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(by Ray Dixon ~ an Australian blogger who blogs for Australia, not for bloody England)
noun : a point at which the essential nature or character of a person, group, etc., is revealed or identified.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments that the arrival of the First Fleet was the defining moment in Australian history are interesting … but wrong. And dumb. In my opinion.
Before you rusted-ons jump up and down, I’m not commenting on the reactions and rebukes from indigenous leaders, who have claimed that Abbott’s remarks were an insult “ignoring 50,000 years of (aboriginal) history” that preceded the arrival of the First Fleet on the 26th of January 1788.
No disrespect intended to our indigenous past but even the National Museum could not find much of significance from that period to add to its list of 100 ‘moments’. And I hardly think that either the first rock art, the invention of the boomerang or the arrival of the dingo revealed, shaped or identified the essential nature or character of this nation. Let’s be realistic, there was little or no change in that long 50,000 year period.
No, I actually agree with Tony Abbott that Australia (as we know it today) was more shaped by events after the arrival of ‘white man’. I just think he chose the wrong event.
So putting that aside (PLEASE put it aside because I don’t want this to be an argument over ‘the invasion’) and looking at Australia post Captain Cook claiming it for Britain in 1770, what would you call Australia’s “defining moment”, bearing in mind the definition above? At what point was the “essential nature or character” of Australia revealed or identified?
This is what Abbott said:
Mr Abbott made the remarks at the opening of a history exhibition at the National Museum in Canberra on Friday, repeatedly stating that he believed the arrival of the First Fleet “was the defining moment in the history of this continent”.
“It was the moment this continent became part of the modern world. It determined our language, our law and our fundamental values.”
And this is why I think he was wrong:
The best that could be said about the arrival of the First Fleet – which was primarily the establishment of a penal colony to relieve congestion in England’s jails – is that it marked the ‘birth’ of a nation. I’d actually call it the ‘birth’ of Great Britain’s bastard child, seeing the intent was to dispose of its unwanted dregs but, nonetheless (and regardless of how you see it), the fact is that most people wouldn’t consider childbirth to be the defining moment of their life.
What “fundamental values” were determined by that event? A “fair go”? Equality? Freedom? Hardly.
For Tony Abbott to claim the arrival of the First Fleet of convicts revealed our “essential nature” is actually to say we are still in servitude to Great Britain. We are still unwanted. We are still inferior. We are still ‘the dregs’.
And that’s a very poor choice, especially coming from a Prime Minister who was born in England himself!
The arrival of the First Fleet and subsequent settlement at Sydney Cove certainly facilitated more arrivals (of both convict and free people), but surely it was somewhere in the events that followed our ‘bastard birth’ that more defined the true character of this great country.
For example, McArthur’s arrival and introduction of Merino sheep in 1797 had far more impact on our nationhood, especially as it gave us our first significant industry – one that still survives today.
And Matthew Flinders circumnavigation of the continent in a tiny boat in 1802 after which he named the continent ‘Australia’, certainly went a long way to define the land on which we lived.
The Gold Rush of the 1850s was also a great defining moment that brought many people from many nations to try their luck, leading to the rebellion (against the British) at Eureka Stockade, an event that was wholly justified and demonstrated our stance against an oppressive authority.
I’d even rate Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan in 1880 as more “defining” than Abbott’s First Fleet moment.
But I’d say the most significant and “defining” moments in our history are these:
The Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901 when the six separate (British) colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia formed as one nation with a federal government responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. That was when the Constitution of Australia came into force and when the formerly British colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia – i.e. it was our ‘Independence Day’, albeit still with the Queen as Head of State. That event – the marking of our independence from British rule – was surely the moment that defined Australia throughout the 20th Century.
The 1942 thwarting of the Japanese advancement on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (following the bombing of Darwin) when for nearly six months our soldiers fought bravely (with no thanks to the Brits) to prevent the Japanese establishing a stronghold at Port Moresby from where it intended to isolate (and possibly invade) Australia. That was the first (and so far only) time we have ever really had to fight for our survival and very existence. And we prevailed. It was truly an event of monumental importance in our history.
So what do you think of Abbott’s choice of the First Fleet of British dregs defining who we are?
What do you say is the most “defining moment” in our history from this list of 100 events put out by the National Museum?
(Note: I’ve bolded those I think are the most significant … and added a few of my own at the end) :
at least 52,000 years ago: Archaeological evidence of first peoples on the Australian continent
about 28,000 years ago: Earliest known Australian rock art engraved and painted
about 20,000 years ago: Earliest evidence of the boomerang in Australia
about 12,000 years ago: Sea level rises, separating Tasmania from mainland
about 5000 years ago: Arrival of the dingo, Australia’s first domesticated species
1606 Dutch explorer Willem Janssen becomes first European to map parts of the Australian coast
about 1700 Makasar from Sulawesi visit northern Australia and trade with Aboriginal people
1770 Lieutenant James Cook claims east coast of Australia for Britain
1788 Captain Arthur Phillip establishes convict settlement at Sydney Cove
1792 Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy leads resistance against Sydney colonists
1797 Introduction and improvement of merino sheep
1802–03 Matthew Flinders circumnavigates continent, which he names ‘Australia’
1813 Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth cross Blue Mountains
1830 The ‘Black Line’ — settler force attempts to corral Aboriginal people on the Tasman Peninsula
1836 Governor Richard Bourke funds Protestant and Catholic churches in New South Wales on equal basis
1838 Myall Creek massacre, New South Wales
1851 Gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria begin
1854 Rebellion of goldminers at Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Victoria
1854 Australia’s first railway line opens in Victoria
1856 Secret ballot introduced and all adult men given the vote, South Australia
1856 Melbourne building workers win an eight-hour day
1858 First organised game of Australian Rules football
1859 Rabbits successfully introduced into Australia
1861 First Melbourne Cup horse race
1868 Convict transportation to Australia ends
1868 Aboriginal cricket team tours England
1872 Free, compulsory and secular education introduced, Victoria
1872 Completion of the Overland Telegraph from Darwin to Port Augusta, South Australia
1879 Australia’s first national park created — (now Royal) National Park, Sydney
1880 The Bulletin established
1880 Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria
1885 Victorian Employers’ Union formed
1885 BHP begins mining silver, zinc and lead at Broken Hill, New South Wales
1887 Chaffey brothers introduce irrigation on Murray River
1889 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition shows paintings by Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, Melbourne
1890–91 Depression and strikes; formation of the Labor Party
1894 Legislation introducing women’s suffrage, South Australia
1901 Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia
1901 White Australia policy enshrined in law
1902 Commonwealth Franchise Act gives women the vote in federal elections
1903 William Farrer begins distribution of ‘Federation’ wheat
1906 Australia takes control of Papua as an ‘external territory’
1907 Justice HB Higgins hands down ‘Harvester Judgement’
1908 Legislation introducing national age and invalid pensions
1911 Douglas Mawson leads Australasian expedition to Antarctica
1912 Australian Government introduces a maternity allowance
1913 Foundation of Canberra as national capital
1915 New South Wales Government gains unfettered power to remove Aboriginal children from their families
1915 Australian troops land at Gallipoli
1916 Federal–state agreement for Soldier Settlement
1916–17 Conscription for military service overseas defeated in two referendums
1917 Completion of Trans-Australian Railway linking Western Australia and the eastern states
1920 Country Party founded at national level
1920 Qantas established
1924 Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed
1932 Height of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment
1932 Foundation of the Australian Broadcasting Commission
1932–33 England cricket team in Australia on ‘Bodyline’ Ashes tour
1936 Tasmania’s thylacine becomes extinct
1938 Sydney celebrates 150th anniversary of British settlement; Aboriginal leaders hold Day of Mourning
1942 Japanese bomb Darwin but are halted on Kokoda Track
1943 First women elected to Australian federal parliament
1944 Formation of Liberal Party of Australia
1945 Florey, Fleming and Chain win Nobel Prize for developing penicillin
1945 National introduction of unemployment and sickness benefits
1945 Australia plays a leading role in founding United Nations
1945 Australian Government announces post-war migration drive
1948 Australia’s first locally made car, the Holden 48-215, launched
1949 Chifley government begins Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme
1949 Election of the Menzies government — the longest serving in Australian history
1951 Australia signs ANZUS treaty with New Zealand and the United States
1954 Visit of Queen Elizabeth II, the first by a reigning monarch 1955 Split within Australian Labor Party; formation of the Democratic Labor Party
1956 Television introduced in time for Australia’s first Olympic Games, Melbourne
1960 Australian Government lifts restrictions on export of iron ore
1961 Introduction of the oral contraceptive pill
1966 Holt government effectively dismantles White Australia Policy
1966 Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill walk-off) led by Vincent Lingiari
1967 Australians vote overwhelmingly to alter the Constitution allowing Aboriginal people to be counted in the Census and subject to Commonwealth laws
1970 Moratorium to protest Australian involvement in Vietnam War
1972 Aboriginal tent embassy established in front of Parliament House, Canberra
1972 Conciliation and Arbitration Commission grants equal pay for men and women
1973 Sydney Opera House opens
1974 Cyclone Tracy hits Darwin
1975 Governor-General dismisses Whitlam government
1976 Australian Government passes Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act
1978 First Gay Mardi Gras march, Sydney
1978 Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) established
1983 Floating of the Australian dollar
1983 Protests against Franklin Dam in Tasmania lead to formation of the Greens
1984 Australian parliament passes Sex Discrimination Act
1991 Port Hedland immigration detention centre opens
1992 High Court decision in Mabo case establishes native title
1996 Port Arthur massacre leads to tighter gun laws
2000 Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge
2001 Australian troops take control of Tampa carrying rescued asylum-seekers
2002 Bali bombing kills 88 Australians
2004 Australia signs Free Trade Agreement with the United States
2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations
2009 ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires kill 173 people in Victoria
And they forgot about these:
1966 St Kilda wins its first (and so far only) VFL/AFL Premiership
1972 Election of Whitlam Government marks the end of conscription and our involvement in the Vietnam War
1983 Australia II wins the America Cup
2005 Makybe Diva wins an unprecedented 3rd consecutive Melbourne Cup
2010 Julia Gillard shoots the Labor Party in the foot by knifing its most popular ever Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
2014 Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott lose the plot