History of Queensland
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The human history of Queensland encompasses both a long Aboriginal Australian presence as well as the more recent European settlement. Before being charted and claimed for England by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770, the north-eastern Australian region was explored by Dutch, Portuguese and French navigators. Queensland has experienced dynamic growth since its separation from the colony of New South Wales in 1859.
Aboriginal Australians arrived approximately 50-60,000 years ago by boat or land bridge across Torres Strait, presumably from Southeast Asia. They travelled over most of the continent in the ensuing 10,000 years. Before Europeans arrived 200 of the 600-700 Australian Aboriginal nations lived in Queensland with at least 90 language groups.
Around 25,000 years ago a sudden drop in global temperature of about 8C led to an ice age lasting over 10,000 years during which much of the abundant landscape became harsh and desolate. In this period the search for food was difficult, leading to the world's first seed-grinding technology. A land bridge existed both to south east Asia and to Tasmania but these land bridges were harsh and inhospitable. About 15,000 years ago warming global temperatures and high rainfall along the eastern coast caused the spread of tropical rainforest and at the same time the shrinking of available coastal land due to sea level rises. The inland, receiving rainfall, again became habitable. The Kalkadoon, in the inland central gulf region, dug wells 10m deep to maintain their supply of freshwater. The good conditions, lasting for at least 10,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans, allowed the development of semi-permanent villages in the northern rainforests, the far western regions and Moreton Bay. Along the Barron River, and on the Moreton Bay Islands, large huts (djimurru) capable of housing 30-40 people were built. But for the most part the unpredictable climate with severe droughts and floods made the dominant hunter-gatherer lifestyle the most sensible. Queensland assumed its present shape around 6000 years ago.
The peak population of Aboriginal people prior to European colonisation is contentious. Numbers have probably been underestimated due to the shame felt by white historians about the drastic fall in the numbers of Aboriginal people, due to smallpox in particular, but also to many other causes including direct conflict. There may have been 200-500,000 Aboriginal people in Queensland prior to white settlement. However, any pre-contact figure was no doubt greatly reduced by small-pox even before the arrival to the future Queensland of the white settler. Yet, the territory of future Queensland covered for more than one third and in some estimates up to forty percent of pre-contact tribes as well as estimated Aboriginal population. Certainly Queensland was by all accounts the most populated section of pre-contact Aboriginal Australia.
European exploration and settlement
In 1606, the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon landed near the site of the modern-day town of Weipa on the western shore of Cape York. This was the first recorded encounter between European and Australian Aboriginal people.
In 1768, the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville sailed west from the New Hebrides islands, getting to within a hundred miles of the Queensland coast. He did not reach the coast because he did not find a passage through the coral reefs, and turned back.
Lieutenant James Cook claimed the east coast under instruction from King George III of England on 22 August 1770 at Possession Island, naming eastern Australia 'New South Wales'. This included the present Queensland. Cook charted the Australian east coast in his ship HM Barque "Endeavour", naming Stradbroke and Morton (now Moreton Island) islands, the Glass House Mountains, Double Island Point, Wide Bay, Hervey Bay and the Great Sandy Cape, now called Fraser Island. His second landfall in Australia was at Round Hill Head, 500 km north of Brisbane. The Endeavour was grounded on a coral reef near Cape Tribulation, on 11 June 1770 where he was delayed for almost seven weeks while they repaired the ship. This occurred where Cooktown now lies, on the Endeavour River, both places named after the incident. On 22 August the Endeavour reached the northern tip of Queensland, which Cook named the Cape York Peninsula after the Duke of York.
In 1799, in the Norfolk, Matthew Flinders spent six weeks exploring the Queensland coast as far north as Hervey Bay. In 1802 he explored the coast again. On a later trip to England, his ship the HMS Porpoise and the accompanying Cato ran aground on a coral reef off the Queensland coast. Flinders set off for Sydney in an open cutter, at a distance of 750 miles (1,210 km), where the Governor sent ships back to rescue the crew from Wreck Reef.
In 1823, John Oxley sailed north from Sydney to inspect Port Curtis (now Gladstone) and Moreton Bay as possible sites for a penal colony. At Moreton Bay, he found the Brisbane River whose existence Cook had predicted, and proceeded to explore the lower part of it. In September 1824, he returned with soldiers and established a temporary settlement at Redcliffe. On 2 December, the settlement was transferred to where the Central Business District (CBD) of Brisbane now stands. The settlement was initially called Edenglassie, a portmanteau of the Scottish towns Edinburgh and Glasgow. Major Edmund Lockyer discovered outcrops of coal along the banks of the upper Brisbane River in 1825. In 1839 transportation of convicts ceased, culminating in the closure of the Brisbane penal settlement. In 1842 free settlement was permitted.
In 1847, the Port of Maryborough was opened as a wool port. The first immigrant ship to arrive in Moreton Bay was the Artemisia in 1848. In 1857, Queensland's first lighthouse was built at Cape Moreton.
Fighting between Aborigines and settlers in colonial Queensland was more bloody than any other state and colony in Australia, likely due to Queensland having a larger pre-contact indigenous population than other colonies in Australia, singularly accounting for over one third and in some estimates close to forty percent of the entire pre-contact population of Australia. The latest and hitherto most comprehensive survey states that some 1,500 European settlers and their allies (Chinese, Aboriginal and Melanesian Assistants) were killed in frontier skirmishes during the nineteenth century, the same study similarly indicates the actual casualties Aboriginal people suffered, in the skirmishes with the native police and settlers and by contemporary political leaders frequently classified as 'warfare', 'a kind of warfare', 'guerrilla-like warfare' and at times as a 'war of extermination', is highly likely to exceed 30,000. That is a tripling of the hitherto used estimates for Queensland. A Queensland government paid force, the so-called 'Native Police Force' (sometimes 'Native Mounted Police Force'), was a key instrument in the dispossession and oppression of indigenous people.
The three largest massacres on whites by Aborigines in Australian colonial history all took place in Queensland. On 27 October 1857 Martha Fraser's Hornet Bank station on the Dawson River, in central Queensland took the lives of 11 Europeans. The tent camp of the embryo station of Cullin-La-Ringo near Springsure was attacked by Aborigines on 17 Oct 1861 killing 19 people including the grazier Horatio Wills. Following the wreck of the brig Maria at Bramble Reef near the Whitsunday Islands on 26 February a total of 14 European survivors massacred by local Aborigines.
Colony of Queensland
In 1851, a public meeting was held to consider Queensland's separation from New South Wales. On 6 June 1859 Queen Victoria signed Letters Patent to form the colony of Queensland. A proclamation was read by George Ferguson Bowen on 10 December 1859 whereupon Queensland was formally separated from New South Wales. Bowen became the first Governor of Queensland and Robert Herbert became the first Premier of Queensland.
Queensland was the only Australian colony that commenced with its own parliament instead of first spending time as a Crown Colony. By this time, Western Australia was the only Australian colony without responsible government. Ipswich and Rockhampton became towns in 1860, with Maryborough and Warwick becoming towns the following year.
In 1861, rescue parties for Burke and Wills, which failed to find them, did some exploratory work of their own, in central and north-western Queensland. Notably among these was Frederick Walker who originally worked for the native police. Brisbane was linked by electric telegraph to Sydney in 1861, however the first operating telegraph line in Queensland was from Brisbane to Ipswich in the same year.
Although smaller than the gold rushes of Victoria and New South Wales, Queensland had its own series of gold rushes in the later half of the nineteenth century. In 1858, gold was discovered at Canoona. In 1867, gold was discovered in Gympie. In 1872, William Hann discovers gold on the Palmer River, southwest of Cooktown. Chinese settlers began to arrive in the goldfields, by 1877 there were 17,000 Chinese on Queensland gold fields. In that year restrictions on Chinese immigration were passed.
1862 saw Queensland's western boundary changed from longitude 141° E to 138°E. In 1863, the first Chief Justice, Sir James Cockle was appointed. 1864 was an annus horribilis for Queensland. In March of that year, major flooding of the Brisbane River inundated the centre of town, in April, fires devastated the west side of Queen Street, which was the main shopping district and in December, another fire, which was Brisbane's worst ever, wiped out the rest of Queen Street and adjoining streets.
1865 saw the first steam trains in Queensland, travelling (from Ipswich to Bigge's Camp, which is now known as Grandchester. Townsville gazetted as a town in the same year. In 1867, the Queensland Constitution was consolidated from existing legislation under the Constitution Act 1867. Sugar production was by then becoming a major industry. In 1867, six mills produced 168 tons of cane-sugar, by 1870 there were 28 mills with a production of 2,854 tons. The production of sugar started around Brisbane, but spread to Mackay and Cairns, and by 1888 the annual output of sugar was 60,000 tons. 1871 saw George Phipps, 2nd Marquess of Normanby become the Governor of Queensland. The first record of a rugby match played in Queensland occurred in 1876. In 1877, Arthur Edward Kennedy became the Governor of Queensland
In 1883, Queensland Premier Sir Thomas McIlwraith annexes Papua (later repudiated by British government). On 2 June the decision to form a rugby union association was made at the Exchange hotel in Brisbane. The same year Queensland's population passed the 250,000 mark. In 1887, the Brisbane-Wallangarra railway line was opened, and in 1888 there was a 483-mile (777 km) line opened between Brisbane and Charleville. There were other lines that were nearly complete from Rockhampton to Longreach, and others being constructed around Maryborough, Mackay and Townsville. By 1888, there were more than 5 million cattle in Queensland.
1891 saw the Great Shearers' Strike at Barcaldine leads to formation of the Australian Labor Party. The issue in the strike was whether employers were entitled to use non-union labour. There were troops and police called in, some sheds were fired, and there were mass riots. There was a second shearers strike in 1894. Union sponsored candidates won sixteen seats at the Queensland elections in 1893. The 1893 Brisbane flood caused much destruction including destroying the Victoria Bridge. The land where the Brisbane Cricket Ground now sits was first used as a cricket ground in 1895, with the first cricket match played there in December 1896. In 1897, Native (Aboriginal) Police force disbanded.
In 1899, the world's first Labor Party Government, with Premier Anderson Dawson as the leader, was elected into power only to last one week. In July 1899 Queensland offered to send a force of 250 mounted infantry to help Britain in the Second Boer War. Also in that year, gold production at Charters Towers peaked. The first natural gas find in Queensland and Australia was at Roma in 1900 as a team was drilling a water well. The Mahina Cyclone of 1899 strikes Cape York Peninsula, destroying a pearling fleet in Princess Charlotte Bay and taking the lives over around 400 people.
During the 1890s many workers known as the Kanakas were brought to Queensland from neighbouring Pacific Island nations to work in the sugar cane fields. Some of whom had been kidnapped under a process known as Blackbirding. When Australia was federated in 1901, the White Australia policy came into effect, whereby all foreign workers in Australia were deported under the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901. At this time there were between 7,000 and 10,000 Pacific Islanders living in Queensland. Most of them had been deported by 1908, by which time there were only 1500-2500 remaining.
Federation to Second World War
On the 1 January 1901 Australia was federated, following a proclamation by Queen Victoria. At this time Queensland had a population of half a million people. In the same year, the Chillagoe smelters commenced operations. Brisbane was proclaimed a city in 1902. In 1905, women voted in state elections for the first time. In 1908, Witches Falls, now part of Tamborine National Park on Tamborine Mountain is declared the first national park in Queensland. The University of Queensland was established in 1909. The 1912 Brisbane General Strike lasted for five weeks. The state's largest recorded earthquake strikes in 1918 near Rockhampton with a magnitude of six.
Qantas was founded in 1920 to serve outback Queensland. 1920 saw Matthew Nathan become Governor and actively promotes British migration to Queensland. The Mount Mulligan mine disaster killed 75 workers in 1921. In 1922, the Queensland Legislative Council was abolished, making Queensland the only Australian state (to this day) without a bicameral legislature. On the 9 June 1925 the Traverston rail disaster occurs - the worst rail disaster in Queensland's history. In 1928, the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia makes first flight, departing from Cloncurry. Also that year, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith lands the Southern Cross in Brisbane, completing the first trans-Pacific flight. In 1935, 101 Cane Toads were brought into Queensland to try to control pests on sugar cane crops, and bred to 3,000, which were released into areas around Cairns, Innisfail and Gordonvale. They has since spread to many parts of Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. In late 1936 a lightning strike hit the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, destroying the distillery without any loss of life. It was rebuilt and is currently operating on the same site today.
Second World War
Following the outbreak of war with Japan, Queensland soon became a virtual frontline, as fears of invasion grew. Several cities and places in Northern Queensland were bombed by the Japanese during their air attacks on Australia. These included Horn Island, Townsville, Cairns and Mossman.
There was a massive build up of Australian and United States forces in the state, and the Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, established his headquarters in Brisbane. Facilities were assigned or constructed to accommodate and train these forces such as Camp Cable south of Brisbane. Tens of thousands of Queenslanders were conscripted into Militia (reserve) units.
On 14 May 1943 the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was sunk off North Stradbroke Island, by a torpedo from a Japanese Navy submarine. Later in the war, the 3rd Division, a Militia unit made of predominantly Queensland personnel, took part in the Bougainville campaign.
The 1948 Queensland Railway strike was a nine-week strike over the wages of railway workshop and depot workers. In 1952, Queensland's only whaling station opens at Tangalooma and is closed a decade later. The Shearers' strike of 1956 saw Queensland shearers off work between January and October in a dispute over wages. Henry Abel Smith becomes Governor in 1958. In 1962, the first commercial production of oil in Queensland and Australia begins at Moonie. 1968 saw Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen elected as Premier. He remained in that role for 19 years. In 1969, the first natural gas pipeline in Queensland and Australia, connecting the Roma gasfields to Brisbane, became operational.
1971 saw escalating protests in regards to the 1971 Springbok tour and Bjelke-Petersen declare a state of emergency in the state In the same year Daylight Saving is introduced to Queensland. Only to be abandoned the following year. The Box Flat Mine explosion took the lives of 18 men in 1972. Two years later the 1974 Brisbane flood caused widespread damage. In 1976, sand mining on Fraser Island is halted.
1982 saw Brisbane host the Commonwealth Games. In the same year Eddie Mabo began action in the High Court to claim ownership of land in the Torres Strait on behalf of the indigenous inhabitants, following the Queensland Amendment Act, which was passed that year. In 1985, the Queensland government tried to end proceedings in the High Court by passing the Queensland Coast Islands Declaratory Act, which claimed that Queensland had total control of the Torres Strait Islands after they had been annexed in 1879. This act was held as contrary to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 by the High Court in 1988. The well known Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) decision was handed down in 1992, which recognised native title.
In 1987 in response to a series of articles on high-level police corruption in The Courier-Mail by reporter Phil Dickie, followed by a Four Corners television report, aired on 11 May 1987, entitled "The Moonlight State" with reporter Chris Masters the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987–1989), presided over by Tony Fitzgerald QC, resulted in the deposition of a premier, two by-elections, the jailing of three former ministers and a police commissioner being jailed and losing his knighthood. Wayne Goss led the Labor Government to power in 1989. In 1980, the annual Rugby League State of Origin matches began at Lang Park in Brisbane. Two years later the Commonwealth Games was held in Brisbane.
In May 1987, the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987–1989) into Queensland Police corruption was ordered by Deputy Premier Bill Gunn. On 1 December 1987 Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was forced to resign as Premier of Queensland. His resignation is accepted by Governor Walter Campbell. In 1987, the Brisbane Bears Australian rules football team joined the VFL as the second team outside Victoria. It was merged with Fitzroy to become the Brisbane Lions in 1997. 1987 saw Brisbane host games of the first ever Rugby World Cup.
Expo '88 held in Brisbane in 1988 to celebrate the Bicentenary of the First fleet founding the colony of Australia. The event was very successful and helped promote Brisbane and Queensland on the world stage. Also that year, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants rugby league teams were founded, followed by the South Queensland Crushers and North Queensland Cowboys in 1995. In 1989, Queensland commenced a three-year trial of Daylight Saving. On 2 December 1989, the National Party government of Russell Cooper was defeated at the state election. The government of Labor Premier Wayne Goss commenced on 7 December 1989.
The 1990s saw Queensland undergo rapid population growth, largely as the result of interstate migration. Internal migrants were attracted to Queensland's buoyant economy, and the opportunity for young families to more easily purchase homes than market conditions would allow in Sydney. Queensland's population growth during the 1990s was largely concentrated in South East Queensland. In 1991, logging on Fraser Island ceases.
By the late 1990s, Queensland's rapid population growth was placing pressure on South East Queensland's infrastructure, including within Brisbane. Major planning of road, rail, electricity and water infrastructure was undertaken to cope with the growing population, with many of these projects being built during the following decade.
In 1992, Queensland holds a referendum on Daylight Saving, which is defeated with a 54.5% 'no' vote. In 1998, the use of the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers for the barging of coal ceases after 158 years.
In 2001, the Goodwill Games were held in Brisbane. In 2003, both Brisbane and Townsville host games of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. In the same year the oil pipeline running from Jackson to Brisbane bursts open at Lytton, causing Queensland's largest-ever oil spill. Cyclone Larry crossed the Queensland coast in March 2006 becoming the costliest tropical cyclone to ever impact Australia. That year residents of Toowoomba voted against the use of recycled sewage in drinking water in a referendum, halting a project that was described as the world's most ambitious wastewater recycling scheme.
2009 saw Anna Bligh become the state's first appointed female Premier. According to the Bureau of Meteorology 2010 was Queensland's wettest year on record. At the end of 2010 and into the next year the state experienced widespread floods. Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley experienced severe flash flooding in January. Cyclone Yasi crossed the Queensland coast in February, causing more damage than Cyclone Larry.
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- Queensland History quarterly
- Queensland History
- Central Queensland History
- Queensland State Archives - the state's major source of historical documentation relating to government
- Royal Historical Society of Queensland Welsby Library has a unique collection on Queensland history and the Commissariat Store is a convict museum
- State Library of Queensland's Heritage Collections - the state's largest collection of Queensland related historical materials including books, newspapers, films, photographs, manuscripts, ephemera, digital stories, clippings files, artworks, and realia
- Convict Queenslanders - those who arrived in Australia as convicts, then made their way to Queensland where they became a part of the colony's history
- Picture Queensland - online collection of images that documents Queensland’s people, places and events, both historical and contemporary
- History Queensland Inc. Membership list
- Watch historical footage of Far North Queensland from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's collection.