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AUSTRALIA

~ Exploration ~

 

For years, the rugged Blue Mountains blocked western expansion of the Sydney settlement. In 1813 the discovery of a passage over the mountains by Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth and William Lawson opened the way for inland exploration. Allan Cunningham, a botanist, discovered the rich Darling Downs of southern Queensland, and John Oxley, surveyor, found the Brisbane River.

Settlements were established on the Brisbane River, Queensland, in 1824; on the Swan River, Western Australia, in 1829; on Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, in 1835; and on Gulf St Vincent, South Australia, in 1836. Today, the capital cities of five states are on those sites.

Western Australia and South Australia were granted legislative councils in 1838 and 1842 respectively. The British Government's Australian Colonies Government Act 1850 empowered the colonies to establish legislatures, determine the franchise and frame constitutions. Public agitation forced an end to convict transportation to the mainland in 1840 and to Tasmania 13 years later. Western Australia, a free settler's colony short of labour, elected to receive quotas of convicts between 1850 and 1868.

In April 1851, Edward Hargraves (1816-91) found gold at Summer Hill Creek near Bathurst in New South Wales. With the recent experience of the California gold rush in mind, others joined in the rush, which quickly became centred in Victoria at Mount Alexander, Ballarat, and Bendigo. Gold was later found elsewhere in New South Wales and Queensland. In the following ten years, Australia exported more than $24 million worth of gold. By that time (1861), the Australian population had reached almost 1.2 million, a threefold increase over the 1850 population of 400,000.

In Victoria, miners quickly became irritated with the high cost of mining licenses and restrictions on their right to search for gold. Before the fees were reduced, a small band of miners staged an uprising at the Eureka stockade at Ballarat in December 1854. As the richest alluvial fields became worked out and companies mined the reefs, many miners took up farming.

 

 

In the 1860s the goldfields began to decline. Although wool exports kept the colonies fairly prosperous, colonial debate soon centred on the role of government in the economy. In particular, railroad construction, due to costs and the absence of internal market centres, became a government activity. In 1866 Victoria, followed by South Australia and Tasmania, adopted a policy of high tariffs on imported goods in order to protect its own small industries and markets. New South Wales (and Queensland to a lesser extent) continued to stay with a free-trade policy. Throughout the 1870s and '80s, the arguments over free trade versus protection divided the press, the political parties, and the colonies. This, together with the continuing jealousies among them, hindered any significant attempts at cooperation and possible union among the six colonies until the 1890s.

The countervailing need to protect or promote common interests led to a series of inter-colonial conferences of premiers at irregular intervals from 1863. The idea of unification appeared as early as 1847 in proposals by Earl Grey (1802-94), Britain's colonial secretary. In the 1850s John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878), a Scottish Presbyterian cleric in New South Wales, formed the Australian League to campaign for a united Australia. A draft federal constitution was drawn up in 1891 at a convention sponsored by the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes. A further convention in 1897-98 refined it into the Australian Constitution.

Population growth and economic expansion prompted the colonies to call for self-government. On 1 January 1901 the six colonies joined in a federation of states to become the Commonwealth of Australia.

 

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