The hardback, handwritten journal of Lieutenant James Cook from 1770, lying open on a table

Australian History Timeline 1

Australian History Timeline: Pre-1770s to 1890s

Pre-1770s to 1890s

The Australian History Timeline features over 90 film clips showcasing a unique collection of Australian history documentaries.

WARNING: this article may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 


Australia has two major Indigenous groups - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the oldest continuous cultures in the world. For more than 60,000 years, these rich and diverse Indigenous peoples live on the land that will become known as Australia. There are at least 250 distinct language groups, with diverse cultural practices, yet all share a profound and fundamental connection to their land. 

CLIP 1: Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site

The extraordinary build-up of fossils in South Australia's World and National Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves spans at least 350,000 years and provides rare evidence of Australia's distinctive fauna and the way it has evolved. Clip from Australia's Heritage - National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

CLIP 2: First Australians Episode 1: Life Before Contact

Narrator Rachel Perkins retells stories from the Dreamtime and historian Professor Marcia Langton of the Yiman-Bidjara Nation, historian Professor Janet McCalman and writer Bruce Pascoe of Boonwurrung Heritage weigh in on the unique prehistory experience of Australian Indigenous peoples. Clip from First Australians Episode 1: They Have Come To Stay – 'Life Before Contact', 2008.

CLIP 3: Batavia Shipwreck Ruins

Stone ruins on Western Australia's remote West Wallabi Island are the oldest structures built by Europeans in Australia and tell a tale of mutiny and murder. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

First Australians Episode 1: They Have Come to Stay – 'Life before contact', 2008. NFSA: 769305


The world's longest continuing culture meets Yorkshire villager, ex-apprentice grocer and Pacific explorer Captain Cook and botanist Joseph Banks. 

CLIP 1: Endeavour Journal

Written on board the Endeavour during the trip down under in 1770, James Cook's journal records the beginning of Australia as we know it today. Clip from Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown, 2004.


Britain, having lost her American colonies in the War of Independence, realises that she needs a new place to send the convicted criminals that are threatening to overload the country's prison hulks and gaols. A Pacific naval and trading base for the British Empire might also come in handy. A colony is decided upon, and the First Fleet sets off for a land they know practically nothing about, assuming it is adapted for settlement.

CLIP 1: First Australians Episode 1: 'Can You Imagine?'

On 25 January 1788 the First Fleet enters Sydney Harbour. Narrator Rachel Perkins and historian Professor Marcia Langton of the Yiman-Bidjara Nation convey the Indigenous point of view of this event. Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnen describes attempts by the Aboriginal people and the British soldiers to meet on peaceful terms. Clip from First Australians Episode 1: They Have Come To Stay – 'Can You Imagine?', 2008.

CLIP 2: First Australians Episode 1: 'A Genuine Relationship'

Narrator Rachel Perkins and interviewees Emeritus Scholar Inga Clendinnen and Associate Professor James Kohen impart the story of a cross-cultural relationship between Lieutenant Dawes and an Aboriginal woman, Patyegarang. Clip from First Australians Episode 1: They Have Come To Stay – 'A Genuine Relationship', 2008.


A decade which begins with the small Port Jackson settlement threatened with starvation ends with Sydney Town thriving, the Rum Corps entrenched, convict traders happily extorting and the British Government losing a lot of money on the upkeep of their new 'colonial gaol'.

CLIP 1: Aboriginal People and the Colony of NSW

On 26 January 1788, the British arrived at what is now known as Sydney, New South Wales, with the intention of taking possession of the land in the name of the British Government and the King, and of staying. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.


Two new Governors rule in reasonably rapid succession, the second of whom (Bligh) gets overthrown in a coup led by 'Rum Corps' officers and leading settlers, and supported by an outraged Sydney populace. Meanwhile, violence between whites and blacks intensifies and martial law is proclaimed.

CLIP 1: Governor Bligh Arrives in NSW

In 1806 William Bligh, accompanied by his daughter Mary Putland, arrives as the new Governor of the colony of NSW. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.

CLIP 2: Bligh, Macarthur and the Rum Rebellion

On 26 January 1808, troops from the New South Wales Corps march on Government House to place Governor William Bligh under arrest. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.

CLIP 3: Governor Bligh – Hero or Coward?

Governor William Bligh destroys important documents as he hides from the New South Wales Corps troops who storm Government House and place him under arrest on 26 January 1808. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.

CLIP 4: John Macarthur – Rogue or Hero?

When John Macarthur arrives back in NSW with a land grant, after a failed court-martial in London, he takes the best grazing land in the colony. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.


The decade of Governor Macquarie, who declares that the express purpose of the colony is to provide the opportunity for convicts to have a new chance in life.

CLIP 1: Democracy and the Colony of NSW

In 1819, British Commissioner John Thomas Bigge investigates accusations that the colony of NSW has become a land of opportunity for convicts under Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.

CLIP 2: NSW 1819 - Convict Gulag or Place of Opportunity?

In 1819, the life of the working class in newly-industrialised England is harsher than the life and opportunities open to the children of convicts in the colony of NSW. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.


The expansion of the white population puts extreme pressure on the Indigenous population. The decade sees the notorious Black War taking place in Van Diemen's Land.

CLIP 1: Two Convicts Steal a Place in History

Two soldiers in colonial NSW steal a piece of cloth, with the intention of getting caught. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.

CLIP 2: William Wentworth – 'Currency Lad'

William Wentworth, the colonial-born son of a convict, is destined to become a charismatic press baron, publicist, barrister and patriot. Clip from Rogue Nation, 2008.


Settlers forge ahead for new pastures to squat upon. But the squatters' steady encroachment onto Aboriginal lands leads also to devastation and loss.

CLIP 1: Charles Darwin Thinks About Indigenous Australians

In 1836 Darwin briefly visited Australia. Professor Iain McCalman reflects on Darwin's observation of the impact of settler society on Indigenous peoples. Clip from Charles Darwin – The Australian Connection, 2009.


The first great economic depression rocks the colonies. A protest movement throughout the colonies leads to the first proto-national flag.

CLIP 1: Figure in the Landscape

John Glover revolutionised his art to become one of Australia's finest landscape artists. Clip from Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia, 2008.


Great gold strikes help pull Australian colonies and the global economy out of the doldrums, and unleash a great wave of migration.

CLIP 1: Fremantle Prison

Built by convicts in 1850, Fremantle Prison is the best-preserved convict-built prison in Australia and is part of the earliest phase of European settlement in Western Australia. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

CLIP 2: Eureka Flag

Since it fluttered above a group of rebellious gold miners at the 1854 Eureka Stockade, the flag of the Southern Cross has become a symbol of democracy and defiance. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

CLIP 3: Todd's Telegraph Dream

Charles Todd dreamt of constructing a telegraph line through the heart of the content. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.

CLIP 4: Rules of AFL

Ten hand-written rules displayed in a museum in the heart of the National Heritage-listed Melbourne Cricket Ground hold the key to a great Australian sport. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor – Eureka Flag, 2009. NFSA: 1479373


White explorers make it for the first time all the way across the Australian continent. An overland telegraph soon follows, and is built from Port Augusta (near Adelaide) to Darwin.

CLIP 1: Stuart Encounters Outback Aborigines

When John Stuart crossed the interior of Australia, he did so in ignorance of the complex set of boundaries and rules for the use of shared resources that existed among the Aboriginal people. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.

CLIP 2: Stuart Crosses the Continent

There was enormous public and media speculation about which group would be first to cross the continent's interior: the Victorian-backed Burke and Wills party or South Australia's Stuart expedition. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.


Ned Kelly becomes an outlaw. The cities keep growing bigger as the Australian colonies rapidly join the most urbanised places in the world.

CLIP 1: Todd Completes Telegraph

In 1870 Charles Todd, using explorer John McDouall Stuart's maps, organised and led three teams to lay the overland telegraph wire. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.


The decade sees the peak of a long economic boom that began with the gold strikes of the 1850s. Meanwhile, Native Protection Acts cause widespread displacement and suffering for Aboriginal people.

CLIP 1: Ned Kelly's Armour

From violent cop killer to a champion of the working class, bushranger Ned Kelly is a solid gold Australian icon and folk hero. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.

CLIP 2: First Women's Union

This clip talks about the conditions that led to the Melbourne Tailoresses Strike of 1882 to 1883. Clip from For Love or Money, 1983.

CLIP 3: Royal Exhibition Building

During the 19th century, Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building was an architectural masterpiece which showcased Australia's arrival on the world stage as an economic powerhouse. Clip from Australia's Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, 2009.


Heavy colonial debts to London banks and a global downturn in commodity prices lead to a wholesale banking collapse, strikes across the colonies and a decade-long depression. The economic troubles spark a new enthusiasm for creating national unity – and Federation.

CLIP 1: Gold Rush in the West

Gold, more than any other single factor, transformed the Australian colonies. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.

CLIP 2: O'Connor's Dream for Water

In 1890, CY O'Connor was recruited to work as Chief Engineer in the newly self-governing colony of Western Australia. There he formed a dynamic partnership with the colony's larger-than-life Premier, John Forrest. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.

CLIP 3: Women Win the Vote in South Australia

In the documentary Utopia Girls, historian Dr Clare Wright guides us through the fascinating story of how Australian women became the first in the world to gain full political rights. Utopia Girls, 2011.

CLIP 4: The West and Federation

Some sort of federation of the Australian colonies had been suggested as early as 1846. Ferocious political struggles over the shape of the new nation continued until the eleventh hour. Clip from Constructing Australia, 2007.

CLIP 5: Tom Roberts' Bailed Up

With its revolutionary approach to depicting the landscape and light, Tom Roberts' Bailed Up is a painting that helped define Australia's national identity. Clip from Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown, 2004.

CLIP 6: 'Waltzing Matilda' Song Sheet

The original handwritten score for 'Waltzing Matilda' holds the story of a musical collaboration that created Australia's national song. Clip from Investigating National Treasures with Warren Brown, 2004.

Utopia Girls (excerpt), 2011. Courtesy: Renegade Films. NFSA: 1026103