The History of Australia began when humans first migrated to the Australian continent from the north, at least 40-45,000 years before present. This period is referred to as the prehistory of Australia. The written history of Australia began when European explorers first sighted the country. It has been divided into two periods: before and after it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1901.
Prehistory of Australia
The prehistory of Australia is a term which may be used to describe the period of approximately 40-45,000 years (or more, as is contended by some studies) between the first human habitation of the Australian continent and the first definitive sighting of Australia by Europeans in 1606, which may be taken as the beginning of the recent history of Australia. This era is referred to as prehistory rather than history because there are no written records of human events in Australia which pre-date this contact.
History of Australia before 1901
Records of the discovery of the Australian continent by European expeditions date back to the early 17th century. The first such undisputed sighting was in 1606 by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who in his ship Duyfken navigated the Gulf of Carpentaria, sighting and making landfall on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula. Other 17th century European voyagers (predominantly Dutch, but also French and English) were to follow suit, and by the start of the 18th century the western and northern coastlines of what had become known as "New Holland" had been charted. No attempts to establish settlements were made, however.
In 1770, the expedition of the Endeavour under command of British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on April 29, 1770. Cook continued northwards, and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on August 22, 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook's discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly conceived as its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by more than 160 years.
The favourable reports of these lands relayed by Cook's expedition upon their return to England generated interest in its offered solution to the problem of penal overcrowding in Britain, which had been exacerbated by the loss of its American colonies. Accordingly, on May 13, 1787 the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail from Portsmouth, England, bound for Botany Bay.
The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement and penal colony at Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date was later to become Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory (NT) was founded in 1863 as part of the Province of South Australia. Victoria and South Australia were founded as "free colonies"—that is, they were never penal colonies, although the former did receive some convicts from Tasmania. Western Australia was also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts due to an acute labour shortage. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868.
A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Stockade rebellion in 1854 was an early expression of nationalist sentiment. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping.
History of Australia since 1901
On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was formed from New South Wales in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (Melbourne was the capital from 1901 to 1927). The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911. Australian troops took part in both world wars. Since World War II Australia has been transformed by a massive immigration programme, and since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy from Asia and other parts of the world; radically transforming Australia's demography, culture and image of itself.
The Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and Britain, but Australia did not adopt the Statute until 1942. The shock of Britain's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. The final constitutional ties between Australia and Britain ended in 1986 with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council. Australia remains a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II the Queen of Australia; the 1999 referendum to establish a republic was marginally rejected. Australia's links to its British past are increasingly tenuous. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the nation's future as a part of the Asia-Pacific region.