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Australian History

The written history of Australia began when Dutch explorers first sighted the country in the 17th century. The interpretation of the history of Australia is currently a matter of some contention, particularly regarding the British settlement and early treatment of Indigenous Australians.

European exploration

Records show that the discovery of Australian continent by European expeditions date back to the early 17th century. The first known sighting was in 1606 by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who in his ship Duyfken navigated the Gulf of Carpentaria, sighting and making landfall on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula. In 1616, another Dutchman Dirk Hartog left a pewter plate commemorating his landfall at Shark Bay in Western Australia. Some writers have argued that Portuguese navigators discovered Australia in the 16th century, but there is no firm evidence to support this theory. Other 17th century European voyagers (predominantly Dutch, but also French and English) were to follow suit, and by the start of the 18th century all but the eastern coastlines of what had become known as "New Holland" had been charted. No attempts to establish settlements were made, however.

The expedition of the Endeavour under command of British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. Cook continued northwards and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on 22 August 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook was a British explorer and his discoveries would lead to the British settlement of Australia, he is often popularly considered its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by many—and by Janszoon in particular—more than 160 years prior.

The favourable reports of these lands relayed by Cook's expedition upon their return to England generated interest in its offered solution to the problem of penal overcrowding in Britain, which had been exacerbated by the loss of its American colonies. Accordingly, on 13 May 1787, the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth, England, bound for Botany Bay.

British settlement and colonization

Map showing the creation of the colonies/states and mainland territories.The British Crown Colony of New South Wales ended with the establishment of a settlement at Sydney Cove by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date later became Australia's national day, Australia Day. These land masses included the current islands of New Zealand, which was administered as part of New South Wales. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825.

Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1840, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1863 as part of the Province of South Australia.

In 1879, the Swan River Colony was declared by Charles Swan for Britain, which later became Western Australia, with Albany coming under the authority of the governor at Perth. Western Australia was founded as a free colony but later accepted transported convicts because of an acute labour shortage. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868.

Colonial self-government and the discovery of gold

The discovery of gold in remote areas was followed by tradesmen.A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Stockade rebellion in 1854 was an early expression of nationalist sentiment; the flag that was used to represent it has been seriously considered by some as an alternative to the Australian flag. The gold rushes brought many immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, North America and China.

Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping.

The gold led to a period of great prosperity, but eventually the economic expansion came to an end, and the 1890s were a period of economic depression.

Federation and the World Wars

The opening of the Parliament of Australia in 1901. On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a Dominion of the British Empire.

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was formed from New South Wales in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (Melbourne was the capital from 1901 to 1927). The FCT was renamed to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 1938. The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911.

From 1 February 1927 until 12 June 1931, the Northern Territory was divided up as North Australia and Central Australia at latitude 20° S. New South Wales has had one further territory surrendered, namely Jervis Bay Territory comprising 6,677 hectares, in 1915. The external territories were added: Norfolk Island (1914); Ashmore Island, Cartier Islands, and the Australian Antarctic Territory transferred from Britain (1933); Heard Island, McDonald Islands, and Macquarie Island transferred to Australia from Britain (1947).

The Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and Britain, but Australia did not adopt the statute until 1942.

The shock of Britain's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector.

Post-war prosperity

Following World War II the Australian government instigated a massive program of European immigration. After narrowly preventing a Japanese invasion and suffering attacks on Australian soil for the first time, it was seen that the country must "populate or perish". Immigration brought traditional migrants from the United Kingdom along with, for the first time, large numbers of southern and central Europeans. A booming Australian economy stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe, and newly-arrived migrants found employment in government assisted programs such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Two million immigrants arrived between 1948 and 1975. Robert Menzies' newly-founded Liberal Party of Australia dominated much of the immediate post war era, defeating the Australian Labor Party government of Ben Chifley in 1949. Menzies oversaw the post-war expansion and became the country's longest-serving leader. Manufacturing industry, previously playing a minor part in an economy dominated by primary production, greatly expanded. Since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy from Asia and other parts of the world, Australia's demography, culture and image of itself has been radically transformed. However, despite the abolition of the policy, instances of racism continue.

The ANZUS defence treaty was signed in 1951 with the United States and New Zealand, and Australia committed troops to the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency. Melbourne hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics and joint British-Australia nuclear tests and rocket launches began near Woomera, South Australia. The population reached 10 million in 1959.

Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the U.S. under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. The final constitutional ties between Australia and Britain ended in 1986 with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council. Australia remains a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II the Queen of Australia; the 1999 referendum to establish a republic was marginally rejected. Australia's formal links to its British past are increasingly tenuous, although people-to-people and cultural connections between Australia and Britain remain significant. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the nation's future as a part of the so-called "Asia-Pacific" region.

Territories transferred in this period were: Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Coral Sea Islands Territory was established as a Territory of the Commonwealth under the Coral Sea Islands Act 1969. In 1989 when the Australian Capital Territory achieved self government, Jervis Bay became a separate territory administered by the Ministry of Territories.

Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians are the first human inhabitants of the Australian continent and its nearby islands.

A wave of massacres and resistance followed the frontier of European settlement. In 1838, twenty-eight Indigenous people were killed at the Myall Creek massacre. The convict settlers responsible for the massacres were hanged. The Kalkadoon of Queensland resisted the settlers, and there was a massacre of over 200 people on their land at Battle Mountain in 1884. There was a massacre at Coniston in the Northern Territory in 1928. Poisoning of food and water had been recorded as early as the 1830s.

The removal of children, which the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission argue constituted attempted genocide, had a major impact on the Indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by Keith Windschuttle as being exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons. This debate is part of what is known within Australia as the History Wars.

Indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections in Australia in November 1962, and in state elections shortly after, with the last state to do this being Queensland in 1965. The 1967 federal referendum allowed the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people, and for Aboriginal people to be included when the country does a count to determine electoral representation. The referendum passed with a 90.2% majority, the largest affirmative vote in the history of Australia's referendums.

21 November 2006. Sir Tomas Jackson an Aboriginal man from Victoria sues Coon cheese company for racial slur.

On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the Aborigines of the stolen generation.