The history and society of Australia

Sydney Harbour in Australia
Aboriginal Australia

Australia's indigenous Aborigines are the oldest living culture in the world and have a continuous history spanning 50,000 years. Each of the Aboriginal tribes had their own dialects, customs and lifestyles that were untouched for centuries.

European Australia

The first recorded European visitor was the Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in 1606. He and others chartered the coastline of ‘New Holland’ (as it was then known) over the decades but in 1770 Englishman, Captain James Cook claimed the eastern half of Australia for the British Crown.

British Australia

Britain decided to use its new outpost as a penal colony and the first fleet of 11 ships carried about 1500 people - half of them convicts.  The fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1788, and it is on this day every year that Australia Day is celebrated.

Over the next 80 years, around 160,000 men and women were brought to Australia as convicts. Free immigrants joined the convicts from the early 1790s and were tempted by work in the wool industry or hoped to find their fortune during the gold rushes.

As the population grew and new areas were explored, another 5, largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established. On January 1, 1901, the 6 colonies federated and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed.

Society and Culture: Multi Cultural Australia

Following the Second World War millions of immigrants arrived in Australia, mainly from Britain and Ireland but also from Greece, Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and Holland, along with refugees from Spain, Portugal, Poland and Russia. Australia believed that they had narrowly avoided Japanese invasion and needed ‘populate or perish’ so immigrants were actively sourced and many assisted to find work.

As a result of this modern Australia is one of the most multicultural societies in the world where over 200 languages are spoken, there are diverse religious and cultural activities and variety in foods, restaurants, fashion and architecture.

Each of the capital cities is a reflection of the multi-cultural mix, ancestry, landscape and climate. The vibrant Asian and Aboriginal influences characterize tropical Darwin, and you’ll see convict-built buildings in Hobart. Melbourne is home to a rich fashion, food and sports culture and Sydney is cutting edge.  You’ll find Brisbane is laidback, Adelaide is elegant and Perth is a scenic city where there is an abundance of water sports.


While there is no official religion in Australia, around 64% identify as Christian, 30% do not identify with any religion, and the remaining are Islamic, Buddhist, and others.

Australia’s indigenous people believe in the ‘Dreamtime’ and that the world, its people, and some plants and animals were created by supernatural deities at the beginning of time.  Very religious and spiritual, the Aboriginies believe in a number of deities whose form can be depicted in the form of a landscape eg an image in a rock art shelter, or in a plant or animal form.

*The Fine Print

We’ve tried to make this destination guide as accurate as possible but please double check the essentials like visas, health and safety, airport information etc with the relevant authorities before you travel.  STA Travel takes no responsibility for loss, injury or inconvenience caused as a result of this guide. All prices listed are in the currency of the destination, unless otherwise stated.

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