Sydney Cove, 1788, the birth of modern Australia
Potted History of Australia
The idigenous peoples of Australia are believed to have arrived about 40,000 years ago, perhaps by boat across the waters separating the island from the Indonesia archipelago. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers observed Australia before 1770, when Lieut. James Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain.
On January 26, 1788 (now celebrated as Australia Day), the First Fleet under Capt. Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney, and formal proclamation of the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales followed on February 7. Many but by no means all of the first settlers were convicts, condemned to a 7-year sentence of Transportation to New South Wales for offences that today would often be thought trivial. The early-19th century saw the beginning of government policies to allow free trade, private enterprise, the emancipation of convicts and assist the immigration of free persons. The discovery of gold in 1851 led to a dramatic increase in population, wealth, and trade.
The six British colonies that now constitute the states of the Australian Commonwealth were established in the following order: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, first settlement 1803, granted colonial independence 1825; Western Australia, first settlement 1829, granted self government, 1890; South Australia, first settlement 1836, granted self government, 1857; Victoria, first settlement 1803, granted colonial independence 1851; and Queensland, first settlement 1824, granted colonial independence 1859. The Northern Territory was first settled by Europeans in 1824, annexed by South Australia in 1863, separated from South Australia to become a territory under Commonwealth control 1911. For a brief time between 1926 and 1931 the Northern Territory was divided into North Australia and Central Australia at the 20th parallel of South latitude.
Discussions between Australian and British representatives led to adoption by the British Government of an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia in 1900.
The first federal Parliament was opened at Melbourne in May 1901 by the Duke of York (later King George V). In May 1927, the seat of government was transferred to Canberra, a planned city designed by an American, Walter Burley Griffin. The first session of Parliament in that city was opened by another Duke of York (later King George VI). Australia passed the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act on October 9, 1942, which officially established Australia's complete autonomy in both internal and external affairs. Its passage formalized a situation that had existed for years. The Australia Act (1986) eliminated the last vestiges of British legal authority.