About Australia

A beautiful night time shot of the Sydney Opera House.

A beautiful night time shot of the Sydney Opera House.

Today, Australia is a diverse continent rich with culture, diversity, and a large number of natural wonders and attractions. But Australia has a fascinating history as well.

The History of Australia

The history of Australia itself began approximately 45,000 years ago when it is believed people from northern countries began migrating to Australia. However, the actual recorded history of Australia didn’t begin until Dutch explorers first sighted and explored it in the 17th Century. However, credit for its discovery is typically given to the British.

Australia and Aborigines

The Aboriginal people of Australia, also referred to by some as Indigenous Australians, inhabited the island of Australia and Tasmania long before it was settled by Europeans. Aboriginal means “first or earliest known.” Even before it was settled by the British, Australia was populated with between 315,000 and one million natives. However, this number was reduced by about ninety percent upon arrival of the British, mainly from the diseases they brought over, particularly small pox, which killed about fifty percent of the population. The other forty percent died as a result of their loss of land and fighting with the British to reclaim their land.

European Discovery and Settlement

In 1770, British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook explored and charted the east coast of Australia, Botany Bay, in April of 1770. He continued his travels north, and formally claimed the eastern coastline of Australia for the Crown, giving it the name of New South Wales.

Upon his return to England, Cook relayed his findings. This was seen as a potential solution to the prison overcrowding in England at the time, so on May 13, 1787, the first fleet of eleven ships set sail for the new land in the south.

Australia and Convicts

At this point in history, England would often sentence its convicts to deportation to the Americas. Typically, convicts were sentenced to between seven and fourteen years of servitude in a penal colony. The convicts were usually not violent offenders; rather, those who were involved in political disputes common in Europe at the time or those who couldn’t pay their debts or taxes. When they arrived in the country they were sent to do their servitude in, they would begin to do various types of work.

However, when the British lost control of the American colonies, they found they could no longer ship convicts to the Americas and were forced to find an alternate place to send their prisoners. Botany Bay in Australia was recommended by Cook as an alternative location, and in 1787, eleven ships filled with around 1,305 people were sent to Australia. This group consisted of over 700 convicts, their families, and officers and their families. They determined upon arrival that Botany Bay was unsuitable, so instead they landed at Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788, which is now celebrated as Australia Day. This new colony was formally announced as New South Wales on February 7, 1788.

Upon completion of their sentencing and with good behavior, the convicts were given tickets of leave and were free to go back to England if they so wished. However, many ending up remaining in Australia, as they were also given land in some cases, a luxury they hadn’t had in England. Many of Australia’s now-booming metropolises were actually begun by British convicts.

Australia is a country that has a diverse and fascinating history that began thousands of years ago.


Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "About Australia." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 26 Sep. 2007. Web. 24 Sep. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/go/162/about-australia/ >.

Learn more with these Australia websites.



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