Learn something new every day More Info... by email
Australia was first colonized by humans between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. The ancient colonization of the continent is notable because other members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis made it from Africa to as far as the islands of Southeast Asia, such as Java, but not all the way to Australia, which would have required crossing the oceans in a boat.
When the first humans arrived in the area, they encountered many megafauna, including hippo-sized marsupials, giant kangaroos, the Marsupial Lion, and a 7-meter lizard, Megalania prisca. Soon after human arrival, all these megafauna went extinct. The only megafauna remaining are kangaroos, emus, the cassowary, saltwater crocodile, carpet python, and the goanna lizard.
From the European perspective, Australia was first sighted by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Throughout the 17th century, the northern and western coast was mapped by the Dutch, but they made no attempt at colonization. In 1770, the navigator James Cook mapped the east coast of and claimed parts of it for his country, Great Britain. This area, New South Wales, includes modern-day Sydney.
The British colonization of the continent began when Port Jackson was founded by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. Today, January 26th is celebrated by Australians as Australia Day. An island to the south of Australia, Tasmania, was settled soon thereafter, in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. Tasmania began as a penal colony but this practice was halted in 1848. Throughout the 19th century, additional colonies were established all over the continent: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.
The area's indigenous population at the time of settlement was estimated at about 300,000, but many of these natives were killed due to imported disease and mistreatment by European settlers. Traditional ownership of land by indigenous peoples was not recognized until 1992, and there continues to be racial tension between descendants of Europeans and native Australians, although reconciliation is in progress. The Australian government issued a formal apology to the indigenous people in 2008.
Between 1855 and 1890, Australian colonies became independent entities under the British Crown, and on 1 January 1901, the colonies all united as a federation. This created the Commonwealth of Australia as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Statute of Westminster 1931 made the country largely separate from the British Empire that had founded it. Beginning in the 1970s, it welcomed immigrants from Europe and elsewhere, increasing the diversity of the nation. Today, it is a prosperous democracy, with a GDP per capita slightly higher than the UK, Germany, and France.
I remember a flare up an Australian tennis player had at the U.S. Open tennis tournament years back. He was upset with the calls a lines person was making against him. The player pointed out to the head official that the lines person was obviously prejudiced against him because he was white and his opponent and the lines person were black.
I think this illustrates the race views of many Australians. It's revealing that the player from Australia felt that way and even more revealing that he felt he was justified in making the accusation.
You really need to understand the history of Australia to get a feel for the tension among different races there. The article mentions how a reconciliation appears to be in progress between the native people of the continent and the European descendants, but I think this reconciliation is comparable to what happened and the feelings that existed in the 1960s in the United States.
A recent survey showed that about 10 percent of Australians would fall into the category of racial supremacists. Almost half of Australians openingly admit they believe that some groups of people do not belong in the country solely based on their races.
When I went on an Australia holiday with friends in the late
1990s. I was shocked at the racial views that were put forth by people who I considered your normal everyday middle class citizens of the country.
Based on what I observed first hand on my trip, and based on what I read now, I think true acceptance of other races is still generations away in Australia. I find this truly sad because the country has so much to offer in other areas.