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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 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: Rugby league splits from rugby union
1907: Australia’s first lifesaving club established at Bondi, Sydney
1908: Legislation introducing national age and invalid pensions


1911: Douglas Mawson leads Australasian expedition to Antarctica
1912: Australian Government introduces a maternity allowance
1913: The newly created 'fleet unit' sails into Sydney Harbour
1913: Foundation of Canberra as the national capital
1915: NSW Government gains power to remove Aboriginal children from their families
1915: Australian troops land at Gallipolli
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
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