed in which stories of the Dreamtime, the time of creation, or recent history were passed down the generations.
Europeans first bumped off the coast of Terra Incognito as early as the 1500s when Dutch and Portuguese explorers made vario1us explorations from the East Indies and Asia. It was Englishman Lieutenant James Cook who first planted a flag on the great mystery south land and forever changed it. The year was 1770.
Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor in Britain was widening and those in charge didn't have enough room to put all the people who had become criminals. The Americans had won the war of independence so that place was out, so in their wisdom the aristocracy decided to use the Great South Land as a penal colony. Steal some bread? You're going to Aussie, Geezer. Penal servitude was seen as the worst of punishments, a banishment from everything one knew.
The First Fleet
Captain Arthur Phillip turned up with the first fleet in 1788. Eleven ships containing 1350 passengers, none of whom had much of an idea what to expect. They knew nothing about the climate, the vegetation, the animals, or the native Indigenous people and culture.
Australia was a strategic place to own for Britain. Her Majesty's navy had ruled the seas for years and still wanted to. It's hard to imagine the hauteur of a people who believed they could come over and decide they could put down a flag and henceforth 'own' a continent the size of Australia.
The fleet consisted mainly of convicts and their guards. Men outnumbered women four to one. They first arrived at Botany Bay, the area Cook had planted the flag on, but deciding it was too marshy. Phillip upped the whole fleet and sailed a few miles up the coast to Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour. They put down at Circular Quay (the area just in between the Harbour Bridge and Opera House) and that's how Sydney began.
In 1802, after various rebellions and plagues, a fellow called Matthew Flinders took his ship and circumnavigated the whole continent. Free settlers began turning up in the hope of making their fortunes. After the establishment of Port Jackson, from 1803 to 1836 settlements began in Hobart, Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide, each now a state capital city.
Getting right into the guts of the place proved a harder ask. Most of Australia is harsh, arid desert. But men like Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth, and William Lawson found a way over the Blue Mountains (part of the Great Dividing Range of mountains that stretch for much of the east coast) trying to find the fabled inland sea. Many died, the most famous of whom are Robert Burke and William Wills who explored the desert for months trying to get from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north.
One of the most important things to happen to Australia in the early colonial days, at least as far as financial prosperity is concerned, was the introduction of sheep by Captain John Macarthur. After several experiments with various breeds Macarthur introduced a Spanish sheep called a Merino, which proved to be perfectly suited to the dry, arid conditions of Australia. Their wool made Australia rich. In 30 years the sheep population grew from 34,000 to half a million, the demand for this high quality fabric high in the factories of the Northern England. And it still is. There used to be a saying that 'Australia rides on the sheep's back' and while that may prompt uncharitable innuendo, the country became a viable member of the world on the strength of its woolly exports.
Another important moment in the population of Australia was the discovery of gold in Bathurst, Ballarat and Bendigo. At first the authorities tried to keep it a secret, for fear that the agricultural industry would be short of workers when everyone ran off to find nuggets. But after a succession of lean years and with the news of the wealth that California had experienced in their gold rush, the government decided to reveal to people that Ballarat was the richest alluvial goldfield in the world.
Of course, everyone went mad. Prospectors from all over the world rushed to the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria in the hope of making their fortune. Tent cities dotted the Australian countryside, some as large as 40,000 people. Most prospectors were from Britain or China.
Ballarat went from a farming community of a few thousand European settlers to a thriving, buzzing global community of peoples from everywhere. Hence the authorities couldn't cope with the influx and there were outbreaks of violence, the most famous of which was known as the Eureka Stockade.
By 1854, miners held many grievances against what they believed to be a corrupt and unjust goldfields administration. The brutal policing of an unfair licence system, blatant corruption among Government officials and the lack of representation in the Victorian Parliament were the chief causes of their resentment. Their calls for "true British justice" fell on deaf ears.
Many of the most vocal critics were Irishmen who worked on the Eureka Lead. After a series of minor skirmishes tensions were so great that armed miners swore allegiance to a new flag — the Flag of the Southern Cross— and built a stockade. The authorities obviously couldn't have the Union Jack undermined like this and early one Sunday morning launched a surprise attack and squashed the miners stand.
However, everything the miners fought for was later instated, such as the abolition of the gold license system, the right to vote and representation in parliament. Many believe the Eureka Rebellion was the birthplace of Australian democracy.
Forty-seven years after the democratic action known as the Eureka Stockade, one nation, Australia, was forged from the colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Until 1901 they were separate entities, governed by different laws, with different taxes and different lots of other stuff.
Then, after years of gesticulation from the important men of the time, the joining of the colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed and there was a period of rejoicing, including a visit from the Royal Family.
Sydney and Melbourne were in disagreement over who should be capital so an area of NSW was annexed and called the Australian Capital Territory, modelled on Washington DC.
In 1902, with the population almost 2 million, women were allowed to vote. After much campaining, the fight for a new political identity for women was won. That same year three of their number stood for election.
In 1911 Australian explorer, scientist and hero Douglas Mawson decided to map and explore the coastal area of Antarctica closest to Australia. His epic trek was described as the greatest story of lone survival in polar exploration.
In 1914 thousands of young Australian and New Zealand men joined up the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) for World War I. Showing unbelievable courage they stormed the trenches at Gallipoli, Turkey. By the time war ended 60,000 Australians were dead on the battlefields of Europe, but their courage is remembered each year on Anzac Day and many Australians believe the young nations character was forged on April 25, 1915. Australians were praised for the sacrifice but it was the first time many felt that the British Empire's best interests weren't necessarily their own.
In 1923 Vegemite was invented. This international Australian icon breakfast spread was first made in Melbourne and loved Australia-wide in a prosperous post-war era. However 1929 brought the Great Depression left one-third of people out of work. Times were difficult but the deeds of a horse called Phar Lap kept people's spirits up. This incredible creature won just about everything Australian racing had to offer and earned deity status. Indeed the jockey Jim Pike said "There's only one chance they've got of beating him. If they can breed them with wings on and get Charles Kingsford-Smith to ride them. And then I doubt whether they'll beat him then." Phar Lap however was eventually beaten when they took it to America and he was poisoned. The spirit of Phar Lap lives on with his hide in Melbourne Museum, his bones in Sydney and his great heart on display in Canberra.
Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935) was Australia's most famous aviator and in 1931 became the first man to fly solo from London to Australia. Then he flew back. Smith was a superstar of his day for his epic, solo adventures, and he also his creation of the first Australian airline.
Another great Australian hero of the era honoured to this day by Australians, was the champion cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, the greatest batsman of all time. Bradman once batted for so long that when the English finally got him out the headlines in the papers cried simply 'He's Out!' Bradman finished with the unbelievable average of 99.94 and died in late 2001.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, a momentous occasion that drew remarkable crowds estimated at close to one million people (the nation's entire population was 6.6 million).One Francis Edward de Groot, a member of the New Guard disrupted the opening ceremony when, disguised as a military horseman, he slashed the ceremonial ribbon before the Premier was able to officially open the bridge. The incident caused amusement in the crowd (it was arguably the nation's first 'streak') and indignation among the authorities. It remains a part of Australian folklore and a symbol of the perceived national character trait of rebellion against authority.
A few years later, in 1939, World War II broke out causing once again Australians to take up the 'call of duty' to fight overseas again. This time though they faced threats closer to home. The Japanese bombed Darwin, invaded Papua New Guinea and submarines turned up in Sydney Harbour. The nation worried it could not rely on its remoteness as a defence anymore and many urged the boys to be sent home from the fronts of Europe and the Pacific. But ultimately the immense size of Australia would mean that it would never be invaded during the course of the war.
The Baby Boomer era began in 1946. Unlike their forefathers who battled through the world wars and depressions, the 'Baby Boomer' generation faced a changed Australia - liberation in the government and popular culture led the way for a new era in politics, music, fashion and food. Australia and its newest batch of youngsters faced the changing times and embraced a more modern world.
In 1956 Melbourne hosted the International Olympic Games for the first time in Australian history. Australia's golden girl of the Games was 18-year-old Betty Cuthbert who won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. The event was perceived as pivotal in the coming of age of Australia. For a few weeks Australia was in front of the world and proved that it could successfully host such a major event as the Olympic Games. The Games were televised in Australia and proved to be a huge success in increasing the popularity of television which was introduced to Australia during this year also.
In 1966 Australia went to decimal currency with the dollar replacing pounds and shillings. The previous year Australia responded to the call of help from the people of South Vietnam. A National Service Scheme was drawn up in 1964 that called up conscripts to be sent off in 1965 to fight. Many people thought this wrong and the Scheme was strongly opposed. There were protests and riots and in 1971 the last Australian troops left Vietnam for home. This war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Many draft resisters, conscientious objectors and protesters had been fined or gaoled, while soldiers sometimes met a hostile reception on their return home.
Triumph and Tragedy
The Sydney Opera House, a world famous Australian icon, was officially opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II after 14 years of construction. Design credit goes to the Danish architect Jørn Utzon who won the honour to design it in 1957. Now a foremost tourist attraction, it is home to some of the world's most celebrated performing arts companies and is a performance centre for most performance art forms.
Darwin, Christmas Day 1974, was the site of horrific disaster when a cyclone roared through the town and ravaged the city killing 49. For six hours the terrifying winds of tropical cyclone Tracy ripped through the city, reaching up to 250km an hour. There was a lull at about 2.30am, and many people came outside, thinking it was all over. They were in the 'eye' of the massive storm and within 30 minutes the wind had built up again and changed direction. Roofs were torn from houses; buildings collapsed; and cars, trucks and even railway carriages were sent flying. More than two-thirds of the town's population of 47,000 people were airlifted to emergency accommodation by the defence forces. So much of the city was damaged (about 90%) that most of the town had to be rebuilt during the following few years.
1975 saw the most incredible piece of Australian politics when the Govern-General Sir John Kerr (the Queen of England's representative in Australia) dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, claiming that his plans for the Australian society were too radical, and required too great a budget. There was a massive public uproar when opposition leader Malcolm Fraser was commissioned to form a "caretaker government". So an election was called between Fraser and Whitlam. Fraser won in a landslide - the Australian public were perhaps not quite ready to embrace the change.. Especially since there had been such drama created by Whitlam's avant garde leadership.
1980s to present
The Ash Wednesday bush fires came along in 1983, the worst fires in living memory. A combination of high temperatures, strong winds and dry bushland burned thousands of acres of Victoria and killed 71 people. Bushfires are a common threat for people living in areas with high concentrations of oil-rich eucalypt trees.
1983 was also the year Australia won the America's Cup, a boat race for 12-metre yachts that the New York Yacht Club had won for 142 years. That boat was Alan Bond's Australia II representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club who upset the longest winning streak in modern sports history.
Australia celebrated the 200th year since Captain Arthur Phillip's first fleet arrived in Sydney in 1988.
In 1993 Sydney won the right to host the Summer Olympic Games for the year 2000. The Games were universally applauded by Juan Antonio Samaranch as the best ever. It was simply a fantastic time to be in Sydney.Hero Image '06 potter's sanctuary' - By Looking Glass