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Australian History and Heritage - In the Beginning

History of Australia
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Australia - History and Heritage - In the Beginning
With evidence going back over 60,000 years, Australia and it's original inhabitants, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples of Australia is said to be the world's oldest surviving people in the world's oldest land.

When the Europeans (the British) landed in Australia, their arrival was to have devastating repercussions on the 'original inhabitants of the land'.1

James Cook made three voyages to the South Pacific between 1768 and 1779, during which time he carried secret instructions to take possession of 'a Continent or Land of great extent' thought to exist in the southern latitudes.2

Among Cook's expedition, was Joseph Banks and his eight man team that included: Dr Solander (a Swedish naturalist); two artists Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan; four servants trained in collecting specimens; and his secretary Herman Sp๖ring, a competent draughtsman who assisted Parkinson after Buchan's death.3

Promoted to Lieutenant James Cook, on his first Pacific voyage he sailed in an ex-collier ship, renamed the HM Bark Endeavour, which began on 27 May 1768. Cook's first goal was to establish an observatory at Tahiti to record the transit of Venus, when that planet passed between the earth and the sun, on 3 June 1769. The second aim of the expedition was to record natural history, led by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.4 The final secret goal was to continue the search for the 'Great South Land'.5

It was on the 19 April, 1770 that Cook's first glimpse of Australia was Point Hicks — which he named after his lieutenant who sited the land — in Gippsland. The date was 19 April 1770.6

Cook's journey took him north, mapping as he went from what is now the state of Victoria. As they travelled north along the coast, they needed to find somewhere to resupply the ship, before setting sail for Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies and then home to England.

When they found a promising looking opening in the cliffs on April 28th, 1770, the Endeavour entered into a bay of "exceptional size" and dropped anchor. It was April 29 that Cook and his crew made their first landfall on the continent, at a place now known as Kurnell in New South Wales.

Originally, Cook bestowed the name Stingaree (Stingray) Bay to the inlet after the many such creatures that were found there. This was later changed to Botanist Bay, then finally Botany Bay after the unique specimens retrieved by the botanists Banks, Solander and Sp๖ring.

Terra Nullius
When the Europeans (the British) landed in Australia, they laid claim to the land as 'terra nullius' - 'empty land' or 'land belonging to nobody'. Their arrival and and the laws that were implemented on both the people and the land, was to last more than 200 years, and to have devastating repercussions on the 'original inhabitants of the land'.

Yet they were not the first to visit Australia, as the Portuguese are believed to be the first Europeans to see Australia in the early 16th century, looking for new routes to the Indies. From 1605 the Dutch were making regular landfalls up and down Australia's west coast, putting together a fragmented image of the coastline. The Dutch ship, the Gulden Zeepaert, skippered by Francois Thijssen, made a significant contribution to mapping the coastline, when the ship traced much of the southern coast along what is now known as the Great Australian Bight. Another explorer of note included Abel Tasman who discovered Tasmania in 1642, naming his discovery as Van Diemen's Land.7

The Original Australians
When the British landed in 1788 there was estimated to be about 500 Aboriginal tribes or nations occupying the continent now called Australia. The 'original Australians', as they are often referred as, were able to live off the land. They were hunters and gatherers, moving seasonally between camps and as demanded by food they gathered. They used fire to burn old growth and encourage new. Being mobile, they had very few possessions, often carrying what they could or just leaving them where they were, only to use them again when they returned. They also had their own complex cultural and religious beliefs, with social laws and taboos, and trading links across the continent.

The first European settlement was the start of a dramatic change across Australia. With the convicts, soldiers and settlers came diseases for which the Aboriginal people had little or no resistance. There was typhoid, flue, smallpox and venereal disease, that killed many, even whole communities were wiped out.

Over the next hundred years, Aboriginal people were forced out of their country, dispossessed of habitable land, shot, poisoned and massacred. Rape and abduction of Aboriginal women and girls were common. Removed from their land, culture and traditional lifestyle, devastated by disease, malnutrition, poverty, alcoholism, violence and despair, it is no surprise that many tribes were wiped from existence.

Whilst conflicts grew, the Aboriginals were eventually overwhelmed by the armed might of the colonial governments. They lived on town fringes and pastoral properties, or were herded onto reserves and missions. If they made the reserves productive agricultural holdings, that land too was taken from them.

Prior to 1900, there was no country called Australia, only the six colonies – New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia. After a series of referendums, there was a majority agreement for Federation. The Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed on 1st January, 1901.7

The Rights to Vote
In 1901, Australia was considered 'white', and in an attempt to keep out the 'coloureds', one of the first pieces of legislation passed in the new Federal Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act, now known as the infamous 'White Australia Policy'. Little consideration was given to the original Australians, the Aboriginal People.

The Aboriginal people were still confined to reserves, required a permit to leave, and the State was guardian of all Aboriginal children, with many being taken by force from their families to be raised (and abused) in institutions. Yet Aboriginal people fought in 2 World Wars, as well as being important in the development of pastoral Australia, yet they continued to be discriminated against in education, health, jobs, pay, buses, cinemas and swimming pools. Rigidly controlled by state laws, they were considered less than citizens and most did not vote.

Whilst Aboriginals had the legal right to vote since the 1850s, except for Queensland and Western Australia who had barred Aborigines from voting, very few Aborigines knew of their rights if they had any. Up until 1967, each state could make their own law covering Aboriginal people. It was the referendum of the 27 May, 1967 that sought among other things to remove two references in the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Aboriginal people. The sections of the Constitution under scrutiny were:

51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:- 
...(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.

127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.

The removal of the words '… other than the aboriginal people in any State…' in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 were considered by many to be representative of the prevailing movement for political change within Indigenous affairs. As a result of the political climate, this referendum saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 90.77 per cent voting for change.

The right to vote - the 1967 referendum did not give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the right to vote. This right had been legislated for Commonwealth elections in 1962, with the last State to provide Indigenous enfranchisement being Queensland in 1965.8, 9

Australia's First Settlement
Between the period 1788 and 1850 the English sent over 162,000 convicts to Australia in 806 ships. The first eleven of these ships are referred to as the 'First Fleet'.

The First Fleet left England on 13th May, 1787 with some 1,350 people. They arrived at Botany Bay, Australia between 18th and 20th January, 1788. However, this area was found to be unsuitable and the settlement moved north to Port Jackson on the 26th January, 1788, landing at a place called Camp Cove.

On the First Fleet, the cargo included a consignment of up to 10,000 bricks and a number of wooden moulds for making bricks, carried by the transport Scarborough. The token consignments was to enable the first settlers to make a start on the colony's first buildings, until the location of a suitable site for making bricks could be found. Such a site would need to have plentiful supply of clay and a ready source of fresh water. Just a mile from the settlement, at the head of a 'Long Cove' thus also named, was found to be a suitable site for making bricks. This site was later named Cockle Creek and later still, near Darling Harbour in Sydney.10


History of Australia Other Links

• History of Australia Related Links

1 ENIAR: History and heritage. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
2 Museum of Australian Democracy: Secret Instructions to Lieutenant Cook 3o July 1768 (UK). Retrieved August 21, 2012.
3 Australian National Maritime Museum: Joseph Banks (PDF). Retrieved August 21, 2012.
4 The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust: Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander - the naturalists. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
5 Project Endeavour - Jon Sanders 'Triple Circumnavigation of the World: Captain James Cook and his Voyages. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
6 Wikibooks - Australian History/Captian Cook: The ship's log recorded the date as being Thursday April 19, 1770; however, Cook had not made the necessary adjustments when they had earlier crossed the 180th meridian of Longitude, and the actual calendar date was Friday, April 20. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
7 Visit Victoria: Aboriginal Victoria - Terra Nullius. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
8 Australian Electoral Commission: Indigenous Australians and the vote. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
9 National Archive s of Australia: The 1967 referendum - Fact sheet 150. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
10 There is conflicting details with the number of bricks that had been brought over on the first fleet, amounts varying between 5,000 up to 10,000. Following are some of the references:

An Archaeology of Australia since 1788 by Susan Lawrence, Peter Davies. p 203. Retrieved August 21, 2012.

Building Construction Practice in the Colony of New South Wales from the Arrival of the First Fleet to the End of the Primitive Era and Its Influence in Later Time by John L Guy (PDF). p 1476. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  Western Australia Museum Welcome Walls: History. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
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