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Australia History
Australia History - TravelPuppy.com
This continent was 1st known to Europeans as Terra Australis, and is thought to have been inhabited by man for at least 40,000 years. The aboriginal population, whose modern remnants describe themselves as Kooris, are considered to have migrated from southern India or Sri Lanka.

The 1st European settlements were begun by the Dutch East India Company in 1606. The company charted and claimed for their mother country the 320 kilometre (200 miles) of north west coast, which they named New Holland.

The travels of Captain James Cook, 150 years later, opened up the east coast. Having just lost American colonies, the British empire was in need of a new prison colony.

By 1868, when transportation ended, Britain had sent more than 160,000 convicts over to Australia. They were settled around the coast, many of modern Australia’s biggest cities grew from the penal settlements and those set up by freed convicts and other European immigrants, and eventually enabled the British crown to claim the whole continent. The colonisers treated the Kooris with atrocious brutality but as long as European settlement was confined to the coast, the majority of tribes were able to live as before.

This ended in 1851, when, following an fight to the gold fields of California, the administrators sought to stem the tide by offering rewards for the discovery of gold in Australia.

The successive gold rush prompted the 1st wave of voluntary migration to the continent in modern times, the population doubled within months of the discovery of gold in Victoria.

Around the same time, the interior was charted for the 1st time, while towns sprang up both there and on the littoral. The Kooris, meanwhile, were massacred, driven into desolate areas or into lives of virtual slavery. Most of Australia was granted the right to self government in the 1850's.

The Commonwealth of Australia, a Federation of States, was set up in 1901, determining Australia as an independent democracy. Nonetheless, close links with the United Kingdom were maintained, Australian troops fought alongside the British during both World Wars.

The politics of Australia remained under firm British supervision until years after World War II. In the aftermath, Australia assumed some of the trappings of a regional power, taking control of some of Germany’s former territories in the area and developing links with India, Japan and South East Asia.

Australia also joined in a secretive tactical alliance with Britain, the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand, which remains the country’s principal defence commitment. Until its abandonment in the mid 1960s, a ‘White Australia’ policy was officially adopted with concern to immigration.

Between 1949 and 1972, Australian governments were composed of the Liberal Party in a centre right coalition with the smaller National Country Party.

Sir Robert Menzies was the main political figure, serving 16 years as Prime Minister. In 1972, the alliance was finally defeated at the polls and the Labour Party under Gough Whitlam took office with a comparatively radical agenda.

There followed 1 of the most controversial periods of recent Australian history, concluding in the Whitlam government being dismissed by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, in circumstances still hotly disputed.

The direct beneficiary was the Liberal Party leader, Malcolm Fraser, who won the next elections, which followed in December 1975, within weeks of Whitlam’s dismissal.

Fraser remained in office until 1983, when Labour was returned to power under the guidance of the ex trade union leader, Bob Hawke. Under Hawke and his sharp Treasury Minister and eventual successor, Paul Keating, the Labour party won 5 elections in a row.

Ultimately, in March 1996, tiring of Labour, the Australian public turned to the Liberal Party led by John Howard. John Howard’s centre right coalition was returned to office for a 3rd term at the 2004 general election.

Aboriginal issues
continue to effect successive Australian governments who have found significant difficulty in reconciling Koori peoples’ traditional claims and conceptions of land ownership with, to take but 1 example, the requirements of mining companies.

The other main political issue of the last few years was Australia’s constitutional future. There were 2 options, to maintain the existing link with Britain, or to establish Australia as a fully fledged republic.

A split in the republican camp produced a surprise victory for the traditionalists in the national referendum on the subject, which was held in October 1999. Despite that, most Australians now look to links with America and Asia as more important and appropriate to their future than those with the ‘Old Country’.

Australia's foreign policy (irrespective of the party in power) is now geared to the reinforcement of economic and political links with the countries of the Asian Pacific Rim and the confirmation of the existing links with the USA (exemplified by Australia’s participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq).

Under the Howard governments, migration has come to control the Australian political agenda. The hard line which Howard set down has been thoroughly pursued, ‘boat people’ from the troubled states of Asia have been banned from landing in Australia and instead directed to small Pacific islands, those who do reach Australia are detained in remote outback encampments.

The government’s hard line was reinforced by the October 2002 bomb in Bali, which killed 200 people, mostly Australian tourists. This brought Australia to the centre of the United States inspired global ‘war against terrorism’.