Humans first arrived in Australia more than 50,000 years ago. Europeans first laid eyes on the continent in 1606 when a Dutch expedition visited it. In 1770, in spite of the fact that Australia was then occupied by an estimated 700 autonomous sovereign aboriginal nations with different languages and customs, Captain James Cook took possession of the continent for the British Empire. In 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was created.
The name “Australia” means “Southern Land” in Latin. In the Roman Era “Terra Australis” was the name given to a hypothetical continent and this was then incorporated into the European maps of the 15th through the 18th century. The origins of this designation date back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. In 1824, the British Admiralty officially designated the continent as Australia.
Australia is the world’s smallest continent in land mass, but it is the sixth largest country in the world. It is also the only continent without glaciers. In terms of population, Australia ranks 53rd in the world with more than 22 million people. The largest cities in Australia are Sydney (4.4 million); Melbourne (3.9 million); Brisbane (2 million); Perth (1.6 million); and Canberra (the capital with 384,000).
The map shown above is from the C.I.A. World Factbook.
For at least 40,000 years prior to the so-called “discovery” of Australia by the Europeans it was home to a number of aboriginal groups. The area now occupied by the Australian city of Canberra was part of the traditional territory of the Ngunnawal people. To the east were the Wandandian, to the south were the Walgulu, to the north were the Gandangara, and to the northwest were the Wiradjuri.
The name “Canberra” seems to have its origins in the Ngunnawal language: “Kambera” (sometimes transliterated by the English as Canberry) means “meeting place.”
There is an alternative hypothesis regarding the origin of the name “Canberra” which claims it comes from the indigenous name “nganbra” or “nganbiera” which means “the hollow between a woman’s breasts.”
European settlement of the area dates to about 1823 when stockmen employed by Joshua John Moore established a station. In 1826, he formally applied to purchase the property, naming it “Canberry.”
In 1908, the Australian government selected the site of Canberra for the nation’s capital. The new capital was to be an entirely planned city designed by Chicago architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Construction started in 1913. The garden city movement influenced the city’s design which featured geometric motifs
Archaeologists report that people have been living in the Sydney area for at least 30,000 years. The Cadigal people traditionally lived in this area and it is estimated that they had a population of 4,000 to 8,000 when the British first arrived.
When the British arrived they asked the indigenous people where they came from and the people answered “Eora” meaning “here” or “from this place.” As a result, the British called them Eora.
In 1788, the British established a penal colony which was to be named “Albion,” but it was named Sydney in honor of Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary.
Archaeology suggests that the Melbourne area had been inhabited for about 40,000 years prior to the European invasion. By 20,000 years ago, there were three primary tribes in the area: Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, and Wathaurong. For the indigenous people this was an important meeting place and a vital source of food and water.
European settlement started in 1835 and in 1837 the European community was named Melbourne in honor of the British Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne. Queen Victoria declared Melbourne a city in 1847 and in 1851 it became the capital of the newly created colony of Victoria.
Between 1836 and 1842, the newly arrived Europeans pushed the aboriginal groups out of the area and took over their land. Government policy encouraged European squatters to take over aboriginal lands and to ignore any possible aboriginal title to the land. By 1844, it is estimated that only 675 aboriginal people were left in the area and these were living in rather squalid camps.
The aboriginal inhabitants of the Brisbane area were the Turrbal and Jagera people. They called the area that is now the city’s central business district “Mian-jin” which means “place shaped as a spike.”
In 1799, the British arrived and began to explore the area. In 1824, the British established a penal colony in the area. The river on which the colony sits and the settlement was named Brisbane after the Scotsman Sir Thomas Brisbane who served as the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825.
Non-convict European settlement in the area began in 1838 and by the end of 1840 work began on the new Brisbane Town. When Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony from New South Wales in 1859, Brisbane became the capital.
The Whadjuk Noongar people had occupied the Perth area for thousands of years before it was invaded by the British. Archaeological findings along the Upper Swan River show occupation as early as 40,000 years ago. The wetlands along the Swan Coastal Plain were important to the Whadjuk Noongar both as a source of food and as a sacred area described in their oral traditions. They called the area where Perth now stands “Boorloo.”
The British arrived in 1829. Captain James Stirling had selected the name “Perth” for the new British settlement before his ship actually arrived in Australia. The new town was named to honor Sir George Murray who had been born in Perth, Scotland and who was Secretary of State for the Colonies.
The founding of Perth is shown above.
The contacts between the British colonists and the Noongar people was not always friendly. By 1831 there was violent conflict between the two groups which culminated in 1833 when the British executed the Noongar elder Midgegooroo, and in the Battle of Pinjarra in 1834.