You are in site section:

Featured moments

Defining Moments in Australian History

Warning: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

What do you think is a significant moment in Australia’s history?

Suggest a moment

Featured moments

The Defining Moments below provide a wealth of information about the events in question.

They are drawn from both the initial list of Defining Moments prepared by our expert panel, and the growing list of public suggestions.

You can sort the featured moments by topic or place.

Teachers and students may also want to sort by curriculum subject or school year.

Pre-18th century

at least 65,000 years ago: Archaeological evidence of first peoples on the Australian continent
about 20,000 years ago: Earliest evidence of the boomerang in Australia
about 12,000 years ago: Sea level rises, separating Tasmania from the mainland
about 5000 years ago: Arrival of the dingo, Australia's first domesticated species
1606: Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon becomes first European to map parts of the Australian coast
1616: Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog lands on the island off Western Australia that now bears his name
1629: Dutch vessel Batavia wrecks off western Australia resulting in mass murder and the marooning of two men on the mainland

18th century

about 1700: Beginning of trade links between Aboriginal people of northern Australia and Makasar from Sulawesi
1770: Lieutenant James Cook claims east coast of Australia for Britain
1788: Captain Arthur Phillip establishes a convict settlement at Sydney Cove
1789: Smallpox breaks out in Sydney
1791: Establishment of the whaling industry in Sydney
1792: Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy leads resistance against Sydney colonists
1797: Introduction of the merino sheep to Australia


1801–03: Matthew Flinders circumnavigates continent, which he names ‘Australia’
1804: Convict uprising put down by New South Wales Corps
1808: The Rum Rebellion, in which Governor William Bligh is deposed by the New South Wales Corps
1809: Convict Isaac Nichols appointed as Australia’s first postmaster


1813: Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth cross the Blue Mountains
1814: Introduction of Australia’s first coin, the holey dollar
1815: Governor Macquarie establishes Bathurst – first inland European settlement
1817: Governor Macquarie establishes the Bank of New South Wales


1824: Ex-convict Andrew Bent founds first free press in the Australian colonies


1830: The ‘Black Line’ – settler force attempts to corral Aboriginal people on the Tasman Peninsula
1831: Australia’s first novelist Henry Savery publishes Quintus Servinton
1833: Convict transportation to Australia peaks when nearly 7000 people arrive in one year
1836: Governor Richard Bourke funds Protestant and Catholic churches in New South Wales on equal basis
1838: Myall Creek massacre, New South Wales
1848: Ludwig Leichhardt’s third expedition vanishes


1851: Gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria begin
1851: The separation of the colony of Victoria from New South Wales
1852: Gundagai flood - the deadliest in Australian history
1854: Australia’s first railway line opens in Victoria
1854: Rebellion of goldminers at Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Victoria
1856: Secret ballot introduced and all adult men given the vote
1856: Melbourne building workers win an eight-hour day
1858: First organised game of Australian Rules football
1859: Establishment of Australia’s first stock exchange
1859: Rabbits successfully introduced into Australia


1861: First Melbourne Cup
1863: South Sea Islanders brought to Queensland as indentured labourers
1867: Australia’s first royal visit – by Prince Alfred, son of Queen Victoria
1868: Aboriginal cricket team tours England
1868: Convict transportation to Australia ends


1871: Australian Natives’ Association formed
1872: Completion of the Overland Telegraph from Darwin to Port Augusta, South Australia
1872: Free, compulsory and secular education introduced in Victoria
1879: Australia’s first national park created – (now Royal) National Park, Sydney


1880: The Bulletin established
1880: Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria
1885: Victorian Employers’ Union formed
1885: BHP begins mining silver, lead and zinc at Broken Hill in New South Wales
1887: Chaffey Brothers introduce irrigation on Murray River
1889: Henry Parkes gives his Tenterfield Oration
1889: 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition


1890–91: Depression and strikes; formation of the Labor Party
1894: Lawrence Hargrave lifts off in his box-kite at Stanwell Park
1894: Legislation introducing women’s suffrage, South Australia
1896: Edwin Flack becomes Australia’s first Olympian


1900: Bubonic plague arrives in Australia
1901: Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia
1901: Miles Franklin publishes 'My Brilliant Career'
1901: White Australia policy enshrined in law
1902: Commonwealth Franchise Act gives women the vote in federal elections
1902: British execute horseman, soldier and poet Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant
1903: William Farrer begins distribution of ‘Federation’ wheat
1906: Australia takes control of Papua as an ‘external territory’
1906: World’s first feature-length film The Story of the Kelly Gang produced in Victoria
1907: Justice HB Higgins hands down ‘Harvester Judgement’
1907: Australia’s first lifesaving club established at Bondi, Sydney
1907: Rugby league splits from rugby union
1908: Legislation introducing national age and invalid pensions


1911: Douglas Mawson leads Australasian expedition to Antarctica
1912: Australian Government introduces a maternity allowance
1913: Foundation of Canberra as the national capital
1913: The newly created 'fleet unit' sails into Sydney Harbour
1915: Australian troops land at Gallipolli
1915: NSW Government gains power to remove Aboriginal children from their families
1916–17: Conscription for military service overseas defeated in two referendums
1916: Federal–state agreement for soldier settlement
1917: Completion of line linking Western Australia and the eastern states
1919: Influenza pandemic reaches Australia
1920: Country Party founded
1920: Qantas established


1921: Edith Cowan elected to parliament
1924: Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed
1928: Donald Bradman’s first international cricketing century


1931: First performance of the First Australian Ballet
1932: Formation of the Australian Broadcasting Commission
1932: Opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
1932–33: English cricket team on ‘Bodyline’ Ashes tour
1932: Height of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment
1935: Cane toads introduced into Australia to control pest beetles in Queensland’s sugar cane crops
1936: Yorta Yorta elder William Cooper founds the Australian Aborigines' League
1936: Tasmania’s thylacine becomes extinct
1938: Sesquicentenary and Aboriginal Day of Mourning


1940: HMT Dunera arrives in Australia
1942: Australian troops return to fight in the Pacific
1942: Japanese Imperial Army invades Singapore
1942: Japanese bomb Darwin but are halted on Kokoda Trail
1943: First women elected to Australian Parliament
1944: Formation of Liberal Party of Australia
1945: Australian Government announces postwar immigration drive
1945: Florey, Fleming and Chain win Nobel Prize for developing penicillin
1945: National introduction of sickness and unemployment benefits
1945: Australia plays a leading role in founding United Nations
1948: Australia’s first locally made car, the Holden 48-215, launched
1949: Chifley government begins Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme
1949: Election of the Menzies government – the longest serving in Australian history
1949: Nationality and Citizenship Act creates Australian citizenship


1950–53: Korean War
1951: Australia signs ANZUS Treaty with New Zealand and the United States
1954: Soviet diplomat Vladimir Petrov defects
1954: Visit of Queen Elizabeth II, the first by a reigning monarch
1954: Flags Act becomes law, defining the official flag of Australia
1955: Split within Australian Labor Party; formation of the Democratic Labor Party
1956: First nuclear weapons test by British at Maralinga
1956: Introduction of polio vaccine ends epidemic in Australia
1956: Television introduced in time for Australia’s first Olympic Games, Melbourne


1960: Australian Government lifts restrictions on export of iron ore
1961: Introduction of the oral contraceptive pill
1966: End of White Australia policy
1966: Switch to decimal currency
1966: Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill Walk-Off) led by Vincent Lingiari
1967: Indigenous referendum
1968: Remains of Mungo Lady found


1970: Moratoriums to protest Australian involvement in Vietnam War
1972: Conciliation and Arbitration Commission grants equal pay for men and women
1972: Establishment of Papunya Tula Artists cooperative
1972: Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in front of Parliament House, Canberra
1973: Patrick White wins Nobel Prize
1973: Sydney Opera House opens
1973: National Gallery of Australia buys Blue Poles for $1.3 million
1974: Cyclone Tracy hits Darwin
1976: First arrival of Vietnamese refugees by boat
1976: Australian Government passes Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act
1978: Special Broadcasting Service established
1978: First gay Mardi Gras march, Sydney


1981: Publication of the Macquarie Dictionary recognises the distinctive identity of Australian English
1982: Protests against Franklin Dam in Tasmania lead to formation of the Greens
1983: Floating of the Australian dollar
1983: Australia II wins the America’s Cup
1984: Australian Parliament passes Sex Discrimination Act
1984: Introduction of Medicare


1991: Port Hedland immigration detention centre opens
1992: High Court decision in Mabo case recognises native title
1993: AFL player Nicky Winmar responds to racist abuse from spectators
1996: CSIRO patents technology, permitting the development of stable wi-fi
1996: Port Arthur massacre leads to tighter gun laws


2000: Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge
2001: Australian troops take control of Tampa carrying rescued asylum-seekers
2002: Glenn Murcutt wins the Pritzker Architecture Prize
2002: Bali bombing kills 88 Australians
2004: US free trade agreement
2008: National Apology to the Stolen Generations
2009: ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires kill 173 people in Victoria


2017: Marriage equality
Back to top