ELI5: The story of Australia

August 25, 2020 · 9 mins read

The History of Australia is a pretty kick ass thing, and parts of our history even turn up in things like Sherlock Holmes stories.

So Australia as a nation consists of Aboriginal History, Cook and the subsequent first fleet, the gold rush, federation and then the past 114 years- we’re a young nation, kind of like our big brothers United States (who had a fight with Dad and moved out, kind of prompting us into existence) and our other older (half) brother Canada.

We’ll skip the Aboriginal History, because as interesting as it is, I don’t feel it’s pertinent to your question as you’re addressing the mainly white colonial history of Australia.

So the way it goes is that after the Portugese and Dutch found the Western Coast and thought it was pretty shit house, the Brits decided to send out their man Capt. James Motherfucking Cook (middle name might be inaccurate) Cook went out with his crack team of sailors and found the East Coast, which they all decided was far less Shit than the west coast that those smelly mainland European Colonial Powers found, and they figured it’d be a good place to start a Colony. It was close to India and the Spice Islands, and (as far as they were concerned) no one lived here. It was perfect. This was in 1770

Now after dropping his maps off back home to England Capt. James M.F. Cook was killed by some pacific Islanders (as was the fashion for British Naval Officers at the time) namely the Hawaiians, who’s King he tried to kidnap and ransom after some of the cheeky Hawaiian buggers knicked one of his boats

So about 18 years later, after the British fucked about having a fight with our big brother Thirteen Colonies- who by that point had moved out and changed his name, the First Fleet arrived to set up a Penal Colony in what the British called New South Wales- because hey, what’s a better place to send a bunch of dissidents you don’t like very much to a Place that you named after a nation of people who didn’t like you very much? The First Fleet mainly composed of petty to minor criminals (with the occasional big criminal who just got caught for something stupid) Administrators, Marines and police, and a couple of free settlers as well.

Now the common misconception is that New South Wales was a place that was essentially an entire country populated by an HBO prison drama. But the people on the first fleet were generally poor people who were just trying to make it till tomorrow in a pretty shitty England. Not the cool England with food and lights and carpets, but the type of England that was grimy and not very well fed or clothed. But alas, criminals they still were.

What a lot of them got though was a second chance. Help build the colony- serve your sentence in this beautiful sub tropical paradise and you’ll get some land and become a land owner. Score. Those who didn’t play along generally got shipped off to more shithouse prisons, Like St Helena Island off the coast of what is now Queensland, or Port Arthur down in Tasmania- which was even worse because the only people you could have sex with down there was your family (I’m pretty sure it was in their Colonial Charter)

But I’m jumping ahead. New South Wales Eventually became too big to be governed effectively. So the colonies of Queensland and Victoria were founded. Shortly after Victoria was founded the Collingwood Football Club came into existence and just pissed everyone off.

So You’ve got all these convicts who are making money. Some doing Cattle Farming, some doing sheep farming, some even lucky enough to be in the sugar cane industry. They were making a shittonne of money, and in typical former convict fashion going home to Old Blighty and sticking two fingers up in the forms of stacks of pound notes. Seriously these people were getting rich, so free settlers came. Now you had a mix of convicts, reformed convicts, military and free settlers. Some of the free settlers thought they were better than everyone else and they refused to mingle- so they founded South Australia (and they can fucking stay there).

At some point Perth/Western Australia was founded but it’s so far away it might as well be another country.

So what does all of that have to do with answering your question?

Well the key thing is that convicts were able to make something of themselves with a second chance. Something they wouldn’t have had back in England. They just would have been thrust back into the same cycle of poverty that sent them to Australia in the first place. What they got by being sent here forms what is (in my opinion) quintessential building blocks of the Australian personality. The Ideals of “A Second Chance” and “A fair go.”

The Convicts got a second chance to make right with their lives, and got given a fair go afterwards. We toiled together as a bunch of peoples essentially stranded in the middle of nowhere to make the best of it. When those convicts figured out there was a lot here for everyone, they brought people from back home, and sure there was some animosity (some people don’t take kindly to being shipped 3/4 of the way around the world to be put in prison) but the free settlers were given a fair go. During the wars, we took in European refugees and gave them a second chance, hell it’s how we ended up with the biggest Greek population in the world outside of Greece. We did the same for refugees from Vietnam. Second chances and fair goes at life. We still do it today (though lets not get into any arguments about the turn back the boats policy- that’s a bunch of disassociated fat cats in Parliament making decisions and spinning it with fear) but the premise is still there. If you come here we do our best to give you a second chance at life, and our best to give you a fair go of things.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t monumentally fuck up. Remember the Aboriginals who we thought weren’t a thing? Well they were a thing and they got treated pretty fucking badly, about as bad as the Native Americans and Canadian First peoples, and we’re only just trying to fix up that shitstorm of a mess now-ish (within about the past 30 or so years). But the idea is there.

We still do however keep a lot of the larrikin spirit that came from the convicts. We love to take the piss out of England and beat them at sports. We still love em. Fuck, Lizzy’s still on all our coins and one of our notes. Plus we recently knighted her hubby: Sir Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. We’d still go to war for them if they asked us (nicely). Just like we’d go to war for Big Brother America when he asks, cause then we get to hang out with big brother Canada. So there’s still that convict larrikin stick it to the man spirit there, it’s a part of our identity, but because of being given a second chance and a fair go in our early days, that’s what stopped us from devolving into an anarchist wasteland.

Tl;Dr- what you didn’t read it, go back and fucking read it.