Australian history began when the supercontinent Pangea broke apart and what became Australia and New Guinea drifted north 50 million years ago. The two continental shelves Sunda and Sahul, which included Australia and Tasmania, had been always been separated by water, allowing life in those areas to evolve separately, leading to Australia’s unique array of flora and fauna. Many of Australia’s characteristics, such as the lack of rain and thin, mineral rich ground is because of the geological events that happened during the last 50 million years. The climate and geology of Australia has served to become an important part of the Australian identity, the tough living paints a picture of a hardworking and resourceful Australian.
The first people to come to the land we call Australia did so when there was just Sunda and Sahul. People 50,000 years ago standing on Sunda may have seen smoke from the arid and fire prone landscape on Sahul, and used boats to discover the land mass. Here the aboriginal people learned to live in all parts of the continent, with sophisticated social structures, art forms, and religious beliefs.
They used tools, and their presence changed the ecosystems. While they did not develop a written language the way Europeans did, their colonization of the continent was still important history. These original people built a society capable of withstanding all the harshness Australia’s wilderness offered, and their histories should be counted as an integral piece to the modern Australian identity. The aboriginal people inhabited Australia for a long time before the next wave of humans “discovered” it. The Eurocentric version of the origin of Australia begins in 1770, when James Cook sailed the eastern coast and claimed it for England. The first fleet of eleven ships arrived, and the colonization by British settlers began.
This marks the beginning of white Australia, and also the beginning of lifetimes of violence and invasion by newcomers who thought of this land as unowned and a fresh start, against those who had been living off of the land for centuries. The settlers brought with them livestock and new technology never seen before in Australia, including guns. Their technology overpowered the aboriginal people, who’s society did not make huge alliances again the newcomers possible, so that white culture became the dominant culture. European countries had progressed as nations seeking to explore and colonize new lands, while the aboriginal people had a completely different kind of society, and one that simply could not win wars against the national powerhouses of Europe. The arrival of British settlers marked the change in power from native people to the invaders. Much of the population during the early years after settlement were convicts or ex convicts.
“Upon the expiry of a sentence or by early pardon, the convict was emancipated” (Macintyre, 42). These convicts sometimes lived in military colonies of convicts and marines in order to maintain order. The population had a rapid increase between 1816 and 1820, where the mainland colony reached 26,000. The politics around what to do with convicts become two sided, with emancipationists like Macquarie who believed that New South Wales was a place for the reformation of the convicts, and would pardon convicts for good behavior, and Utilitarians like Bigge, who thought that criminals must be deterred, and that more severe punishment of the convicts was necessary and that free settlers should own land while convicts would be the employees. Ultimately the country took a turn towards utilitarianism, and pastoralism spread. This created a class system we can still see somewhat today, where convicts are the lowest class, and even after them are aboriginal people. In modern Australia there is still a third class structure and many institutions fail poor and aboriginal communities.
During the 1820s internal exploration and population growth shaped the future of the country. Pastoralism in Australia was responsible for much of the countries wealth. As it spread, the need for farm hands and shepherds increased, so the number of convicts arriving increased. As the overall population of Australia increased, there were more and more white people and less aboriginal people. “One national estimate suggests from 600,000 to less than 300,000 between 1821 and 1850” (Macintyre, 60). Disease and malnutrition were main causes for this, but it was also common practice for trained men to shoot a group of aboriginals if they come across them. Pastoralism was a catalyst that made Australia a predominantly white country. During the 1850’s, Victoria output one third of the worlds gold.
During the gold rush the population of non-aboriginal Australians went from 430,000 to 1,150,000 from 1851-61. This time period is when the country really took off. The new gold mine towns were flourishing markets, and the nation now imported many things. The gold made Australia the place to be in the eyes of international workers looking to find success. Hopefuls from all over the globe, Chinese especially, flocked to the hills, abandoning their previous lives. As the gold ran low, miners were tired from working in the mud and being bullied by the officers collecting licensing fees.
They came together in 1854 in Eureka to fight for their rights. This is when the Southern cross became an emblem of Australia, symbolizing freedom and independence. The gold rush made Australia become a more confident and stable place, edging it closer to becoming its own nation and declaring independence from Britain. In 1842 Britain granted New South Wales a “partly elected legislative council” which was the first taste of independece for Australian colonies. The colonies drafted their own constitutions, and Australia began to have its own politicians exclusive of Australia. This endowed the people with a sense of nationalism.
This era, when the colonies slowly become more independent, people belived strongly in progress, all a recipe for change in national identity. Men were allowed to govern their colonies, and this feeling of patriarchal rights reflected in the family unit.