Immigration to Australia


Soon after James Cook's discovery of Australia when the once-mythical Great Southern Land became a reality, the English government made plans for its settlement. The motives were mixed but included an eye for the commercial possibilities of New South Wales and the South Pacific, and the pressing need to remove convicts from Britain. So it was that this still mysterious and unknown land would first become a penal colony beginning in 1788 when convict ships arrived at Sydney Cove.

Much has been made of the criminal antecedents of the Australians, but what kind of people were these transported convicts? Most were petty thieves who had attempted to steal small quantities of merchandise owing to the extremely poor economic conditions and high unemployment in late 18th-century England.

These early Australians had to work very hard to adjust to a hot, dry, southern land that differed completely from the cool, wet territory from which they came. Indeed, virtually nothing was familiar to them. The plants, trees and animals were all strange. The stars were different. The seasons were reversed, and even water went down the drain the "wrong" way (counter-clockwise instead of clockwise as in the northern hemisphere). Perhaps, worst of all, the settlers had to face isolation and the "unknown."

Food shipments from England would be ruined in the early years of Australian immigration because of the dangerous and very lengthy voyage around the Cape of Good Hope and the mountainous seas of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, what livestock managed to endure the cruel oceanic journey of those times met their death by wandering into the vast and unforgiving Australian bush.

These amazing settlers, however, overcame privation and were active in taming the land. By the mid 19th century, an auspicious start had been made at forging a new nation. These hardy people built coastal settlements, constructed roads, fashioned a whaling industry, created a wool economy and even discovered gold. By the 1850s it could hardly go unnoticed that a sense of optimism and dreams of a new society of free men and women within the British Empire had given birth to a real Australian identity, and 1901 witnessed the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia.

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