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The history of Australia from its origins to the present day

From Terra Australis Incognita to the great era of the explorers, and from independence to the present day, Australia is a country with a rich and fascinating history.

From Terra Australis Incognita to independence

It is impossible to prove the presence of human beings in Australia before 50,000 years ago. The ancestors of the Aborigines may have peopled these lands over 100,000 years ago, but it has never been proved and only remains a likely assumption. Convinced of the existence of a great southern land, the Portuguese navigator, Cristóvão Mendonça, set out on a mad adventure and discovered Australia in 1522. In his wake came many other explorers and cartographers and New South Wales became a British colony in 1788.

The massacre of the Aborigines was followed by 10 frenetic years of the gold rush, between 1850 and 1860. Australia appeared as a paradise for workers where it was easy to make a fortune. The country was still divided into the 6 separate colonies, which ultimately became autonomous, and the aborigines still had no rights. Australia gained its independence on 1 January 1901.


From independence to our time

After independence, Australia joined the Commonwealth. Melbourne was the first capital before yielding its place to Canberra, which is still the capital today. Since then, the history of the country has been closely linked to the rest of the world. Thus, Australia participated in the First World War by sending more than 415,000 troops to fight. Among other campaigns, they participated in the famous battle of the Somme. The global crisis of 1929 took a year to touch this distant land, but in 1930 Australia was also affected by the Great Depression. Similarly, in 1939 Australia joined the Allies in the Second World War. Once again the country was engaged on several fronts.

At the end of the war, Australia became one of the founding members of the United Nations. It was also engaged in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Since the 1970s, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party have shared the posts of Prime Minister, the seats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. The country is so distant that many people today have forgotten that Australia is still a member of the Commonwealth and as such remains a parliamentary monarchy of which Elisabeth II is still the Queen.

The history of the Aborigines

In parallel to this classic history of Australia, the history of the Aboriginal population is also interesting. Before the "discovery" of Australia by Europeans, the Aborigines had inhabited the country for at least 40,000 years. But the arrival of the settlers, with little heed for the local population and its traditions, sounded the death knell for the way of life of the Aborigines on the big island. Alcohol, new diseases and also the violent suppression of the resistance to this invasion cost the lives of many Aborigines in the nineteenth century.

The beginning of the twentieth century was not much better: the Aborigines were considered sub-human and sometimes placed in situations of quasi-slavery. The children were even taken from their families at the earliest age and placed with "white" families or institutions as part of a policy of forced assimilation.

The first social advances for this population occurred from 1950 with the right to vote, the right to citizenship, the partial restitution of territories, etc. By the end of the twentieth century, a new generation had found its place in society: today there are Aboriginal lawyers, doctors, academics, and even, since 2010, an MP, all perfectly integrated while remaining proud of their cultural heritage. In 2008, the principal political representatives made a formal apology on behalf of the Australian people for the crimes committed against the Aboriginal population.

David Debrincat
459 contributions
Updated 2 November 2015

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