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History of Australia


The indigenous peoples of Australia, the Aboriginals, are considered the oldest known culture in the world.  Archaeological evidence finds that they have continuously inhabited Australia for over 60,000 years and even today maintain traditional hunting and gathering methods, rituals, art and music, and tribal dialects.

The Dutch first discovered Australia in 1606 and called it New Holland but did not settle there.  Abel Tasman, another Dutch explorer,  sailed along the west coast of what is now Tasmania in 1642.  In 1707, James Cook arrived and claimed the area for Britain.  From 1788 until 1868, it was used as a penal colony by the British.  More than 150,000 men, women, and children convicts were transported to serve out their sentence. Squatters made up of free men and women, ex-convicts, and soldiers soon began settling the land.  In the 1850s gold was discovered and the lure of riches brought in more people. 

(Australia history)


Of course, with white encroachment, Aboriginals were pushed off their land while illness and warfare decimated their population.  Similar to Native Americans, the Aboriginals were not recognized as people. It was not until 1967, yes 1967, that Aboriginals were even included in the national census.   




                   "Stolen  Generations"


From 1910 to 1970, many indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families for the purpose of "assimilation" into white culture. They were forbidden to speak traditional languages and follow traditional ways. Many were placed in foster homes, missions, and institutions where they were abused and neglected.  Most were never reunited with their family or community.



5 noteworthy films that portray Aboriginal poverty, racism, and stolen generations - watch the trailers


Abel Tasman monument in Hobart, Tasmania

                                                     Convict History


Between 1788 and 1868 165,000 British and Irish convicts made the 8-month journey to the "land down-under." The majority were poor and illiterate, some were political prisoners or prisoners of war as well as professionals.  Depending on the offense, sentences were for 7 years, 10 years, or life.  Common crimes included petty theft, stealing clothes or animals, prostitution, deception, and military offenses.  

Women and children were not exempt.  About 25,000 convict women were transported.  Women convicts became servants, wives, housekeepers or were sent to "female factories" to learn a trade and work as laborers.  Convict children worked as laborers or herdsmen (boys) or domestic servants (girls).  

Today, Australians seem to embrace their convict ancestry.  There are numerous databases and archives to help search for convict ancestors.  






Port Arthur Penal Settlement in Tasmania

Convict Brick Trail in Campbell Town, Tasmania. Hundreds and hundreds of bricks laid along the footbath show the name, age, transport ship, crime, and sentence of convicts.  Some show personal information such as marriage or death.  

Alexander Pearce was an Irishman convicted of stealing six pairs of shoes, Pearce was sent to Van Diemen's Land to serve his sentence.  His second escape attempt was with seven fellow convicts.  Their journey was through the wildest area of rainforest.  Lost and starved, they resorted to killing and eating the weakest.  Alexander Pearce was the only survivor.  After another arrest and escape attempt, he was captured with human flesh in his pocket.  He was hanged in 1824.  

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