Australian History For Dummies®

Table of Contents

About This Book
Foolish Assumptions
Conventions Used in This Book
How This Book Is Organised
Part I: Let’s Get This Country Started
Part II: 1820s to 1900: Wool, Gold, Bust and then Federation
Part III: The 20th Century: New Nation, New Trajectories
Part IV: 1930 to 1949: Going So Wrong, So Soon?
Part V: 1950 to 2010: Prosperity and Social Turmoil
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Icons Used in This Book
Where to Go from Here
Part I: Let’s Get This Country Started
Chapter 1: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
When Oldest Meets Newest
Getting ahead in the convict world
Leaping into the big time with wool
Gold, Gold, Gold for Australia
Welcoming in male suffrage
Striving for the ‘workingman’s paradise’
Solving the Problems of the World (By Keeping Out the World)
Now for War, Division, Depression and More War
Joining the Empire in the war
Dreaming of ‘Australia Unlimited’
Getting hit by the Great Depression . . .
. . . And another war
The Postwar Boom Broom
Breaking Down the Fortress Australia Mentality
Opening up the economy
Opening up the borders (mostly)
Entering the New Millennium
Chapter 2: First Australians: Making a Home, Receiving Visitors
Indigenous Australians
Settling in early
Life in Aboriginal Australia
History without books
Trading with the neighbours
Visitors From Overseas
Maccassan fishermen
Portuguese and Spanish navigators
Lost Dutch traders and wandering explorers
Chapter 3: Second Arrivals and First Colonials
‘Discovering’ the Great Southern Land
Finding the right men for the job
Setting (British) eyes on New South Wales
The Brits are Coming!
Quick! New settlement required
Pushing for a settlement in NSW
Picking a winner: NSW it is!
Settling Botany Bay
Getting there with the First Fleet
The human material: Who were these people?
Holding Out at Sydney
Using convicts as guards
Issuing ultimatums (and being ignored)
Soldiering on regardless
New Colony Blues
Second Fleet horrors
Courting disaster with the interlopers
Then the rest of the world goes bung
Chapter 4: Colony Going Places (With Some Teething Troubles)
Rising to the Task: The NSW Corps Steps Up
Setting up trading monopolies
The ascendancy of the ‘Rum Corps’
Upsetting the reverends
Ruling with Goodhearted Incompetence: Governor Hunter
Ending the trading monopoly game
A government store with empty shelves
Handing out land higgledy-piggledy
Hunter’s wheels fall off
King Came, King Saw, King Conquered — Kind Of
Diversifying trade and production
Ending the rum trade (well . . . points for trying)
Pardoning convicts
Fixing up the mess
Choosing Bligh for the job
Bligh gets down to business
Bligh’s end
Chapter 5: A Nation of Second Chances
Macquarie’s Brave New World
Converting Macquarie
Living under the Macquarie regime
Macquarie’s Main Points of Attack
Pushing expansion
Conciliating (and pursuing) Indigenous Australians
Re-ordering a town, re-ordering convict behaviour
Becoming a Governor Ahead of His Time
Stirring up trouble with the free folk
Creating outrage back home
Big World Changes for little NSW
Coping with the deluge following Waterloo
Britain starts paying attention again (unfortunately!)
Bringing back terror
Big Country? Big Ambitions? Bigge the Inspector? Big Problem!
Recognising Macquarie’s Legacy
Part II: 1820s to 1900: Wool, Gold, Bust and then Federation
Chapter 6: Getting Tough, Making Money and Taking Country
Revamping the Convict System
Putting the terror back into the system . . . and the system back into the terror
Bringing in the settlers
Bringing in the enforcers
Getting Tough Love from Darling
Running into staffing issues
Going head-to-head with the press
Coming up against calls for representation
Putting it all down to a personality clash
Enduring Tough Times from Arthur
Concentrating on punishment and reform
Recording punishments in the system
Fighting bushrangers and Tasmanian Aborigines
Hitting the Big Time with Wool and Grabbing Land
Opening up Australia’s fertile land
Adding sheep, making money
Fighting the land grab
Chapter 7: Economic Collapse and the Beginnings of Nationalism
Bubble Times: From Speculative Mania to a Big Collapse
Working the market into a frenzy
Investing in land with easy credit
Ducking for cover as the economy collapses
Picking up the pieces after the implosion
Moving On from Convictism
British calls to end convict ‘slavery’
Ending transportation to NSW
Feeling the effects of ending transportation
Van Diemen’s Land hits saturation point
Feeling the First Stirrings of Nationalism
Britain tries turning the convict tap back on
Britain offers exiles instead
Protecting Indigenous Australians — British Colonial Style
Attempting to protect the Aborigines
New possibility on Merri Creek
Same old tragedy on Myall Creek
Chapter 8: The Discovery of Gold and an Immigration Avalanche
You want gold? We got gold!
Discovering gold (and going a little crazy)
Introducing order and hoping for calm
Adding a gambling mentality to the mix
Working Towards the Workingman’s Paradise
That Eureka Moment
Rumblings of discontent
Tensions boil over
The Arrival of Self-Government
Votes for a few men
Votes for many men
Suffrage goes rogue
Unlocking the Arable Lands
Moving the squatters
Making new laws for new farmers
Dealing with squatter problems
Facing up to non-squatter problems
Chapter 9: Explorers, Selectors, Bushrangers . . . and Trains
Explorer Superstars
Seeking thrills in the great unknown . . .
. . . Then making the unknown known
Sturt and Leichhardt Go Looking
Sturt — have boat, will walk
Leichhardt also walks . . . right off the map
The Great Race — Stuart versus Burke and Wills
Seeing the back of Burke, losing Wills
Super Stuart — just a pity he’s drunk
Selectors and Bushrangers
Moving on from the selectors’ dust heap
Bushranging nation
Ned Kelly: Oppressed Selector’s Son or Larrikin Wild Child?
Kelly’s key events
The man in the iron mask
Growing Towards Nationhood . . . Maybe
A telegraph to the world
It’s raining trains
Chapter 10: Work, Play and Politics During the Long Boom
The ‘Workingman’s Paradise’ Continues
Growth brings jobs
Workingwomen’s paradise too
Workers’ Playtime
Beating the English at cricket
New codes of football
The Big Myth of the Bush: Not So Rural Australia
Rearranging the Political Furniture
Charting new colonial directions
Intervening in the economy
Chapter 11: The Economy’s Collapsed — Anyone for Nationhood?
From Boom to Bust
The bubble before the pop
And now for a big collapse
Three strikes and we’re out — industrial turmoil
Birthing the Australian Labor Party
From little things . . .
Two Australian halves of a Labor story
Labor politicos and Labor unionists — the struggle begins!
New Nation? Maybe. Maybe Not.
Why Federation happened
How Federation happened
Three men who made Federation happen
Part III: The 20th Century: New Nation, New Trajectories
Chapter 12: Nation Just Born Yesterday
Advancing Australia: A Social Laboratory
Defining the Commonwealth
What the judges said
What the politicians did
What everyday people thought
Passing Innovative Legislation
Franchising Australian women
Establishing bold new protection
Deciding on a fair and reasonable wage
Voting in Labor
That Whole White Australia Thing
Passing the Immigration Restriction Act
Dealing with the ‘piebald north’
Deporting the ‘Kanakas’
Pushing ‘purity’
Chapter 13: World War I: International and Local Ruptures
Gearing Up for Global War
Building up Australian forces
Choosing the best party to lead the wartime government
Why get involved?
Australia at War
Proving ourselves to the world, part I: Gallipoli
Proving ourselves to the world, part II: The Western Front
General John Monash engineers some victory
Home Front Hassles
Getting on the war footing
Irish troubles
Conscription controversy
When Billy goes rogue — aftermath of the Labor split
Moving the Pieces around the Global Table: Australia at Versailles
Chapter 14: Australia Unlimited
Expanding Australia
Postwar Australia — from sour to unlimited
Postwar blues? Take the ‘Men, Money and Markets’ cure
Australia Not-So-Unlimited
Borrowing unlimited for little Australia
Land disasters
Schizoid Nation
Sport, the beach and picture shows
Cars, radios and Californian bungalows
Returned soldiers — elite, but angry
The race bogey
The Workers of Australia . . .
Labor turns hard left
Labor in state governments
An attack of the Wobblies
Bruce arbitrates his own destruction
Part IV: 1930 to 1949: Going So Wrong, So Soon?
Chapter 15: A Not So Great Depression
Crash and Depression
Borrowing like there’s no tomorrow
Here comes tomorrow
The man from the Bank (of England)
The Melbourne Agreement
A(nother) Labor Split
Two different solutions for the Great Depression problems
A party shoots itself in both feet
Lang sacked and Labor in tatters
Threats to Democracy from Best Friends and Enemies
Seeing the virtues of communism
Forming secret armies
Mistakes and Resilience Through the Crisis
The politicians fail
The people endure
Chapter 16: World War II Battles
Building Up to War
Defences through the Great Depression
Singapore Strategy
Belatedly prodded into action
Dealing with Early War Problems
Problems with tactics and technology
Problems with officer training and promotions
Problems with weapons
Overseas Again
War in northern Africa
War in the Mediterranean
This Time It’s Personal: War in the Pacific
Britain can’t do everything: The fall of Singapore
Attacks on Australia
Um, America — can we be friends?
Turning the tide in the Coral Sea and on the Kokoda Trail
Jungle victories
Petering into significance
Tackling Issues on the Home Front
Industrialisation and business expansion
Rationing and control
Women in war times
Taxing everyone and building a welfare system
Chapter 17: Making Australia New Again
Restarting the Social Laboratory Under Chifley
Chifley’s Postwar Reconstruction
Focusing on public works and welfare
Developing the public service
Increasing legislative interventions
Coming up against High Court troubles
Calwell and the Postwar Migration Revolution
Looking beyond Britain to meet migration needs
Breaking the mould of mainstream Australia
Shifting Balances with Foreign Policy
Giving a voice to all nations in the UN
Choosing between America and Britain
Treading On an Ants’ Nest — of Angry Banks
Taking a tentative step
Going full-steam down the nationalisation road
Part V: 1950 to 2010: Prosperity and Social Turmoil
Chapter 18: Ambushed — by Prosperity!
Economics of the Postwar Dreamtime
Developing industry and manufacturing
Accepting ‘new’ Australian workers
Suburbia! The Final Frontier
White goods make good friends
New neighbourhoods and isolation
The Rise and Rise of Bob Menzies
Appealing to ‘the forgotten people’
Appealing to women
Tackling the Communist Threat
Menzies tries to ban the Communist Party
A man called Petrov and another Labor split
Chapter 19: Taking Things Apart in the 1960s and 1970s
Moving On from Empire
Still loving Britain
Losing Britain all the same
Looking to Japan and America
Defending Australia . . . with America
Attack of the Baby Boomers!
Ending White Australia
Gaining rights for Indigenous Australians
Fighting for women’s rights
Crashing — or Crashing Through — With Gough
It’s (finally Labor’s) Time!
The Whitlam typhoon
When the wheels fall off . . .
Chapter 20: When Old Australia Dies . . . Is New Australia Ready?
The Coming of Malcolm Fraser
Launching the good ship Multi-Culti
Fraser foiled! By shifting economic sands
Deregulation Nation
Welcoming in ‘Hawke’s World’
Feeling the effects of short-term excess
Deregulating the labour market
Fighting the Culture Wars
Keating fires the starting gun
Bumps on the multi-culti road
Howard versus the ‘brain class’
Pauline Hanson enters the debate (and turns Howard’s head)
Battling Over Native Title
Acting on the Mabo judgement
Panicking after the Wik judgement
Chapter 21: Into the New Millennium
Still Dealing with the Outside World
Protecting the borders
Flashpoint Tampa
Dealing with the Bali bombings
Facing Up to Challenges at Home
Apologising to the Stolen Generations
Creating more wealth for more people
New political directions
Part VI: The Part of Tens
Chapter 22: Ten Things Australia Gave the World
The Boomerang
The Ticket of Leave System
The Secret Ballot
The Eight-Hour Day
Feature Films
The Flying Doctor Service
The Artificial Pacemaker
The Practical Application of Penicillin
Airline Safety Devices
Chapter 23: Ten Game-Changing Moments
Cook Claims the East Coast of Australia
Henry Kable Claims a Suitcase — and Rights for Convicts
Gold Discovered
Women Get the Vote in South Australia and Federally
Building a Fortress out of Australia — the White Australia Policy
Australia splits over Conscription
Australia on the Western Front
The Post–World War II Migration Program
Lake Mungo Woman

Australian History For Dummies®


About the Author

Alex McDermott has been a professional historian since 2000, when he began publishing essays, articles, arguments and a book (The Jerilderie Letter, Text Publishing, 2001) on the career and psychology of Ned Kelly, Australia’s legendary and notorious bushranger. In 2006, he was sucked into the terrifying vortex that is history television, working on the Australian series of Who do you think you are?, as researcher and historical consultant for Immigration Nation and for Screen Australia’s Making History initiative, and as chief writer for the online timeline for the children’s television program My Place.

Alex remains optimistic that a prolonged bout of unemployment may be just around the corner, freeing him up to complete his doctorate.


Without any doubt in the world, this book is dedicated to Jo Buckley and our newborn son, Henry Lee.

Author’s Acknowledgements

Bronwyn Duhigg at Wiley first had the idea of a For Dummies book on Australian history and approached me about writing it. Once this was underway, three fine editors at Wiley all helped enormously. Big thanks to Rebecca Crisp, Charlotte Duff and Hannah Bennett for all their encouragement and assistance.

On the history side, there are acknowledgements aplenty. First and foremost, John Hirst, for teaching, supervision and mentoring over the past decade above and way beyond the call of duty. As always, John, my genuine thanks. Aside from John, there are many historians whose ideas and arguments I have relied on in writing this book. The likes of Stuart Macintyre, Gavin Souter, Marilyn Lake, Geoffrey Blainey, Eric Richards, Henry Reynolds, Paul Kelly, Gwenda Tavan and Bev Kingston have all contributed immense insight into the realities underpinning Australian history, and are all well worth following up and reading in their own right.

At more specific points of the book, there have been scholars whose arguments about particular moments or individuals I have found very useful. David Potts on the Great Depression, Bob Birrell on the lead up to Federation, Terry Parsons and Portia Robinson on early NSW, Robert Kenny on Batman’s treaty, Judy Brett on prime ministers Menzies and Lyons, Robert Manne on Doc Evatt and the Petrov Royal Commission, and William Sinclair on the question of economic development were all worth their weight in gold, and worthy of individual acknowledgement. Aside from that, there was the ever-reliable Oxford Companion to Australian History and the various essays in the many volumes of the journal Australian Historical Studies, which provided a wealth of highly specialised information and insight.

Finally, acknowledgement is due to two groups of people who were in many ways instrumental in the shaping of this book — however unwittingly. The students I taught in tutorials of Australian and European history at La Trobe University in the early 2000s gave me a clear sense of the best ways of telling and teaching history in as straightforward and direct a fashion as possible. Likewise, the various producers, directors, scriptwriters and factual television executives who I’ve worked with over the last five years have given me a real insight into the best ways of communicating history to as large an audience as possible. Many of the lessons learnt in this field have directly carried over into the writing of the For Dummies book.

Publisher’s Acknowledgements

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial and Media Development

Project Editor: Charlotte Duff

Acquisitions Editors: Bronwyn Duhigg, Rebecca Crisp

Technical Reviewer: John Hirst

Editorial Manager: Hannah Bennett


Graphics: Wiley Art Studio

Cartoons: Glenn Lumsden

Proofreader: Liz Goodman

Indexer: Karen Gillen

The author and publisher would like to thank the following copyright holders, organisations and individuals for their permission to reproduce copyright material in this book:

• Page 25: This map is just one representation of many other map sources that are available for Aboriginal Australia. Using published resources available between 1988–1994, this map attempts to represent all the language or tribal or nation groups of the Indigenous people of Australia. It indicates only the general location of larger groupings of people which may include smaller groups such as clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. Boundaries are not intended to be exact. This map is NOT SUITABLE FOR USE IN NATIVE TITLE AND OTHER LAND CLAIMS. David R Horton, creator, © Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS and Auslig/Sinclair, Knight, Merz, 1996. No reproduction allowed without permission.

• Page 143: © State Library of Victoria

• Page 242: © Coo-ee Historical Picture Library

• Page 328: © Joe Greenberg/Museum Victoria

• Page 359: © The Herald & Weekly Times Photographic Collection

• Page 390: © AAP/AFP

• Page 397: © Fairfax Photos/Jason South

Every effort has been made to trace the ownership of copyright material. Information that will enable the publisher to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions will be welcome. In such cases, please contact the Permissions Section of John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.


Over the past ten years, I have taught first-year university students and been involved in history research on various historical documentaries. During this time, I’ve been struck by the hunger many people have for a clear explanation of what Australian history is all about.

While the Australian history profession of the 1980s, 1990s and today divided itself into rival camps (black armband historians, accused of dwelling only on the negative aspects of Australian history, versus white blindfold historians, accused of being blind to anything that casts a shadow on Australia’s past), ordinary people ended up the losers, because they were missing out on basic story. The story of what made Australia like it is today as well as the most compelling parts of that story. In a nutshell, providing this story is what this book is trying to do.

About This Book

At first glance, Australian history appears to be nice and neat and compartmentalised, most of it fitting into the last 220 years (aside, of course, from the 40,000 years of Indigenous Australian history that preceded it, but we’ll get to that). So it can be positively weird to notice just how often bits of it get sliced, diced and served up as completely different dishes. ‘First contact’ history gets separated out from Gallipoli, say; the conscription controversy of World War I and the Vietnam War might get placed in separate boxes; convicts are set aside from the rise of colonial towns and cities; and it’s all completely separate from the Great Depression . . .

Okay, this separation isn’t always a bad thing — they’re all good topics worthy of being teased apart in isolation. But it can be useful — not to mention interesting! — to also have them available to a reader in one easily accessible, easily readable volume, and this is where the For Dummies books shine.

You might want to read the whole of Australian history from go to whoa — from first indigenous arrivals to practically just last week. With this book, you can do that. Or, this month, you might want to find out what caused separate, self-sufficient colonies to federate into a nation but, next month, be wondering exactly how a supposed convict hellhole managed to create a ‘workingman’s paradise’ within 70 years of first settlement. You can dip, you can skip, you can cross-reference — jump from one item to another as you see fit. The book is designed to work the way you want it to.

Foolish Assumptions

In writing the book, I’ve been making some assumptions about what you as a reader might be bringing to the book. I’ve been assuming that you want to know more about Australian history, and that some or all of the below might apply to you:

check.pngYou might have done some Australian history at school, but in a hodgepodge sort of way. At different points of your schooling, you might have bumped into convicts, bushrangers, Gallipoli and other different topics. These interested you at the time but you weren’t quite sure how they all fitted together, and what else there was to know about.

check.pngAlternatively, you might have hated history at school and tried to ignore it as much as possible. But you’ve always suspected that the actual history of the place might be a darn sight more interesting than what school history did to it, and wondered what that history might look like.

check.pngYou might be entirely new to Australia and keen to get inside the head of the country, and understand what makes the place tick, and how it came to be this way.

Conventions Used in This Book

I’ve done a few things in this book to make the information easy to get to and understand:

check.pngItalics for terms or words that might not be immediately understandable (and I follow the italics up with an explanation in brackets like this one).

check.pngSidebars for things that are interesting in their own right but are a little removed from the main point.

check.pngThe spelling of ‘Labor’ for the Australian Labor Party. Officially, the spelling was standardised by the party in 1912 to be Labor rather than Labour (although plenty of newspapers ignored this and kept spelling it the old way until after World War II ended in 1945). To make it simpler, I’ve spelt it the same way — ‘Labor’ — all the way through.

check.pngThe description of the main non-Labor political party as ‘Liberal’ for pretty much all of the 20th century. Even though the final reorganisation of the party into the Liberal Party we know today only happened in 1944, there was a non-Labor party that acted like the Liberal Party, and really was the Liberal party, and sometimes even called itself the Liberal Party, ever since Alfred Deakin got the various liberal forces together under the one banner in 1909. Rather than change the name to reflect the various name-changes they went through over the next 30-odd years (which they did with irritating frequency), I’ve just chosen to call the lot of them Liberals and be done with it.

How This Book Is Organised

The book is divided into chapters that make for a roughly chronological run-down of the vital elements of Australia’s history — but, crucially, it doesn’t have to be read in chronological order! I’ve grouped the main clusters of related chapters into different parts so you can recognise at a glance which of the main historical phases the chapter you’re reading fits into. And to make it even easier, each chapter is itself organised into mini-parts, with each mini-part covering a particular area. See the summary below to see what’s covered where.

Part I: Let’s Get This Country Started

If you’ve got a thing for beginnings, this is the part to please you best. First Australians arriving millennia ago, and explorers, traders and eventually British convict settlers only turning up (comparatively) yesterday. This point is where the nation we now know as Australia gets going and begins to take on some of the attributes we can recognise today.

Part II: 1820s to 1900: Wool, Gold, Bust and then Federation

This part looks at the major jump in exploration and settlement that took place in Australia from the 1820s to Federation. The discovery of gold triggered a rush to Australian colonies that had previously only been known for convicts and wool. The flood of all sorts of gold-seekers helped fuel a long boom as colonial metropolises, railways (and bushrangers) all extended their activities and at different times flourished.

During this phase, Australia acquired the ‘workingman’s paradise’ tag, because wages and standards of living kept pushing upward — until a hard crash snapped people out of their easy optimism about the inevitable progress in the colonies, and got them thinking about Federation.

Part III: The 20th Century: New Nation, New Trajectories

This part takes you to the first experiments of Australia as a newly federated nation in a new (20th) century. Different policies and legislation were put in place that would be crucial to the ways in which Australia developed for the next 70 or 80 years. The part also covers a terrible global war (World War I) that fractured Australian society and some bold and ultimately unsustainable plans to launch Australia into the global big time in the 1920s.

Part IV: 1930 to 1949: Going So Wrong, So Soon?

For a nation that began the 20th century with such a heady mix of determination and optimism about a new society that could be created, the 1930s and 1940s — the main period covered in this part — seemed to pile one bad news story on top of another. A cataclysmic economic depression coupled with another world war threw up a whole series of challenges to be surmounted and survived.

Part V: 1950 to 2010: Prosperity and Social Turmoil

This part details the key elements of a postwar take-off into prosperity in Australia. Oddly, the return to an extended period of material abundance and full employment (not seen since the 19th-century long boom detailed in Part II) posed at least as many challenges as did the difficulties and hardships encountered in Parts III and IV.

Demographic changes, social changes, economic changes, political controversy, the start and end of a long boom and a terrible 1990s recession — the last 70 years have had the lot and it’s all here in Part V (well, a lot of it at any rate).

Part VI: The Part of Tens

This is an old Dummies favourite and it’s easy to see why. In this part, I’ve included handy lists of inventions and innovations that Australians have given the world, along with a breakdown of ten ‘game-changing’ moments in Australian history that radically shifted the path Australian society was travelling on. What’s not to love?

Icons Used in This Book

Along with the parts, the chapters and the mini-parts all explained above, there’s something else in this book that should make your navigating through it a whole lot easier: Different icons placed at different points in the margin of the text to highlight some key things:

missing image fileThe main events, decisions and actions in a country’s history don’t usually just happen — you can often dig up their causes and influences from the past. When I’ve done this for events in this book, I’ve labelled the information with a ‘Historical Roots’ icon.

missing image fileThis icon, I confess, is a special favourite of mine. These are the moments in the book where I get to hand over the metaphorical microphone to the people who made Australia’s history and give them the chance to explain what they thought they were doing — or to contemporary commentators, to explain what Australia was thinking when these events happened. For all the explaining that an historian does (and I promise you I’ve tried to make it as clear and to the point as I possibly can) sometimes there’s just no substitute for getting the actual protagonists or observers to have their say on what was going on. When they do, it carries this icon next to it.

missing image fileThis flags things in Australian history that go directly to explaining the distinctive society that we can recognise today as tellingly Australian.

missing image fileThese are the bits that, if books came with batteries, would flash and buzz ‘Important!’ when you got near them. These are the things that give an essential understanding of exactly how or why Australia has developed the way it did, and by keeping them in mind, you’ll never lose your historical bearings.

missing image fileThis icon highlights further information, like statistics, that can deepen your understanding of the topic, but aren’t essential reading. Read the information so you have some extra facts to impress your mates with, or feel free to skip it.

Where to Go from Here

The short answer to this, of course, is the beauty of a Dummies book — anywhere. You can start at the start and motor along right through the various parts until you get down to the contemporary scene, or you can just jump to a point that explains what you really want to know about right now. If you want to see exactly what Australia did with its new federated nation powers after 1901, then Chapter 12 at the start of Part III is your next stop. If you want to see the colonial world that emerged in the wake of the massive gold finds of the 1850s, then Chapter 8 is a good place to start. If the very first years of convict settlement make you curious, head for Chapter 3, with the following decades of settling in and teething troubles also worth checking out in Chapters 4 and 5.

Remember that aside from the table of contents, you’ve also got an index that alphabetically lists the main events and subject areas. Using all this, you can go pretty much anywhere in Australian history without having to wait around to be told which parts should be considered before first, second and 23rd. It’s there for you to read and use when you need it, as you see fit.

Part I

Let’s Get This Country Started

missing image file

‘Now that we’re in Australia, who’s up for a long weekend?’

In this part . . .

Australia is a country with the most unlikely set of origins anywhere in the modern world. Indigenous Australians and newly arriving British settlers were very far from being a natural match for each other, but it gets weirder still. Most of the arriving colonists were convicts — that is, criminal outcasts — from Britain. It made for a highly problematic mix, and not one that spelt much in the way of recognition, respect or rights for the indigenous people.

You’d expect a colony developing out of convicted criminals, soldiers and officials to be on a fast-track to a hellish kind of society, but something unexpected happened. Without anyone in authority deciding or designing it, the new colony became a place to start again. By the time British authorities got around to noticing the widespread laxness in their convict colony, it was too late — the ex-cons had already established themselves as major players in Australian life.

In this part, I cover the first arrivals in Australia, the visitors they received, and the first 30 years of European settlement.