The Aborigines first arrived in Australia from somewhere in Asia at least 40,000 years ago, and probably up to 60,000 years ago. They had occupied most of the continent by 30,000 years ago, including the south-western and south-eastern corners. Tasmania at this point was still part of the mainland; it was only separated by rising sea levels some 16,500 to 22,000 years later. Their successful adaptation to a wide range of environments had enabled the population to grow to between 300,000 and 1 million by the time of the first European settlement. Macassan traders from what is now Indonesia are thought to have been visiting Arnhem Land well before the 17th century to harvest sea cucumbers for export to China. There were also contacts with New Guinea, and Chinese, Malaysian, and Arab sea captains may also have landed in northern Australia after the 15th century. Australia remained unexplored by the West, however, until the 17th century.
Early European Exploration
Although Australia was not known to the Western world, it did exist in late medieval European logic and
mythology: a "Great Southern Land", or Terra Australis, was thought necessary to balance the weight of the northern landmasses of Europe and Asia. Terra Australis often appeared on early European maps as a large, globe-shaped mass in about its correct location, although no actual discoveries were recorded by Europeans until much later. Indeed, the European exploration of Australia took more than three centuries to complete; thus, what is often considered the oldest continent, geologically, was the last to be discovered and colonized by Europeans.
Portuguese and Spanish Sailings
In the 15th century Portugal’s systematic drive southwards along the west coast of Africa, seeking a trade route to India, rekindled European interest in finding Terra Australis. Portugal itself, however, soon successful in Indian and also East African trading, lost interest in moving any farther to the east and south. Australia remained undiscovered by Europeans for other reasons as well. One was that it was located off the Oceanic-island trading corridor of the Indian and South Pacific oceans. In addition, the winds in the southern hemisphere tend to veer northwards in the direction of the equator west of Australia, whereas east of the continent the strong head winds discourage sailing into them.
In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Spain, having established its empire in South and Central America, began a series of expeditions from Peru into the South Pacific. Encouraged by the discovery of the Solomon Islands (north-east of Australia) by Álvaro de Mendaña de Neyra in 1567, Spanish New World officials launched expeditions in 1595 and 1605 in hopes of finding gold for the Spanish Empire and Terra Australis for the Roman Catholic Church. After the failure of these voyages to find either precious minerals or significant new landmasses, Spain abandoned its interest and no new expeditions were mounted.
Portugal’s involvement in India, and Spain’s discouragement, allowed the rising power of the Netherlands to establish a string of trading centres from the Cape of Good Hope to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in the 17th century. The Dutch, stationed chiefly in the Indonesian ports of Bantam and Batavia (Jakarta), quickly made Europe’s discovery of Australia a reality. Helped by better sailing ships, they were able to overcome the challenges in the southern Pacific. At the beginning of 1606 Willem Jansz sailed into Torres Strait, between the Australian mainland and New Guinea, and sighted, and named, part of the Australian coast—Cape Keer-Weer, on the western side of Cape York Peninsula. The strait was later named after the last of the Spanish explorers, Luis Vaez de Torres, who sailed into the same area a few weeks later and determined that New Guinea was an island but who almost certainly did not sight Australia.
Bottle Nosed Dolphins at Shark bay.
Encouraged by Jansz’s voyages, Dutch governors-general at Batavia commissioned expeditions into the southern oceans. In October 1616, the Eendracht, commanded by Dirk Hartog, became the first ship to land Europeans on Australian soil, at Shark Bay, Western Australia, where they left a memorial. Between 1626 and 1627, Peter Nuyts explored some 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of the southern Australian coast. Other Dutchmen added information about the north and west coasts, but the most important work was done by Abel Janszoon Tasman. In 1642, after having made a great circuit of the seas, he sailed into the waters of southern Australia, sighting the west coast of the island now known as Tasmania, but which he named Van Dieman’s Land, after the governor of the Dutch East Indies who had commissioned the expedition. Tasman then sailed farther east and north to explore New Zealand. He led a second expedition in 1644 to the north coast. Despite their increasing knowledge of the continent, which they called New Holland, the Dutch did not follow up their oceanic discoveries with formal occupation; in their contacts, they found little of value for European trade. Thus, the way was open for the later arrival of the English.
British Expeditions and Claims
At first England’s involvement in Australia appeared likely to go the way of the Spanish and Dutch. In 1688, the English buccaneer, William Dampier, landed in the north-west. When he returned to England, he published a book, Voyages, and persuaded the naval authorities to back a return trip, to search for the continent’s supposed wealth. His second expedition—along 1,610 km (1,000 mi) of the western coast in 1699-1700 — resulted in the most detailed report on the continent yet, but couched in such dismal terms, criticizing both the land and its people, that English (after 1703 British) interest in further exploration of Australia was suspended for almost 70 years.
The 18th century in Western Europe ushered in the Age of Reason, when philosophers and scientists stressed the value of global discovery, of learning more about the earth and in collecting unusual flora and fauna from around the globe. There was also a resurgence, after the middle of the century, in the commercial potential of the southern seas and Terra Australis. These trends fitted well with Britain’s growing commercial and maritime power.
In 1768, supported by the British Admiralty, Captain James Cook left England on the first of his three voyages of exploration. The three-year expedition to the Pacific also took him to Australia. In 1770 Cook landed at Botany Bay on the eastern coast and at Possession Island in the north where, on August 23, he claimed the region for Great Britain and named it New South Wales. It was he and his staff, including the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, who later supported settlement in Australia. Cook’s two additional voyages in the 1770s added information on the Australian landmass and cemented British claims to the continent.
France’s interest in Australia was less sustained than that of Great Britain. Marion Dufresne, on his 1772 voyage, concentrated upon charting and describing the less hospitable western coast of Tasmania, and later French explorers investigated Australia’s southern coast. By then, however, the British had planted their first settlement and had claimed the eastern half of the continent.
Even with sustained British efforts, Australia’s coasts were not fully explored until the 19th century. Matthew Flinders, a naval officer, was the first to circumnavigate the continent from 1801 to 1803. He charted most of the coastline, proving conclusively that Australia was a single landmass. Earlier, in 1798, Flinders had made the first circumnavigation of Tasmania, with naval surgeon George Bass, proving it was an island. It was also Flinders who urged that Australia, and not New Holland, should be the continent’s name; this change received official backing after 1817. Although the coast was now largely charted, it was not until the 1870s that Australia’s major interior features were known to the Europeans.
Australia was usually portrayed as a remote and unattractive land for European settlement, but for Great Britain it had strategic and, after the loss of the American colonies (1783), socio-economic value. Control of the continent would provide a base for British naval and merchant power in the eastern seas, supporting Great Britain’s growing commercial interests in the Pacific and east Asia. It also offered a solution to the problem of overcrowded domestic prisons. Food shortages, a harsh penal code, and the social upheaval caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization had led to a sharp rise in crime and the prison population. Great Britain’s defeat in the American War of Independence meant that it could no longer relieve the pressure on prisons by shipping convicts to America.
In 1786 the British government announced its intention to establish a penal settlement at Botany Bay, on the south-east coast of New South Wales. Mindful of British economic interests and keen as always to save public expenditure, the government planned that Botany Bay would become a self-financing colony through the development of its economy by convict labour. Captain Arthur Phillip of the Royal Navy was made commander of the expedition. He was to take possession of the whole of Australia, including Tasmania and islands off the east coast, east of the 135th meridian, and given near absolute powers over the territory as governor.
On May 13, 1787, Phillip set sail from Portsmouth, England, with the First Fleet. The 11 ships carried 759 convicts (568 men and 191 women); 13 children belonging to the convicts; 211 marines and officers to guard the convicts; 46 wives and children of naval personnel; and Phillip’s administrative staff of 9. Phillip arrived at Botany Bay on January 18, 1788. Finding the bay a poor choice, he moved north to Port Jackson, which had been marked but not explored by Cook and which Phillip discovered to be one of the world’s best natural harbours. Here, on January 26 (now commemorated as Australia Day), he began the first permanent European settlement in Australia. The settlement, deep within Port Jackson, was named Sydney after Britain’s home secretary, Lord Sydney, who was responsible for the colonization plans. Phillip’s domain covered half of Australia but the human resources at his disposal were limited. In particular, he lacked the horticulturalists, skilled carpenters, and engineers needed to develop a self-supporting colony. Adding to Phillip’s problems, the soils around the new settlement were mediocre, pests and diseases were abundant, and the Aborigines were often hostile. Only the arrival of a second fleet, in 1790, saved the fledgling colony from swift collapse. Phillip’s major concern, until his departure in 1792, was maintaining control, virtually single-handedly, over the small penal settlement. His solution, strongly influenced by his naval background, was to impose an authoritarian structure that persisted through the early years of colonization.
Three major problems confronted Phillip and other early governors: providing a sufficient supply of food, developing an internal economic system, and producing exports to pay for the colony’s imports from Great Britain. The sandy soils around Sydney were unsuitable for farming, and the colony faced perpetual food shortages throughout the 1790s. Phillip established farms on the more fertile banks of the River Hawkesbury, a few miles north-west of Sydney. The land here was often flooded and also used by the Aborigines. This exacerbated hostility between the two sides; the lack of cooperation with the Aborigines also meant that the colonists were unable to discover any indigenous food sources beyond fish and kangaroo. Food supplies, as a result, came mainly from Norfolk Island, nearly 1,600 km (1,000 mi) away, which Phillip had occupied in February 1788. The island served as a jail for convicts who broke the colony’s laws after 1825; after 1856 it became a home for descendants of the Bounty mutineers, who by then had become too numerous for Pitcairn Island.
The New South Wales Corps
In 1792 the Royal Marines were replaced with the New South Wales Corps, which had been specifically recruited in Great Britain. Given grants of land, members of the corps became the colony’s best and largest farmers, but they also posed a threat to the authority of the governor by their dominance of the economy. With a sharp eye for enhancing their income, the corps members specialized in controlling the price of rum (here used in the genuine sense of any type of liquor), which served as the colony’s main internal means of exchange.
Captain John Hunter, Phillip’s successor as Governor, who arrived in 1795, tried in vain to gain control of the rum trade. The next Governor, Captain Philip G. King, who served from 1800 to 1806, was no more successful. Both governors also had to house additional arrivals, and in 1804 King had to use the corps to put down a rebellion by Irish convicts.
In 1806 Captain William Bligh, the former commander of the ill-fated Bounty, replaced King. Bligh threatened the corps with the loss of their monopoly. The result was the so-called Rum Rebellion, of January 26, 1808, when officers of the corps deposed Bligh. Recalled to London, Bligh successfully defended his policies, but was not restored to the governorship. The Rum Rebellion, however, also proved a shortlived victory for the corps, which was recalled by the Imperial government. Meanwhile, one of its ringleaders, John Macarthur, had found the solution to the colony’s lack of valuable exports: in 1802 he had shown British manufacturers samples of Australian wool. It was only after 1810, however, with the breeding of the merino sheep, with its staple wool, that sheep-grazing gradually developed into a major economic activity.
Bligh’s replacement, Lachlan Macquarie, served as Governor from 1809 until 1821. The most talented governor since Phillip, he also became the most powerful. The recall of the New South Wales Corps, combined with improvements in the economy, gave the government greater stability. Macquarie began an extensive public works programme, employing the ex-convict and architect Francis Howard Greenway to design churches, hospitals, and government buildings in Sydney. The population of the colony also increased after Britain’s defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The arrival of more free settlers brought more claims to farmland on which the increasing number of convicts could serve as labourers.
This was, however, also a time of growing tensions within New South Wales. As convicts completed their sentences or were eligible for release due to good behaviour, they wanted land and opportunities. They were known as the emancipists, and their leaders urged that they be given more rights. The free settlers, like former corps members, now farmers, maintained that convicts, even after their release, should not be treated as equals. They were known as the exclusives. Macquarie, as had Bligh, tended to support the emancipists, granting them land and appointing them to minor offices. The exclusives, therefore, became critical of both Macquarie and the emancipists.
Macquarie’s government was expensive, and most of the burden had to be carried by the British Treasury. Overseas punishment, however, did not appear to have reduced the number of convicts, and many wondered if New South Wales was the proper solution to Britain’s crime problems. There was also concern within the British government about Macquarie’s pro-emancipist policies. In 1819, the British Colonial Office sent Judge John Thomas Bigge to inspect and report on Macquarie’s administration. He recommended cuts in government spending but assumed that New South Wales should continue as a convict settlement. He also, however, recognized the colony’s growing importance to the British Empire as a home for free settlers, and he popularized the name Australia for the southern continent. Bigge’s enquiry led to official support for the migration of wealthier settlers, who were given large land grants. It also resulted in a major change in the constitution of New South Wales. By an 1823 act of Parliament the governor’s autocratic powers were reduced with the appointment of a nominated legislative council.
In 1825, by an executive order of the British government, the island settlement of Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania) became a separate colony. A penal colony had been established there in 1803 out of fear that France was ready to claim the island and sizable settlement by free migrants quickly followed.Although settlements south and north of Sydney had been attempted in the same period, including the penal outstation at Newcastle (established 1804), only Van Diemen’s Land had become a large permanent settlement by the 1820s. During the 1820s, however, the pace of settlement speeded up. In 1825, the western boundary of British claims was shifted west to the 129th meridian, again to counter fears of French intervention, and a settlement was established in the Bathurst region of the far north. In 1827 Edmund Lockyer began permanent settlement at Albany, Western Australia, and Great Britain laid claim to the whole continent.
Early Australian Society
The convicts—and reaction to them—became the major theme of early Australian history. By the time the British government abolished the transportation of convicts to eastern Australia in the 1850s, more than 150,000 had been sent to New South Wales and Tasmania (see Transportation). Approximately 20 per cent were women, and about 30 per cent were Irish. Drawn predominantly from the urban poor, many had been repeatedly convicted of petty crimes; many of the women had been prostitutes. Most of the convicts were poorly educated; only about half of them could read or write. A minority of the prisoners were from the wealthier classes and were serving sentences for crimes such as forgery; these convicts were often able to use their training in business and in government offices. In general, however, because they were unskilled and unaccustomed to the rigours of colonial or prison life, the convicts were a particularly difficult group with which to build a new society.
Until the 1830s, colonial officials endorsed harsh punishments for convicts who committed crimes in the colony. Flogging was a common penalty—up to 200 lashes for crimes of theft. Although most convicts were fed and clothed by the government, many were "assigned" to private employers. Those with cunning and skills might accumulate wealth, and a few became the founders of prominent colonial families.
Although seals were hunted before 1820 along the coast, and especially in the rich waters of Bass Strait, it was wool which connected Australian society with the metropolitan economy. Gregory Blaxland and William Charles Wentworth opened up the route through the Blue Mountains, about 80 to 120 km (50 to 75 mi) west of Sydney, in 1813, initiating the westward settlement of New South Wales. Together with the southerly treks of Andrew Hamilton Hume and William Hovell in 1824, and Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836, Blaxland and Wentworth’s explorations spurred the transfer of flocks and herds to inland pastures. By 1829 an arc of about 241 to 322 km (150-200 mi) around Sydney had been settled, and designated the Nineteen Counties. However, the colonial government had become concerned about the rapid dispersal of the graziers, who were known as squatters because they obtained licences to "squat" on the land they wanted rather than buying it. Fearing loss of control, the government tried to discourage settlement beyond the Nineteen Counties. These efforts failed, in part because of the rising demand for wool from British textile mills.
Like England, the Australian colonies were officially Anglican in religion. The authorities, however, neglected religious instruction, and the Anglican faith was not the religion of the bulk of the population. Roman Catholicism, the faith of the Irish convicts, and Methodism vied with the official religion, but overall the settlers of New South Wales tended to be indifferent to religion.
Education was also neglected by the colonial government; only a few schools were established, primarily for orphans. Wealthier colonists employed private tutors for their children. The colony, however, did develop a lively press, beginning in 1803 with the publication of the Sydney Gazette and the New South Wales Advertiser. The Gazette’s editor, George Howe, also published the first books in Sydney, including a volume of poetry (1819) by Judge Barron Field. Earlier, David Collins, who had been with Phillip, had published in London the first history of Australia, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (2 vols., 1798-1802). Wentworth, who was born in the colony, meanwhile had followed up on his Blue Mountain crossing and published Description of New South Wales in 1817 and a book of verses, Australasia, in 1823. The following year he founded The Australian, a newspaper that campaigned for the emancipists.
Between the late 1820s and the 1880s, Australia underwent rapid changes that laid the foundation for its present society. These included the formation, between 1829 and 1859, of four of the six colonies that eventually became the states of Australia, the expansion of sheep- and cattle-raising into the interior, and the discovery of gold and other minerals.
The first European explorers of the interior played an important role in Australia’s early economic history, and an even more important one in the formation of the national psyche. It was their exploits, rather than those of the sailors who had mapped the continent’s coasts and first made it known to the wider world, which caught the Australian imagination. In the process, they laid down a rich deposit of myth and legend which has stimulated successive generations of Australian poets, painters, and writers.
The pioneering work of Blaxland and Wentworth across the Blue Mountains was followed up by George William Evans, who retraced their route to Bathurst (founded 1815). In the 1820s, John Oxley further mapped the inland plains and rivers, especially the Lachlan and Macquarie. Oxley also explored the southern coasts of the future Queensland; in 1827 Alan Cunningham pioneered European exploration of the interior of that state. Possibly the most famous of this group of explorers was Captain Charles Sturt who, in 1828-1830, traced the chief arteries of the Murray-Darling Basin, now the agricultural heartland of Australia. Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell confirmed Sturt’s work, and opened the route from New South Wales to the rich land of western Victoria (1836).
The coastal hinterland of Western Australia was mapped by Sir George Grey (1837-1840) and by Edward John Eyre. Both Eyre (who succeeded in going overland from Adelaide to Albany in 1840), and Sturt failed in their attempts to reach the centre of the continent from Adelaide. John McDouall Stuart was successful in 1860, and went on (1862) to reach Darwin overland. The most famous of the immigrant explorers of the central and North-east was Ludwig Leichhardt, who led two successful expeditions (1844; 1846-1847) into the region from Sydney, before disappearing in mysterious circumstances while trying to cross the Darling Downs to Perth. An even more famous tragedy was that of Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills, who perished attempting to return from their mismanaged expedition (1860-1861) to the Gulf of Carpentaria from Melbourne. Exploration of Western Australia during the 1870s created several new Australian explorer-heroes, including John Forrest and Ernest Giles.
In 1827 Captain, later Sir, James Frazier Stirling explored the Swan River on the western coast; two years later, with a group of British investors, he returned as the Governor of the colony of Western Australia. Underfinanced, Stirling’s settlement of free colonists at Perth stagnated. In 1850 the colony requested convicts to increase its labour supply and received about 10,000 before transportation to Western Australia was ended in 1868. Only with the discovery of gold in the 1890s, however, were the fortunes of Western Australia reversed.
South Australia, with its capital of Adelaide, was established in July 1837. Proposals to establish the colony were inspired by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the English social reformer, and supported by the British liberal intelligentsia and dissenting religious groups. Wakefield wanted to create new colonies reflecting British socio-economic cultural values. By selling land rather than giving it away, as had previously been the case in Australia, Wakefield believed that the colonists would be forced to maximize its value by cultivation. The proceeds of land sales would be used to sponsor the immigration of labourers, who would have to contribute to the development of the colony by working for the colonial farmers before becoming land owners themselves. By controlling land prices, he assumed he could regulate colonial expansion. The new colony, after much initial hardship, eventually succeeded as a society of small grain farmers, with a distinct ethos based on its founders’ emphasis on family migration, religious equality, and free markets in land and labour.
Growth of Sheep-Grazing
Australia’s soils, low rainfall, and recurrent droughts were better suited, however, for large-scale grazing than for arable farming, and the most successful and dramatic transformation of the Australian continent occurred in the 1830s and 1840s, as squatters established huge sheep runs. Paying only £10 a year for a licence, squatters could claim virtually as much land as they wanted.
The expansion of sheep grazing resulted in the colonization of the Port Phillip district of southern New South Wales after the mid-1830s. The settlement of Melbourne began in 1835, and the town flourished immediately. During the 1840s there were growing demands from the colonists for separation from New South Wales. This was granted in 1851, when the Port Phillip district became the colony of Victoria, with its capital at Melbourne. To the north, beginning with the Moreton Bay district, colonization was slower. However, graziers gradually established the outlines of Australia’s sixth colony, Queensland, with its capital at Brisbane. Queensland was separated from New South Wales in 1859.
Between 1830 and 1850 the value of wool exports increased from £2 million to £41 million. With new immigrants and the growth of the capital cities, each of which served as the major port for its region, the Australian colonies began to agitate for more control over their governmental systems.
Development of Political Institutions
The transfer of more authority to the Australian colonies was helped by Great Britain’s adoption of free trade in the late 1840s. Free trade, which meant that Britain would buy from the lowest priced supplier and sell in the most profitable market, eliminated—at least in principle—the need for colonies. Thus, in 1850, without having to unite into a common front, the eastern colonies received new constitutions giving them responsible self-government. Victoria, South Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land (which changed its name to Tasmania in 1854) were given legislative councils, with two-thirds of the membership to be elected. New South Wales had been granted the same provision in 1842.
By the mid-1850s each of the eastern colonies refashioned its governmental system and gained control over its land policy; the land grant system had already been ended in Australia in 1831, replaced by sale. The new systems vested power in a cabinet or council of ministers responsible to the lower house of the bicameral legislature. The lower house was popularly elected; by 1860 in all the eastern states, except Tasmania, elections were based on a nearly universal adult male franchise. Combined with voting by ballot (instead of by the raising of hands) and other innovations, these changes made the new governments extremely democratic for their time. The new constitutions reflected the interests of the rapidly expanding urban populations, who wanted to reduce the political power of the graziers; the latter, however, still managed, during the 1850s and 1860s, to gain more security in their landholdings.
Gold Rush and Consequences
The gold rush of the 1850s sped up the development of these young social and political systems. In April 1851, Edward Hargraves found gold at Summer Hill Creek in east-central New South Wales. With the recent experience of the California gold rush in mind, others joined in the rush, which quickly became centred in Victoria at Mount Alexander, Ballarat, and Bendigo. Gold was later found elsewhere in New South Wales and Queensland. In the following ten years, Australia exported more than £124 million-worth of gold alone. By 1861 the settler population had reached almost 1.2 million, a threefold increase over the 1850 population of 400,000. Britons, Americans, and Canadians joined the immigrants to the eastern colonies. In Victoria, the miners quickly became irritated with the high cost of mining licences and restrictions on their right to search for gold. Before the fees were reduced, a small band of miners staged an uprising at the Eureka stockade at Ballarat in December 1854.
Both miners and colonists responded with alarm, however, to the influx of Chinese immigrants, also attracted by gold. In 1856 Victoria restricted the entry of Chinese. Eventually, the exclusion of all but European settlers gave the colonies a "White Australia" policy that was defended vigorously whenever there appeared to be new threats to the jobs or culture of white Australians. For a time it seemed that Queensland, which began to import Polynesian labourers for sugar cane plantations in the 1860s, might remain at odds with the other colonies, but it eventually conformed; the plantations were replaced by small-scale sugar farms run by whites. The white tralia policy, proving popular across the country, was taken up and elaborated into a national policy by the new Federal government after 1901.
In the 1860s the gold fields began to decline. Although wool exports kept the colonies fairly prosperous, colonial debate soon centred on the role of government in the economy. In particular, railway construction, due to the high cost and the absence of internal market centres, became a government activity; between 1875 and 1891 the length of railways rose from 2,575 km (1,600 mi) to more than 16,100 km (10,000 mi). In 1866 Victoria, followed by South Australia and Tasmania, imposed high tariffs on imported goods in order to protect its own small industries and markets. New South Wales (and Queensland to a lesser extent) continued to stay with a free-trade policy.
Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the arguments over free trade versus protection divided the press, the political parties, and the colonies. This, together with the continuing jealousies among them, hindered any significant attempts at cooperation and possible union among the six colonies until the 1890s.
Treatment of the Aborigines
Phillip’s 1788 settlement marked the start of regular contact between Europeans and the Aborigines. Although many Aborigines used the land around Sydney as their campsites and hunting domains, only a few major confrontations took place between the colonists and the indigenous population in the first decade of white settlement. With the settling of Van Diemen’s Land, however, Aboriginal communities began to be destroyed on a large scale. Unable to overcome colonial weapons, and despite the official British policy of protection, the 5,000 Aborigines of the island were quickly reduced to a mere handful. On the mainland, where the graziers sought lands for their sheep runs, the Aboriginal communities were forced to retreat into the drier interior.
In principle, the official colonial policy throughout the 19th century was to treat the Aborigines as equals, with the intention of eventually converting them to Christianity and European civilization. Governor Macquarie established a school for Aboriginal children. Such acts, however, poorly supported in practice and always underfinanced, were the exception. In fact, moving from a policy of protection to one of punishment was typical of the early colonial government. The culture clash was particularly severe on the frontier, as, during the 1830s and 1840s, the pastoral frontier pushed inland. Some Aborigines were employed on sheep stations, and others were used for police patrols, but general attitudes towards Aborigines as a whole are reflected in the fact that they were brutally hunted and poisoned by settlers. Aboriginal women were abducted and raped and children were separated from their parents. Although there were individual exceptions, Australian colonists in the 19th century generally assumed that Aboriginal culture would die out. On the local and colonial levels, the active destruction or neglect of Aboriginal culture was often accompanied by segregational practices that herded the indigenous population on to reserves and excluded them from colonial life.
Forced to survive on ever scantier supplies of food, the Aborigines were steadily reduced in number. By the 20th century sizable communities of Aborigines able to practise traditional lifestyles were confined primarily to the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales. Not until the 1950s did the Aboriginal population begin to inch back to its pre-European level and the government begin to review and correct past treatment.
Society and Culture in the 19th Century
The rapid increase in Australia’s population between 1830 and 1860 contributed to the growth of the six capital cities. Unable to support dense settlement of their interiors, the colonies became increasingly urbanized around the initial points of colonization on the coastal plain. With the decline of gold-mining in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1860s, even the prospectors drifted to the cities. By the end of the century, Sydney and Melbourne were among the world’s largest cities, even though Australia as a whole still had a small population.
Each capital served as the major port for its respective colony. Perceiving others as rivals, each city—and colony—tended to emphasize its own identity. Contacts among individual colonies were secondary to their ties with Great Britain, and rivalry was common; Victoria and New South Wales, for example, each used a different gauge for their railways.
All the colonies, however, shared a culture that was heavily influenced by the capital cities. In the 1850s it was merchants and professionals who agitated for political reform and the making of new constitutions. Small urban manufacturers and the growth of mass trade unionism after the mid-century aided in the formation of cabinet governments and the passage of legislation favourable to the urban populations; Victoria’s workers pioneered the eight-hour day in 1856. Following the lead of New South Wales, the colonial political systems tended to keep the large grazier estate owners and other wealthy families from controlling colonial life. Wool and continuing mineral discoveries nevertheless provided the economic base on which this way of life was based.
Enjoying mid-century prosperity, Sydney and Melbourne set the pace in cultural activities. Each founded a university and initiated the construction of museums and art galleries; wealthy families built large houses. Sport, especially cricket and football, complemented the activities of clubs and societies. Joined by Adelaide, with its even stronger streak of British liberalism, the three cities succeeded in establishing free, compulsory, and secular primary educational systems by the 1860s. Each city also had several major newspapers that championed its colony’s uniqueness.
Despite intense loyalty to Great Britain, the colonists soon began to romanticize their frontier images of sheep shearer, farmhand, and miner. The image was that of an individual struggling against authority as well as the environment. By the 1880s and 1890s folktales and ballads were a major part of Australia’s popular culture. Even earlier, the vibrant slang of Australia had come into being, transforming the language of the settlers into a distinctive variant of English.
Although British authors remained far more popular than Australian writers, colonial contributions to the arts kept pace with the increasing economic and social development of the six colonies. Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859), was considered at the time to be the first Australian novel. However, Catherine Helen Spence, author of Clara Morison (1854), like Marcus Clarke, author of For the Term of His Natural Life (1874), produced a distinctive novel that dealt with local themes. See Also Australian Literature.
Australia had a special fascination for 19th-century scientists. Botanists like Ferdinand von Mueller, who was based at Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens towards the end of the century, as well as zoologists, anthropologists, and geologists found ample material there for their research.
Movement Towards Federation
Federation of the Australian colonies came late and without the display of nationalism that characterized similar movements elsewhere. The idea of unification appeared as early as 1847 in proposals by Earl Grey, then Great Britain’s Colonial Secretary. In the 1850s John Dunmore Lang, a Scottish Presbyterian cleric in New South Wales, formed the Australian League to campaign for a united Australia. Conferences among the colonial governments in the 1860s also considered closer cooperation and unification. With the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, British officials began to expect a similar effort among Australians. No plan, however, received serious attention, due to the intense rivalries among colonial societies.
Australian fears of incursion from the north by Europeans (as distinct from Britons) and Asians, first triggered during the 1850s by the Crimean War, provided the spur for the first practical step towards unification in the 1880s. In 1883 Queensland, anticipating German moves, claimed Papua on New Guinea but, unable to support this claim, had to urge Great Britain to rule the territory and to claim other islands. Concerned to improve their defence and that they might not be able to direct British policy in their interests, and also aware of the emergence of new powers in Europe, the Australian colonies created a Federal Council in 1885. However, the refusal of New South Wales to participate meant that the council was little more than a debating forum with no executive powers.
Other developments during the 1880s, however, served to reinforce the idea of unification within the wider population. Debate over the white Australia policy demonstrated the need for uniform immigration rules. A large increase in trade union membership, especially among sheep shearers and miners, encouraged the development of centralized unions, extending across colonial boundaries. Unstable economic conditions and outright depression by 1892 reinforced this idea, and contributed to the development of labour parties which could defend worker interests. It was evident to the supporters of the labour parties, which quickly gained electoral success, that unification would permit the standardization of labour laws.
New South Wales began the movement to replace the Federal Council in 1889, when its premier, Sir Henry Parkes, announced that the colony would support a new form of federalism. A conference in Sydney in 1891 laid the basis for a constitutional convention which did not, however, meet until 1897-1898. Further disputes followed, but eventually referenda in all six colonies approved the plans for federation. The Commonwealth of Australia was accordingly approved by the British Parliament in 1900 and became a reality on January 1, 1901.
The federal constitution reflected both British and American practices—that is, parliamentary government, with cabinets responsible to a bicameral legislature, was established, but only specifically delegated powers were given to the federal government. The new House of Representatives, like the British House of Commons, was based on popular representation, but the new Senate, like its American counterpart, preserved the representation of the colonies, which now became states. As neither Sydney nor Melbourne was an acceptable federal capital, in 1911 the Australian Capital Territory was established for a new capital, Canberra—again based on the American model of Washington, D.C.
Central to the history of Australia in the 20th century has been the development of both a national government and a national culture. Commonwealth governments, led by such architects of federation as Alfred Deakin, quickly established a protective tariff on imports to foster internal development, designed procedures for setting minimum wages in industry, and preserved the white immigration policy. Nevertheless, Australians tended to retain their old colonial identities, and the political parties at the national level tended to be loosely defined.
Identity Forged by War
World War I, much more than federation itself, began the transformation of Australia from six federated former colonies to a united state aware of its new identity. Responding to the allied call for troops, Australia sent more than 330,000 volunteers, who took part in some of the bloodiest battles. More than 60,000 died and 165,000 were wounded. This casualty rate was higher than that of most other participants, and Australia became increasingly conscious of its contribution to the war effort. At Gallipoli, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) tried in vain to launch a drive on the Turkish forces in the Dardanelles. The date of the fateful landing, April 25, 1915, became equated with Australia’s coming of age, and as Anzac Day it has remained the country’s most significant day of public homage.
In 1915 William Morris Hughes, popularly known as Billy, became Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party. Representing Australia at councils in London, Hughes personified Australian energies. When he failed to carry the electorate in two attempts to supplement volunteers with conscripted men, the parliamentary Labor Party passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Hughes remained in power by forming a "national" Government, much to the annoyance of his former Labor colleagues. He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, acquiring German New Guinea as a mandated territory and establishing Australia’s right to enter the League of Nations. The powers designated to the federal government in the constitution proved sufficient to allow a strong central government. Economically, World War I largely benefited Australia, and especially the textile, vehicle, and iron and steel industries. Australian products like wool, wheat, beef, and mutton found a ready market in Great Britain, at inflated prices.
An internal backlash within the Nationalist Party, which had been formed by Hughes, forced his retirement in 1923. Stanley Melbourne Bruce, leader of the conservative business wing, which had led the revolt, became Prime Minister. The Country Party, founded in 1919 as a patriotic, conservative movement to protect the interests of farmers and graziers, joined the Nationalist coalition, although it kept its own identity. The chief opponent of the coalition was Labor, which had to redefine its social policies. To maintain wartime levels of production and expansion the government sought to build up basic industries, but the depression of the 1930s cut deeply into the health of the Australian economy, increasing public and private debt at a time of massive unemployment.
Recovery from the depression, led from 1929 to 1931 by James H. Scullin and the Labor Party, was extremely uneven. Deflationary economic policies contributed to economic effects that were far more harsh than those felt elsewhere in the world. Disagreement on government policy led to new splits in the Labor Party. The Government disintegrated in 1931, and for the rest of the 1930s the United Australia Party, composed of former members of both the National and Labor parties, held the reins of power, under the leadership of Joseph A. Lyons.
From its first assumption of responsibility over its own foreign affairs, Australia had been guided by its cultural and political ties with Great Britain. Emphasis was therefore placed on following Britain’s leadership in solving the problems of the depression. Chief among these was an attempt to redirect more trade between Britain and the dominions. As early as the 1920s, however, Japan and the United States were among Australia’s best customers for its wool. Against its own interests, but motivated in part by fear, Australia sought to re-establish British trade at the expense of its relations with Japan. In the League of Nations and within the Commonwealth of Nations, Australian governments also tended to support appeasement and other policies in an effort to prevent war with the Fascist powers.
World War II
When war came again to Europe in 1939, Australia dispatched its armed forces to assist in Great Britain’s defence. After the Pacific war between Japan and the United States broke out in 1941 and Great Britain was unable to provide sufficient support for Australia’s defence, the new Labor government of John Joseph Curtin sought alliance with the United States. Until the liberation of the Philippines, US General Douglas MacArthur and his staff used Australia as their base of operations. Although casualties were less heavy than in World War I, Australians were more psychologically affected because of their fears of a Japanese invasion. Again Australian industry was transformed by the needs of war. The economy was redirected towards manufacturing, and heavy industries ringed the capital cities. Post-war development built further on the foundations established during the war.
Curtin died in 1945. The new Labor government under Joseph Benedict Chifley strengthened Australia’s relationship with the United States in the ANZUS pact for mutual assistance; New Zealand was the third partner. As a charter member of the United Nations, Australia also agreed to the decolonization of the islands in the Pacific, including the preparation of Papua New Guinea for independence (achieved in 1975).
Contemporary Australian Culture
Australia’s cultural life in the 20th century can be divided into two distinct periods. From 1901 to World War II, Australians continued to reflect the basic tenets of their British origins. Cultural activities were dominated by the city populations within the framework of the old colonial divisions. The siting of the federal government in Melbourne until Canberra was built may have contributed to the preservation of the older orientation. Certainly, few writers and commentators addressed Australia-wide themes or problems.
World War I produced the first form of mass nationalism. Proud of their accomplishments in the war, yet humbled by its horror, Australians commemorated their experiences. The war hero was portrayed in larger-than-life monuments, with features suggestive of the individualism and gangliness of the Australian common man. Wartime literature as well as social organizations de-emphasized old class lines and gave credence to the commonality of all Australians.
Australians expected the 1920s and 1930s to reflect a new nationalism in international affairs; yet they themselves tended to reassert their provincialism both within the League of Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations. World War II therefore administered a shock to Australian culture. Recognizing their immediate dependency on US military support and their need to understand better their own place in the world, Australians in fact launched a cultural revolution.
First to be changed was the ethnicity of Australian culture. Beginning in 1946, thousands of immigrants were transported from eastern and southern Europe to the Australian suburbs. This migration rivalled the earlier transportation of convicts and made the Australian population more cosmopolitan in fact as well as in orientation. The prosperity of the 1950s encouraged new efforts in education. Almost overnight the number of universities in each state tripled, the governments providing free university-level education to all those who were qualified.
In the 1960s, more acknowledgement was made of the rights of Australia’s Aborigines; they were finally granted full citizenship and the right to vote in 1967. They were also included in population statistics for the first time in 1967 as well. However, far greater efforts were still needed to address the profound social, health, educational, and economic inequalities facing Aborigines—efforts that still need to be made.
At the same time Australians began to dissent more vigorously from the assumptions held by those in political power. Reaction to the Vietnam War was in part responsible, as public outcry over the military draft instituted in 1964 eventually ended conscription eight years later. But a generation gap also seemed to divide the Australians. The qualities of Australian life were re-examined in new periodicals and newspapers, on campuses, and in town halls. Although such soul-searching had waned by the mid-1970s, the experience clearly contributed to the dissolution of older attitudes. Among the larger cultural issues with which Australia grappled in the 1980s and early 1990s was the question of Aboriginal land rights (see earlier). Like other colonial and settler countries,
Australia was challenged to address the land claims of the indigenous inhabitants, which had been disregarded for centuries.
The Menzies Era
In 1949 Robert Menzies became Prime Minister,ushering in a long era of political stability. During the war, the old United Australian Party had disintegrated. In its stead arose the Liberal Party, which attracted those who opposed Labor’s internal policies. Menzies, prime minister until 1966, gave Australia centralized and personal leadership. He stressed the sentimental linkage with the British Crown but took a more active interest than his predecessors in Pacific and south Asian affairs. Under the Colombo Plan, Asians began to study in Australian institutions. By 1966 the White Australia policy was moribund and it was formally discarded in 1973. The entry of immigrants has since been based on criteria other than race.
Notwithstanding Menzies’ sentimental attachment to Great Britain, Australia’s alliance with the United States continued to grow closer, and it followed the US lead in foreign policy, fighting in the Korean War, participating in the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) from 1954 until its dissolution in 1977, and fighting in the Vietnam War as an ally of the United States. At the same time, Australia’s domestic and foreign policies were adjusted to recognize its growing ties with Japan.
Time of Uncertainties
From 1966 until 1972, the Liberal Party, with the assistance of the Country Party, provided several prime ministers who sought to extend the Menzies era. However, in 1972, uniting after years of internal disputes, the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam again came to power. Whitlam’s plans for increased social services, however, were in conflict with both the traditional rights of the states and declining economic prosperity. The Liberal-Country coalition was returned to power under Malcolm Fraser in 1975 following the controversial dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. He reinstated the domestic and foreign policies followed by the earlier Liberal Party governments and laid the foundation for Aboriginal land right claims, in the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act, for the Northern Territory.
Fraser’s coalition survived the 1980 election with a much-reduced majority. Shaken by defections from Liberal Party ranks and by foreign trade scandals, Fraser suffered a sharp defeat in the elections of March 1983. His Labor successor, Bob Hawke, sought to promote labour-management cooperation and stimulate the economy; his foreign policy was staunchly pro-American. Labor retained its majorities in the elections of December 1984, July 1987, and March 1990. Australia celebrated its bicentennial in 1988. In December 1991, with Australia mired in recession and Hawke’s popularity waning, Labor chose Hawke’s former Treasury Minister, Paul Keating, as party leader and Prime Minister. Pledging to change Australia to a federal republic and underlining the need for reorientation towards Asia, Keating led Labor to victory in the March 1993 election. In 1993 Sydney was selected to host the Olympic Games in the year 2000.