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Australia: A Short History

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People are thought to have first settled in Australia about 60,000 years ago. Aborigines are thought to have lived there for a great many years before Asians and Europeans arrived. Chinese sailors are thought to have sailed near Australia in the 12th century. Portuguese traders sailed near the continent, but the Dutch were the first to set foot on Australian soil, in 1606. An early explorer was the Dutchman Abel Janzoon Tasman, for whom the state of Tasmania is named.

Dutch mapping and exploration continued for the next hundred years, and French sailors came on board as well. The famous English explorer James Cook anchored in Botany Bay in 1770, and Sir Joseph Banks drew many sketches of the plants and animals of Australia, sending them back to England and amazing the English people. Cook claimed "New South Wales" for England. Dutch sailors had earlier called the continent (at least what they could see of it) New Holland.

The famous story of Australia being a prison colony began in 1781, with the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip and a full 11 convict ships. It should be noted that this settlement is generally referred to as the first European settlement in Australia. A French expedition that arrived at about the same as Phillip's was never heard from again. Phillip declared himself Governor of New South Wales, and he and his men set about colonizing whatever he could get his hands on for Britain.

Aborigines and other native peoples had been living in Australia for longer than even they could remember, and they didn't take kindly to these new settlers. Still, the Europeans had more men and weapons than did the native peoples, so the European settlement expansion continued.

Gold was discovered in the 1850s, and the rush to settle the rest of the continent was on. Sydney and Melbourne were the largest cities at this time, offering Europeans many of the comforts of "home."

Australia was very much a British colony by that time, exporting many things back to the home country. Meat was first exported to London in 1879.

Federation became a reality in 1901, with the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia. The states were New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia Western Australia and Tasmania. Australia's first prime minister was Sir Edmund Barton. Britain's King or Queen (at this time Queen Victoria) was still in charge, even though he or she was thousands of miles away. Lord Hopetoun was named Governor General, the effective head of state.

In 1902, Australia became the second country in the world (New Zealand being the first) to grant women the right to vote.

Australian forces fought in World War I on the side of Great Britain and its allies. One particularly memorable battle was Gallipoli, in Turkey, during which so many young Australians died, all of them later celebrated for their heroism.

The airline QANTAS (Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service) began service in 1920 and is still operating today, the world's oldest continuously operated airline. Other aerial feats included the world's first air crossing of the Pacific Ocean, done by Charles Kingsford-Smith.

Canberra became the seat of government in 1927 and is still the capital today.

During World War I, Australian forces fought in faraway places. In World War II, the threat of invasion of the homeland was very real. Australian ships and planes prepared for invasion by Japanese troops, who were expanding all over the Pacific Rim. Australian and American forces won the Battle of the Coral Sea, keeping Australia safe.

After World War II, Australia saw exports skyrocket and unemployment melt away, as a devastated Europe cried out for Australian goods. A few short years later, Australian troops were back on the battlefield, this time in the Korean War, on the side of the United Nations.

The world came to Melbourne in 1956, for the Summer Olympics.

Australian troops fought in the Vietnam War as well, on the side of the Americans. And in 1969, when Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, Australia's Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes Observatory played an important part in relaying signals from the Moon to Earth.

The Sydney Opera House, perhaps the country's best-known symbol, was built in 1972. Three years later, color television arrived.

Sydney played host to the Summer Olympics in 2000. A year later, the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of Federation.


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