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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.

Pre-18th century

at least 52,000 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
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

Early to mid 19th century

1801–03: Matthew Flinders circumnavigates continent, which he names ‘Australia’
1804: Convict uprising put down by New South Wales Corps
1814: Introduction of Australia’s first coin, the holey dollar
1813: Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth cross the Blue Mountains
1815: Governor Macquarie establishes Bathurst – first inland European settlement
1817: Governor Macquarie establishes the Bank of New South Wales
1830: The ‘Black Line’ – settler force attempts to corral Aboriginal people on the Tasman Peninsula
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
1851: Gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria begin
1854: Australia’s first railway line opens in Victoria
1854: Rebellion of goldminers at Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Victoria
1856: Melbourne building workers win an eight-hour day
1856: Secret ballot introduced and all adult men given the vote
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

Late 19th century

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
1872: Free, compulsory and secular education introduced in Victoria
1872: Completion of the Overland Telegraph from Darwin to Port Augusta, South Australia
1879: Australia’s first national park created – (now Royal) National Park, Sydney
1880: Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria
1880: The Bulletin established
1885: BHP begins mining silver, lead and zinc at Broken Hill in New South Wales
1885: Victorian Employers’ Union formed
1887: Chaffey Brothers introduce irrigation on Murray River
1889: 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition
1890–91: Depression and strikes; formation of the Labor Party
1894: Legislation introducing women’s suffrage, South Australia
1894: Lawrence Hargrave lifts off in his box-kite at Stanwell Park
1896: Edwin Flack becomes Australia’s first Olympian

1900–1910

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

1911–1920

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 Royal Australian Navy's '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: Federal–state agreement for soldier settlement
1916–17: Conscription for military service overseas defeated in two referendums
1917: Completion of Trans-Australian Railway linking Western Australia and the eastern states
1920: Qantas established
1920: Country Party founded

1920s

1924: Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed

1930s

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

1940s

1942: Japanese Imperial Army invades Singapore
1942: Japanese bomb Darwin but are halted on Kokoda Trail
1942: Australian troops return to fight in the Pacific
1943: First women elected to Australian Parliament
1944: Formation of Liberal Party of Australia
1945: Florey, Fleming and Chain win Nobel Prize for developing penicillin
1945: Australian Government announces postwar immigration drive
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

1950s

1951: Australia signs ANZUS Treaty with New Zealand and the United States
1954: Visit of Queen Elizabeth II, the first by a reigning monarch
1955: Split within Australian Labor Party; formation of the Democratic Labor Party
1956: Television introduced in time for Australia’s first Olympic Games, Melbourne

1960s

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

1970s

1970: Moratoriums to protest Australian involvement in Vietnam War
1972: Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in front of Parliament House, Canberra
1972: Conciliation and Arbitration Commission grants equal pay for men and women
1973: Sydney Opera House opens
1973: National Gallery of Australia buys Blue Poles for $1.3 million
1973: Patrick White wins Nobel Prize
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

1980s

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

1990s

1991: Port Hedland immigration detention centre opens
1992: High Court decision in Mabo case recognises native title
1996: Port Arthur massacre leads to tighter gun laws

21st century

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