Geographers of the ancient world showed Australia as a
huge landmass labelled "Terra Australis Incognita" on their maps, but
they gave no information as to its precise location, size, or outline.
The total area of Australia is 7,682,292 square kilometres (2,966,133
square miles). 3,200 kilometres north to south and 4,000 kilometres east
to west. Australia is the worlds sixth largest country, just a bit
smaller than the U.S.A.
These pages of Australian history start in the early 1600's when
Europeans first sighted Australia.
1606: The first recorded sighting of Australia by Europeans was this
year when the Dutch ship Duyfken, under the command of Willem Jansz,
sighted the west coast of Cape York and the Spanish ship of Luis Vaez de
Torres sailed north of Cape York.
1642: Australia was known as New Holland when Abel Tasman touched the
south shore of Tasmania, then known as "Van Diemen's Land" after the
governor of the Dutch East Indies.
1688: William Dampier, an English pirate, landed on the west coast of
April 29, 1770: Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay. He established
England's claim to the eastern part of the continent for King George
3rd, and called it New South Wales.
May 13, 1787: The first fleet to Australia carrying about 1000 people,
sailed from England with 11 ships. Before this, convicts had been
transported to the American colonies until they won their independence
at the time of the American Revolution.
January 20, 1788: The first fleet arrived at Botany Bay. Finding it
unsuitable for settlement they sailed north to Port Jackson (Sydney
January 26, 1788: Governor Phillip's first fleet was unloaded at Sydney
Cove. This date is now celebrated as "Australia Day".
1789: The need for good farmland to help feed the less than happy
settlement at Farm Cove (Sydney) drove Governor Arthur Phillip out of
Sydney Harbour and northwards, to explore the next break in the coastal
cliffs. Here he found the Hawkesbury River.
1794: A group of farming families were settled on the fertile flood
plains of the upper Hawkesbury River (north of Sydney). The Hawkesbury
district soon became the bread basket of the first colony, producing
about three quarters of its flour and reducing the dependence on supply
ships from England.
1801-1803: Matthew Flinders, an English naval officer, circumnavigated
the coast. He then suggested the name "Australia" for the continent. It
gradually replaced the name "New Holland", given by the early Dutch
1802: A group of free settlers arrived in Port Jackson aboard the "Coromandel",
later to settle in a region by the upper Hawkesbury River west of
Sydney. Although not all the group were Presbyterians their voluntary
subscriptions made possible the sandstone Presbyterian (now Uniting)
church which stands today as the oldest place of worship in Australia.
1803: Settlement of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) had begun.
1804: Tasmania's capital, Hobart, was founded. It was recognised as a
city in 1842.
1813: Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, were the first to cross the Great
Dividing Range (west of Sydney N.S.W), opening a route to the "sweeping
plains" beyond to farmers and graziers.
1823: The site of the present city of Brisbane, Queensland, was first
explored by John Oxley and was occupied by a penal colony in 1824.
1829: Western Australia's first colonists arrived and Perth was declared
a colony. Perth became a city in 1856.
1829: On the basis of settlement, Britain laid claim to the whole
1834: Brisbane's early name, Edenglassie, was changed to honour Sir
Thomas Brisbane, former governor of New South Wales, when the convict
settlement was declared a town.
1835: Melbourne (in Victoria) began as the barely legal creation of the
Port Phillip Association. On its behalf, John Batman 'purchased' 243,000
hectares of land from the Aborigines, and a city was born.
1836: Colonists from England founded South Australia. Adelaide was
designed by Col. William Light, shortly after the colony was founded;
and named for Queen Adelaide, the wife of King William IV of England.
1839: Penal colony function was abandoned. Before this time, freemen
were officially not supposed to settle within 50 miles (80 kilometres)
of a colony.
1840-1841: Edward John Eyre was the first explorer to cross the
continent from east to west.
1842: One of the earliest Copper ore finds was discovered at Kapunda,
near Adelaide (South Australia).
1842: Melbourne (Victoria) was proclaimed a town, and raised to city
status in 1847. Melbourne was never a convict settlement, but a
brainchild of merchants and sheep graziers.
1843: Coal deposits were uncovered along the banks of the Brisbane and
Bremer rivers (Queensland). Ipswich was the centre of coal operations
and large numbers of Welsh miners.
1845: Coal found by Leichhardt, was the first indication of what became
the immense 'Bowen Basin' coal beds of central Queensland, exploited
mainly since the 1960's when a massive export trade to Japan commenced.
1851: The beginning of Australia's Gold Rush Days, when gold was
discovered at what became known as the Ophir goldfield, in New South
1851: The present state of Victoria was detached from the original
Australian colony of New South Wales.
1856: Van Diemen's Land is renamed Tasmania, and Australia became the
first nation to introduce the secret ballot paper.
1872: Tasmania began its first mining boom when James Smith discovered
tin deposits at Waratah. His Mount Bischoff mine was described as the
world's richest tin mine.
1883: Charles Rasp found silver, lead, and zinc deposits around Broken
Hill (New South Wales). These were the riches then known in the world
and led to the establishment of Australia's largest company, BHP, in
January 1, 1901: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland,
Western Australia, and Tasmania were proclaimed as the Federal
Commonwealth of Australia. The ceremony took place in Sydney, New South
Wales, where 60,000 people turned up at Centennial Park for the reading
of the proclamation.
1902: Australian women have won the right to vote. New Zealand was the
only other country to give women this basic freedom at that time.
1908: Canberra was chosen to become the capital of Australia.
January 1, 1911: The Northern Territory was detached from the state of
South Australia. In the same year Australia held an international
competition for a design for the national capital - Canberra. The winner
was an American named Walter Burley Griffin.
1912: Building of the Trans-Continental Railway had started. This is a
2,500 mile railway linking east with west. It was completed in 1917.
April 25, 1915: Sir Ian Hamilton landed a force of ANZACs (Australia,
New Zealand Army Corps) on the narrow Gallipoli peninsula. Of the
416,000 troops there, more than half were either killed or wounded.
January 1916: The withdrawal of ANZAC troops from Gallipoli was a
success, without any casualties. From Gallipoli they were sent to
1916: Open-cut mining of brown coal began in the La Trobe Valley
(Victoria), and continues today.
November 1923: The first radio station in Australia was 2SB in Sydney.
The radio was then known as the wireless.
1928: Alfred Traeger invented the pedal-driven radio transmitter and
receiver, which most homesteads could afford. He and the Reverend John
Flynn travelled the country installing the two-way "pedal wireless" and
showing settlers how to use them to communicate with the Australian
Inland Mission. The Mission established the first Flying Doctor base at
Cloncurry, Queensland. The first Flying Doctor was K. St. Vincent Welch,
1929: With the Wall Street Stock market crash came the Great Depression
years to Australia, with a 30% unemployment rate and rations throughout
March 19, 1932: Premier Jack Lang opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Its
huge arch spans the harbour and stills carries traffic today.
1933: Australia claimed control of more than a third of Antarctica as
the "Australian Antarctic Territory".
1940’s: 200,000 women were brought into the workforce to keep the
country going while the men were fighting World War II, and for the
first time women were paid the same wages as men.
1942: Japanese planes bombed Darwin, Northern Territory, during World
1943: This was the year Dane Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tanley became the
first women elected to Federal parliament.
1948: The first Australian made family car was produced - Holden. The
famous Aussie Ute was designed by a Victorian man called Lou Brant from
Geelong. His design was later copied by car manufactures around the
1948: Unions won the 40 hour week for all Australian workers.
1949: Work on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme commenced in
this year. The scheme took over 25 years to complete 16 dams and 7 power
stations which irrigate eastern Australia and provide power for
1951: Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, signed the ANZUS
Treaty to "act to meet the common danger".
1952: The beginning of twelve British Atomic Bomb tests in South
1953: "Meals on Wheels" volunteer service started by Doris Taylor in
South Australia; herself crippled since the age of seven, travelled by
This volunteer service still exists today,
taking 60,000 meals a day, out to the needy.
February 1954: Queen Elizabeth of England visits Australia for the first
time. An estimated 6 million people turned out for the occasion in a
time when Australia's population was not even 9 million.
September 27th, 1956: GTV9 in Melbourne Victoria, was Australia's first
television station. 10,000 TV's were sold during the first 12 months of
television in Australia.
1956: Melbourne hosted the XVI th Olympiad, which was the first to be
held outside Europe or North America.
1957-1973: The white-shelled Sydney Opera House was built on Bennelong
Point, beside Sydney Cove. The site was previously a tram depot.
1961: The introduction of the contraceptive pill gave women a new
1965-1972: Australian combat troops were in Vietnam.
1966: After using the British pound system as Australian currency for
nearly 200 years, Australia began converting to a decimal system of
December 25, 1974: Cyclone "Tracy" destroyed Darwin, Northern Territory.
This cyclone killed over 60 people and is the worst ever recorded in
Australia, with winds gusting over 300km/h.
1975: A legislative stalemate caused a budget crisis for the country.
The Governor General in an unprecedented, though constitutional action
removed the Prime Minister and dissolved Parliament.
1978: The Northern Territory achieved self-government within the
February 16, 1983: Ash Wednesday bush fires in South Australia where
temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius. 72 people died and 2000 homes
were destroyed. Damage was estimated at $400 million.
1988: Australia had its lavish 200th anniversary celebrations. Brisbane,
Queensland, was the site of "Expo 88", which drew more than 18 million
visitors and was the single largest event in the country's history.
December 28, 1989: An earthquake hits Newcastle, a city 175km north of
Sydney, New South Wales. Only 13 people died, but the
damage was estimated at more than 1 billion Australian Dollars.
Australia is approximately 3700 kilometres long, from its most northerly
point to its most southerly point in Tasmania, and it is almost 4000
kilometres wide, from east to west.
one of about 210 countries. At 7,692,024 km2,
it comprises just five percent of the world's land area (149,450,000 km2),
yet it is the planet's sixth largest country after Russia, Canada,
China, USA, and Brazil. Australia is also the smallest continental land
mass (or largest island).
areas of Canada and the United States are similar to Europe, their
populations are markedly smaller, by factors of eighteen (3 persons per
and two (29 persons per km2)
respectively. Australia is not far behind in size, but its population
compared to Europe is 30 times smaller. Japan's population density is
336 persons per km2
and the United Kingdom's is 244 persons per km2,
compared to Australia's 2.5 persons per km2.
comparison between the countries in the table is the ratio of the amount
of arable land to population, which provides some insight into the
possible environmental stresses being exerted on their landscapes.
Australia is the world's smallest continent and the sixth largest
country. Its area is equal to the United States without Alaska, or
double the size of Europe, excluding Russia.
More than one-fifth of its land area is desert. More than two-thirds of
the country is classified as arid or semi-arid.
The length of mainland Australia's coastline is about 33.535km. If it
was possible to drive non-stop along the entire coast at 60km/h it would
take 23 days to reach your starting point.
Queensland and Western Australia account for more than half Australia's
land area WA alone spreads over more than one-third of its surface.
The hottest temperature recorded in Australia was 53.1°C (128°F) in
Cloncurry Queensland in January 1889.
Australia is the lowest and flattest of all the continents because it
lies near the centre of a tectonic plate.
Australia is the only continent without current volcanic activity. The
last eruption took place more than 1400 years ago at Mount Gambier.
Since European settlement, Australia has lost about 75% of its
rainforests and about 40% of its
total forest area. Almost 70% of native vegetation has been removed or
modified for agriculture, urban development and forestry since 1788.
Land clearing continues at a rate of more than 600,000ha each year, with
most occurring in New South Wales and Queensland.
We have more species of venomous snakes than any other continent. Our
spiders are also among the world's most poisonous.
More than 500 shark attacks have been recorded off the Australian
coastline since 1791. Less than half were fatal.
The first recorded landing by Europeans on Australian soil was made in
1606 by Dutch explorers.
Between 200,000 and 750,000 Aborigines are thought to have lived in
Australia when white settlement began. By 1930 this number had been
reduced by about two-thirds through a combination of disease and
More than one in five people living in Australia were born overseas.
With their Australian-born children, they account for about 40% of the
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