A very short summary of the relatively short history of how Australia came to be.
Australia began, as most other countries did, a while ago, although it was not until around 60,000 to 40,000 years before now that humans moved there. It is not clear where these people, formerly called Aborigines but now called Indigenous Australians, migrated from exactly; nonetheless, they developed hundreds of languages and very rich cultures and religions. Many of the Indigenous Australian languages have died out, as have many Indigenous Australians to former institutionalised racism and current crippling poverty. Very few still live as their ancestors did. Over a century of racist domestic policy left them in poverty, and broke up families and entire societies. Like the indigenous populations of North America, Aboriginal populations have been reduced by conflict with European settlers (most infamously in Tasmania), diseases carried by European settlers, conversion of hunting land to agriculture and grazing, destruction of game, desertification, and by the introduction of drugs and alcohol. However, we're working on that. (Fixing it, that is)
Through a popular error born of inattention at school, the date of the European discovery of Australia is wrongly considered to be 1770. It is well-documented (and taught in school history lessons) that the first European to land on the continent was the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon (in 1606), and that the Dutch explored and mapped the desolate west and north coasts in the 17th Century. Other famous early explorers include Dirk Hartog (in 1616), Abel Tasman (discovered Tasmania and New Zealand in 1642, mapped the north-west in 1643), and William Dampier (1688 and 1699). The man who commonly gets popular credit for discovering Australia is Captain (actually lieutenant) James Cook, who landed in Australia on 19 April 1770, explored and mapped the (well-watered, fertile) east coast, and declared the previously-undiscovered eastern portion to be British territory.
After the American War of Independence (1776–1783) Britain needed a new place to send those criminals who had previously been deported to the Americas in indentures (and also wished to forestall French expansion into Australia), and in 1787 despatched a convict colony to Botany Bay, which arrived on the 26th of January 1788 and established itself at Sydney.
In 1804 the first major case of civil unrest, known as the Battle of Castle Hill or the Irish Rebellion, resulted in one sided Curb Stomp Battle between 57 soldiers of the New South Wales corp and Auxilaries and 400 Irish convicts. This battle is noted as the first instance of armed combat between Europeans on Australian soil and is usually over-shadowed by a more renowned Curb Stomp Battle that occurred in the Gold Rush period. In 1808 corrupt officers of the military government mutinied and overthrew the governor, William Bligh (yes, that Captain Bligh). In 1810 the British government appointed governor, Colonel Lachlan Macquarie, who began to convert the colony from a prison camp into a predominantly civil society.
More colonies were founded in the early 1800s, either as worse places to send convicts who misbehaved in New South Wales (Queensland, Tasmania, Norfolk Island) or as free settlements with (Victoria, Western Australia) or without (New Zealand, South Australia) convict labourers in indentures. Eventually the free settlers, time-expired convicts, and locally-born dominated the population to such an extent that Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, and Melbourne were no longer suitable as convict colonies. Transportation of convicts to Sydney ended in 1848, the last convicts transported to Australia at all arrived in Western Australia in 1869.
By the mid 19th century the six colonies of New South Wales (the first one), Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen's Land), Western Australia (formerly the Swan River Colony), South Australia, Victoria and Queensland were settled (in that order) and got self government, and many explorers were sent around, such as:
- Matthew Flinders. Circumnavigated Australia for the first time. With his cat. No, really.
- Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills discovered a way to go from south to north in hope of finding an inland sea. Didn't work out too well: not only is there no inland sea in Australia, every member of the party but one died, even though many were helped by the Yandruwandha tribe.
- This was only the most famous of many instances in which heroic European explorers died of thirst and starvation in countryside where the Aborigines were able to support themselves indefinitely.
Australia's reliance on mineral wealth (which is still important to the Aussie economy today) began in 1847, with the discovery of copper at Burra in South Australia. Huge quantities of gold were discovered in New South Wales in 1850, in Victoria in 1851, and in Western Australia in 1867. These discoveries produced gold rushes that produced huge growth in Vitoria and Western Australia. Among immigrants from many countries were a large number of Chinese, who were singled out for hatred, persecution, and murder. A paranoid fantasy that Australia would be swamped by Asian migrants (or even invaded) remained influential until well after the Second World War.
The Gold Rush also gave us the Eureka Stockade. Minerals in the ground belonged to the government, and gold miners had to pay licence fees in exchange for the right to work claims. So a bunch of miners refused to pay their taxes and holed up in a stockade for two days before getting soundly thrashed (heroically getting soundly thrashed accounts for a lot of the Australian character). This is pretty much the closest thing Australia has ever had to a civil war, and was probably the first bloom of Australian nationalism.
On the 1st of January 1901, Federation happened: the six colonies became the six states of the Commonwealth of Australia (although Western Australia was threatening to quit at one point), with Australia still officially part of the British Empire. This happened entirely with peaceful voting. (Australia as a whole tends to solve things very slowly and with a minimum of violence. This may explain why cricket is so popular.) Not long after, Australia and New Zealand became the first countries where the suffragette movement had significant success, giving women the right to vote, among other things.
World War One helped foster a greater Australian identity, especially if you include Gallipoli, a disastrous invasion of Turkey where thousands of Australian (and New Zealand) soldiers died. These soldiers were referred to as ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) or "diggers", still a common nickname for Australian soldiers. After that came the Great Depression, which hit Australia badly thanks to the nation's complete lack of any secondary industry.
Then came the Second World War, which had everybody worried, considering how close Australia is to Japan. The Japanese bombed Darwin, the first time Australia was officially invaded (well, if you were white. If you were Indigenous, that was another matter...). When the Allies won, Australia was so thankful to the Americans (the British PM, Winston Churchill, was more concerned over India and Singapore than Australia) that the nation started allying with them as well.
By this point the British Empire was fading, and so ties began to loosen, although Australia is still part of the Commonwealth. The head of state is still Elizabeth II. There are now calls for a republic, along with calls to remain a monarchy. (Remember that 'slowly with a minimum of violence' thing?) Recently the monarchists have suggested a compromise by having one of Elizabeth II's grandsons become a Prince or King of Australia and essentially take on the role the Governer General fills now—it remains to be seen whether this will be accepted (over this Troper's, and indeed any Australian born after 1950, dead bloody body).
Following the war, Australia experienced a huge surge of immigration that shaped the country towards multiculturalism, and started to revoke racist policies that left non-whites without many rights: the government formally repealed the White Australia policy and the Aboriginal population, which had been ignored previously, were given equal rights as citizens. Then came The Vietnam War, which created as much of a controversy in Australia as in America, but also helped the "Oh My Gosh We're Gonna Get Invaded" fear again, transferring the concept of the Yellow Peril to the Red Peril. On the positive side, it created a further sense of national identity.
By the end of the 20th century, Australia became highly metropolitan and cosmopolitan, with a majority of the population living in the large cities filled with a variety of peoples, helping create the Australian value of multiculturalism. As of 2008, a formal apology was issued for the Stolen Generation, after over 80 years. It began to trade and have closer relations with nations like China, and started to focus on the most important part of a nation's power. Specifically, sport. More specifically, the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Sure, Australia had a few major politicians, scientists, artists and inventors, but what most Aussies remember most about the last coupl'a decades is the sport.