• Solomon Islands!

    Solomon Islands: Looking up at palm trees. Go Now!

    Solomon Islands
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    Tonga: Coastline. Go Now!

    The heart of Polynesian culture is rooted in Tonga, but most visitors just come for the natural beauty. Explore Tonga!

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    Vanuatu: Jetty into the ocean. Go Now!

    Picturesque serenity is a good way to describe Vanuatu, but the culture offers much more, including the inspiration for bungee jumping, which remains a rite of passage for young men. Explore Vanuatu!

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  • Explore the: Federated States of Micronesia!

    Federated States of Micronesia: Overlooking some islands. Go Now!

    Federated States of Micronesia
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History of Australia

The first people who arrived to Australia likely came from the islands to the north, where modern day Indonesia now stands. They arrived at least 40,000 years ago and have since developed a very distinct culture, which continues to exist in numerous ways today.

The aboriginal people lived as hunters and gathers for much of history and they slowly moved around until the bulk of the population settled in the south and east of the island. While most people eventually settled, the people remained fairly mobile as they moved with the local animals and shifted farm lands. They also brought the dingo with them to assist in numerous ways, including in their hunting strategies.

The aboriginals had a fairly complex society integrating religion, art, hunting, farming, and social protocols. Many of these early traditions continue in Australia today as wall paintings are still practiced, the boomerang is a common toy, if not still used as a hunting tool, and other aspects of the aboriginal's dress and lifestyle continue.

By the time the Europeans arrived the aboriginal population became quite diverse as hundreds of languages existed and the people were politically divided (but generally worked with each other). The first of these Europeans came in 1606 with Willem Janszoon of the Netherlands (calling the island "New Holland"). This began a long line of explorers sighting or landing on the continent, although few of these early explorers made a substantial impact. Among the more well-known of these early explorers were Abel Tasman, who arrived in the 1640s, mapped much of the coast, and after whom Tasmania is named. The next famed European to arrive was James Cook, who came in 1770 and recommended that a colony be established.

These early explorers, and the early settlers who arrived after a colony was formed by the British in 1788, left behind diseases that killed much of the aboriginal population. Most of the people who died from these diseases were in the same area the bulk of the population lived at the time, the same location the Europeans were settling, the southeastern coast.

It took longer to establish a colony in Australia than it did in many other countries, including many of those in nearby Southeast Asia. This was partially due to the fact that most European powers found no value in the island of Australia as spices and natural resources were lacking, at least along the explored coasts. However the British did finally create and encourage a colony in the eastern and southern part of the island in 1788 and from this point on Europeans began arriving and their culture and lifestyle slowly replaced most aspects of the indigenous lifestyle.

Initially, the colony was formed because Britain lost the American colonies in the American Revolutionary War. The first thought was to settle Australia with American Loyalists and people from nearby regions, such as the islands in the South Pacific Ocean. However, it was the idea of sending convicts to Australia that really sparked the colony's creation as the prisons in England were overfilled and exile seemed to be an effective means of preventative crimes in England itself.

Many of the British that arrived in the late 1700s and early 1800s arrived as criminals as Australia was established as a penal colony. The idea that these former criminals would become farmers failed on most accounts, but the soils were blamed and soon westward expansion began. Sadly, this push came at the expense of the aboriginal people.

In 1804 aboriginals and Europeans clashed in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) as many aboriginals were killed in the conflict. In 1838 more aboriginals were killed in Myall Creek. During this time, from 1790 to 1816 there were wars in the west between these groups, called the Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars. These were battles for land, resources, and lifestyles as expansion into the unknown territories slowly continued.

From this time on the cultural clash between the two groups escalated. The British government established methods to protect the aboriginals from the British settlers, but they also encouraged missionaries to convert the local population and attempted to "assimilate" the aboriginals into this growing Australian culture. This process helped promote peace, but it also slowly destroyed many aspects of the aboriginal culture.

Despite the changes, the two groups worked together on numerous occasions as aspects of the aboriginal knowledge and culture were integrated into the settling European mindset. The aboriginals acted as guides in the country's wilderness, music and art were given to the ethnic Europeans (although at first they were rarely accepted), and survival techniques were passed on, including hunting techniques, the boomerang, and from both side techniques for raising animals on the land were shared.

Through this process it was the aboriginals that more significantly altered their culture (although they still remained fairly divided from the ethnic Europeans geographically) and by about 1821 the society truly began to reflect that of Britain as only by this time did public utilities, schools, and churches get built. It was also at about this time that free settlers began arriving in significant numbers. South Australia was established in the 1830s as a free colony and with this the free population continued to grow quickly.

Despite the growing ethnic European population, the island remained fairly divided as the interior of Australia wasn't explored by Europeans until the mid-1800s. During this time the aboriginals in the country's interior maintained their historic cultures and lifestyles and a more and more European culture and lifestyle grew along the coasts, most commonly the southeastern, southern, and southwestern coasts.

The mid-1800s were also a time of great change in Australia. Gold was found in 1851 near Victoria, leading to massive immigration to the region from other parts of Australia as well as from other parts of the world. The political scene was also changing as Australia got representative governments in the various territories beginning in 1855 and in 1895 women were allowed to vote and allowed to run for governmental positions.

However, throughout these changes the cultures were still primarily divided as the European population in Australia was one of the most urbanized in the world during these early years. Meanwhile, the aboriginal population continued to govern themselves by local councils and was primarily rural. The two cultures began to further merge in the late 1880s with a changing attitude among the ethnic European population. As much of the population was born in Australia by this point, there was a growing attachment to the land as exploration and curiosity grew. The ethnic Europeans began to seek out a new Australian identity and this identity began by closely connecting to the land.

This curiosity continued to rise due to the famed "bushrangers" of the 1800s. The bushrangers were criminals who made their way into the bush to protect themselves from the police and their stories created an unquenchable curiosity for the land beyond the urban borders. Skills like understanding the bush, knowing the wildlife, survival skills, hunting skills, and others all became important. Arts and literature also flourished and again the people gained much of their inspiration from the natural landscape, the native animals, and the aboriginals. This process formed the basis of Australian identity today, but also forever connected the aboriginal and ethnic European populations.

This time helped educate the ethnic Europeans on aboriginal life as survival and curiosity took the people into the center of the continent intellectually, although few ethnic Europeans actually moved to the interior as they remained physically urbanized. This independent identity movement by the ethnic European population led to independence in 1901 when the Australians passed a bill requesting independence, a bill that was then passed by the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. However, this law didn't give Australia full independence (Australia was considered a "dominion") as the United Kingdom still held many rights over their former colony, including great power over their military and foreign policies.

In 1914 World War I broke out in Europe and Australia immediately volunteered to assist the United Kingdom. Many of these volunteers were sent to Gallipoli, in Turkey. The battle seemed to be one the Australians were guaranteed to lose and over 8,000 Australian soldiers lost their lives. To this day, this battle represents all those lost in wars and remains a pilgrimage sight for Australians. The end of the war also encouraged the Australians to seize control of all German possessions in the South Pacific, including New Guinea, Nauru and other nearby islands.

After the war, the inter-war period was a struggle for Australia as it was for much of the world with the Great Depression and struggling economies worldwide. However, this period was short-lived as World War II (WWII) broke out in the late 1930s and Australia soon found itself in the middle of the eastern war with Japan, again siding with the United Kingdom.

Although Australian soldiers fought on all fronts of WWII, the battles on Australia's immediate periphery made the most impact. The Japanese took over New Guinea, just to Australia's north and by 1942 the Japanese were bombing the city of Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory. Despite the attacks, the Japanese never took any part of mainland Australia and near the same time the Allied forces were in the process of taking back the South Pacific. These battles, which including many near Australia were fought and won island by island by the Allies, eventually making their way to Japan to end the war.

The war changed life in Australia as the cultural landscape was forever altered. Despite having equal rights for women for a number of decades, women went to work more than at any time in the past as industry boomed (primarily due to wartime production). This economic boom continued after the war as many women left the workforce, but women's rights were significantly expanded during this time. With the economic growth came extra spending money as the people began to engage their free time in entertainment. The arts, music, movies, and sports all grew in popularity. More people began to purchase houses and cars during this time as suburban areas expanded.

The 1950s were filled with communist tensions, as they were throughout much of the world. Australia fell squarely with the Americans and British in their anti-communist stance and the country joined in the Korean War in the 1950s and in the 1960s the Vietnamese War. In part to show support for this movement and in part to expand their population. Australia welcomed a large number of immigrants during this time, most noticeably from Eastern European communist countries, but also from some of the Eastern Asian countries. This growth led to a more diverse culture in Australia as new foods, traditions, and languages were imported with these new settlers.

Just as the women's rights movements expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, so too did the aboriginal rights movements. By 1965 all aboriginals had the right to vote and run for office. Finally, in the 1970s all aboriginals were protected by the rights in the constitution and many lands were returned to the aboriginal people, giving them a resurgence in their culture. However the people were still very divided and many modern amenities introduced by the ethnic European population forever changed the aboriginal lifestyle.

The economic and cultural boom continued into the 1970s and 1980s as foreign trade expanded, social programs and utilities were publicized, and domestic entertainment grew. In the 1970s university tuition was abolished and a public health care system was put into place. On the cultural side the arts flourished as the television, movie, and architecture, via the construction industries, rapidly expanded.

The 1980s and 1990s also saw great changes with the fall of communism in countries abroad, a slowing economy, and vast changes in technology and communication. After this economic decline, growth has picked back up and continues today. As an economically prosperous country, the culture and daily life in Australia today is very much as it has been in the recent past. Numerous jobs are available, economic success is feasible, and spending money on wants, such as houses, cars, entertainment, and travel is common.

This page was last updated: February, 2013