Australia may have been populated for longer than Western Europe — possibly twice as long. Experts are divided about the dates, with some scientists suggesting that the first inhabitants of Australia arrived 40.000 or 50,000 years ago, others arguing that it was far earlier. Dr Paul Tacon head of the People and Place Research Centre of the Australian Museum. says that pollen core samples taken across Australia show changes in vegetation and deposition of charcoal ‘begin-ning somewhere about 120,000 years ago’. lie believes that these changes probably resulted from human activity.
The first migrations to Australia were most likely spurred by a period of glacial advance that encouraged the shivering cave-dwellers of the Northern Hemisphere to head for the sun belt.
This move set off a chain reaction, forcing more southerly folk out of their way. As ice caps accumulated, sea levels dropped drastically. So. in a search for greener pastures or more elbow-mom, or perhaps blown off course, the original immigrants arrived Down Under by boat from the north. The first Australians had little difficulty adapting to the new environment. As Stone Age hunter-gatherers, they were accustomed to for-aging, and the takings in the new continent were good: plenty of fish. berries and roots and, for a change of diet, why not go out and spear a kangaroo?
Dreamtime’ is the all-purpose name for everything that came before. It puts Aboriginal history. traditions and culture under a single mythological roof. The Dreamtime’s version of Genesis recounts how ancestral heroes created the stars. the earth and all the creatures. The Dreamtime explains why the animals and plants are the way they arc. and how humans can live in harmony with nature.
Stone Age paintings reveal a developed aesthetic sense
Navigators Arrive For many millennia the Aborigines had Australia to themselves. But over the last few hundred years. the rest of the world began closing in.
Like the search for El Dorado, everybody seemed to be looking for Terra Australis Incognito, the ‘Unknown Land of the South’. Throughout the 16th century, explorers from Europe kept their eyes peeled for the legendary continent and its presumed riches. Some (including the Spanish. Portuguese and Chinese) may have come close, but the first known landing was by a Dutch captain. Willem lansz, in 1606. It was something of an anticlimax. ‘There was no good to he done there,’ was lansz’s conclusion as he weighed anchor. However, the merchant adventurers of the Dutch East India Company were not to be discouraged.
In 1642 the company dispatched one of its ace seafarers. Abel Tasman. to track down the elusive treasures of the farthest continent. On his first expedition. Tasman discovered an island that he called Van Diemen’s Land — now known as Tasmania. after him.
Another pessimistic view was reported by a colourful traveller, English buccaneer William Dampier, who had two good looks at the west coast of Australia towards the end of the 17th century. He found no drinking water. no fruit or vegetables, no riches and The miserablest people in the world’.
Almost by accident, Captain James Cook, the great British navigator, landed on the cast coast of Australia in 1770 on a very roundabout trip back to England from Tahiti. Aboard his ship Endeavour were the skilled naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.
They found so many fascinating specimens that Cook was moved to name the place Botany Bay. Cook claimed all the territory he charted for George III. coining the name New South Wales. He returned to London with glowing reports of the Australia he had seen: a vast, sunny, fertile land, inhabited by a native people who were ‘far more happier than we Europeans’. In 1779. Joseph Banks. by now the president of the Royal Society, came up with a novel idea. He formally proposal colonising Australia, but instead of conventional settlers, he would send out convicts as pioneers.
This plan. he contended. would solve the crisis in Britain’s overflowing jails. For most of the 18th century. the British had disposed of troublesome convicts by banishing them to North America. With the American Revolution. though, this destination had to be dropped from the itineraries. The motherland’s prisons could not cope. and the river hulks that were used as floating jails threatened riot and disease. Banks’s proposal for a prison island on the other side of the globe seemed far-fetched and expensive, but, with no alternatives, in May 1787 the British government began the transportation of criminals to Australia.
The programme was to endure for 80 years. In that time more than 160,000 convicts were shipped to a new life Down Under.