Australia & New Zealand; key historical events


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1/10/2014, Gough Whitlam, former Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1972, died aged 98. He extricated Australian troops from Vietnam, ended conscription, set up commissions into equal pay, Aboriginal land rights and school funding, set up State-funded healthcare, liberalised abortion laws, introduced votes at 18 and free university education. He also gave Papua New Guinea independence, and forged closer relations with China.

13/2/2008, The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd (born 1957) apologised to the Aborigines, especially the ‘stolen generation;, those Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents to be brought up with White parents in an attempt at assimilation.

13/12/2005, Major race riots in Sydney, Australia, involving up to 5,000 youths.

6/11/1999, The Australians voted to keep the British monarch  as Head of State.

2/3/1996, In Australia the Labour Party finally lost an election, having won the previous five contests, in 1983, 1984, 1987, 1990 and 1993.

2/12/1994, The Australian Government agreed to pay compensation to indigenous Australians who were displaced during the nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s and 60s.

1/4/1993. A survey showed a record 69% of Australians wanted their country to become a Republic.

10/12/1990, Australia’s oldest newspaper corporation, the Fairfax Group, went into receivership with debts of Australian $ 1,500 million.

4/6/1988, Sir Douglas Nicholls, Governor of South Australia, the first aborigine to hold this position and to receive a knighthood, died.

9/5/1988, The new Australian Parliament building in Canberra was inaugurated.

26/1/1988, Australia celebrated its bicentennial.

2/3/1986, The Queen signed a formal proclamation giving Australia legal independence from Britain. Britain first shipped convicts to Australia in 1788; Australia had been self-governing since 1901.

3/11/1985, In New Zealand, two French agents pleaded guilty to the sinking of the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, and the manslaughter of the photographer on board.

22/9/1985, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius admitted that French agents had sunk the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, New Zealand, on 10/7/1985. The French Defence Minister was forced to resign.

26/10/1985, The Australian Government gave the Aborigines the landmark of Ayers Rock, now known by its Aboriginal name, Uluru.

10/7/1985. The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was blown up in Auckland harbour, New Zealand. Limpet mines had been attached to the ship, killing one crewmember. French security forces were implicated. The rainbow Warrior was to have taken part in a protest against French nuclear tests at Mururoa atoll in the south Pacific.

5/3/1983. The Labour politician Bob Hawke won elections in Australia and became Prime Minister. He succeeded Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who had been in office for seven years.

16/2/1983, Arson was suspected as forest fires raged in South Australia, making 8,500 homeless.

7/1/1978, Emilio Palma was born in Antarctica; he was the first baby born on this continent.

4/5/1976, Waltzing Matilda became the official national anthem of Australia.

1/7/1975, Australia broke up the Postmaster-General’s Department into Telecom Australia and Australia Post.

21/10/1973. The Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.  It was designed by Danish architect Joern Utzon. Costs had soared from AU$ 7 million (UK£ 3 million) to AU$ 100 million (UK£ 43 million). The orchestra pit was criticised for being too small.

1967, Australia removed the clause in its Constitution that excluded Aboriginal Peoples from the national census.

14/6/1967. Australian and New Zealand woolgrowers expressed concern over the effects of the mini skirt on wool prices, which were down 6d a pound on the last season.

1/12/1959. Twelve countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Jaoan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, UK, USA, USSR) signed an agreement to preserve Antarctica for peaceful scientific research. This agreement was renewed and extended in 1991.

14/12/1958, The Antarctic ‘pole of inaccessibility’, the point furthest from all coasts, was reached by a Soviet tractor traverse.

17/3/1958, The Australian-born polar explorer Sir George Wilkins died.

2/3/1958, The British Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Dr Vivian Fuchs, completed the first surface crossing of Antarctica. The group of 12 travelled 2,158 miles from Shackleton Station on the Weddell Sea to Scott Station on the Ross Sea in 99 days.

3/1/1958. Sir Edmund Hillary, with a party from New Zealand, reached the South Pole – the first man to do so since Captain Scott.

23/11/1955, Britain handed over the Cocos Islands to Australia.

3/2/1954, Queen Elizabeth II made her first visit to Australia; large crowds turned out to greet her in Sydney.

28/1/1953, James Scullin, 13th Australian Prime Minister from 1929 to 1932, died.

1/9/1951, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA signed the ANZUS Pact, a mutual defence treaty.  This marked a shift in New Zealand politics away from the UK and towards the US.

1/8/1950, Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Gordon Menzies promised to send troops to assist US forces fighting in Korea.

For Pacific events of World War Two see China, Japan, Korea

4/8/1942, David Russell Lange, New Zealand politician and Prime Minister 1984-9, was born. He

controversially refused to allow nuclear armed ships to dock in New Zealand.

24/4/1939, John Menzies became Prime Minister of Australia (United Australia Party).

26/3/1936, New Zealand began radio broadcasts of its Parliamentary sessions.

13/3/1936, Sir Francis Bell, who was Prime Minister of New Zealand for only 16 days, died aged 84.

7/2/1933, The Australian Antarctic Territory was created.

1932, William Cooper founded Australian Aborigenes League the, to campaign for equal rights for indigenous Australians.

21/5/1930, Malcolm Fraser, Australian Liberal Prime Minister, was born.

9/12/1929, Bob Hawke, Australian Labour Prime Minister 1983-91, was born.

9/5/1927. Parliament House, Canberra, opened. Canberra became the new capital of Australia, replacing Melbourne.

8/4/1925. The Australian Government and the British Colonial Office offered low interest rate loans for Britons to emigrate to Australia; the aim was for 450,000 Britons a year to migrate to Australia over the next 10 years. In the first decade of the 20th century, an average 284,000 Britons emigrated annually, mostly to the USA or the Dominions.

30/7/1923, The Ross Dependency in Antarctica was created, under New Zealand rule.

12/3/1923, The foundation stone of the Australian Federal Parliament Building at Canberra was laid.

2/2/1923, In Australia, Prime Minister Hughes was forced to resign. Stanley Bruce formed a coalition Government from the Nationalist and Country Parties.

5/1/1922. The British explorer Ernest Shackleton died on the island of South Georgia. He was on an expedition to Enderby Land, Antarctica.

25/9/1921, Sir Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister of New Zealand 1975-84, was born.

20/7/1919. Sir Edmund Hillary, who conquered Mount Everest in 1953 with Tenzing Norgay, was born in Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.

20/12/1917, A second vote in Australia on conscription went against the idea.

28/10/1916, In Australia, a proposal to introduce compulsory military conscription was narrowly rejected in Parliament.

10/5/1916, Shackleton reached South Georgia (see 9/4/1916).

9/4/1916, Shackleton and his crew left the ice floe in small boats. They reached Elephant Island on 12/4/1916 (see 10/5/1916).

11/3/1914, John Mackay, Australian explorer and founder of the city of Mackay, Queensland in Australia, died.

12/3/1913. Canberra became the federal capital of Australia.

See also Scandinavia 1912 for Amundsen, Oates, Scot and race to South Pole

14/12/1911. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat the British team, led by Captain Scott, to the South Pole. The British relied on motorised transport and ponies, the Norwegians on dog sleds. Captain Scott arrived at the South Pole on 17/1/1912 to find the Norwegians had beaten him to it. Scott set out with 11 men from Cape Evans, Antarctica, on 24/10/1911; his motorised sledges soon broke down, and the ponies had to be shot due to the cold. Therefore the hardest part of Scott’s journey, the part from the final food dump (left for the return journey) to the South Pole, 240 kilometres, and back, had to be done on foot with barely a month’s provision for the five men attempting the journey. On the return journey blizzards slowed Scott’s team, reducing their daily rations.

15/6/1910, Captain Scott set out on his ill-fated second expedition to the South Pole, on the ship Terra Nova.

16/1/1909. The magnetic south pole was found by Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was knighted later the same year.

5/8/1908, Harold Holt, Australian Prime Minister 1966-7 who backed US intervention in Vietnam and sent Australian troops there, was born.

23/2/1908, Sir William McMahon, Australian Liberal and 25th Prime Minister, was born.

11/12/1907, Fire destroyed the Parliament buildings at Wellington, New Zealand.

26/9/1907. New Zealand became a dominion. It had become a colony of Britain in 1840. A series of wars between the British and the native Maoris ended with peace in the 1870s. Full independence was achieved in 1947.

16/10/1906. British New Guinea became part of Australia.

30/3/1904, By-election in Melbourne, Australia, caused by electoral irregularities in the 1903 General Election.

13/12/1901, British geologist J.W. Gregory began his expedition to the fossil beds of Lake Eyre in South Australia, Eyre would later write of his findings in his book The Dead Heart of Australia.

30/11/1901, Edward John Eyre, explorer of the centre of Australia and later Governor of New Zealand, then St Vincent and then Jamaica, died aged 86.

11/6/1901, New Zealand annexed the Cook Islands.

9/5/1901. The first Federal Parliament met in Melbourne, Australia.

1/1/1901. The Commonwealth of Australia was created, by federating the six states and two territories of the continent. Edmund Barton became the first Prime Minister of Australia.

14/7/1900, The first Governor General of Australia was appointed.

9/7/1900, The UK Parliament passed the Australia Commonwealth Act, uniting the six Australian colonies into one federal government. Federation had been desired since 1891, in response to the colonial ambitions of France, Germany and the USA in the Pacific. However inter-colonial rivalry was so great that it was not until 1909 that the site for an Australian capital was agreed, at ‘neutral’ Canberra.

20/12/1894, Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister, was born.

20/1/1887. New Zealand annexed the Kermadec Islands.

5/5/1882, Douglas Mawson, British Antarctic explorer, was born.

11/11/1880. Ned Kelly, the infamous Australian outlaw whose gang terrorised the State of Victoria for 2 years, was hanged, aged 25, at Old Melbourne Gaol, Russell Street. His last words were ‘such is life’. He came from a convict family; his father had been transported from Ireland in 1842. He shot a policeman and then fled into the bush; he was captured on 28/6/1880.

20/8/1877. Arthur Kennedy, the new governor of Queensland, gave assent to a Bill drastically cutting Chinese immigration into Queensland, after the previous governor refused to pass it.

8/5/1876. The last Tasmanian aborigine, Truganini, died. She was 4 foot 3 inches tall, in her sixties, and was known as the Queen of the Aborigines. She saw her mother stabbed to death by white men and at 16 was herself raped by white convicts. She took to hanging around work camps, selling herself for a handful of tea and sugar. Then she met a white man whom she helped to record tribal customs. The coffin lowered into her grave was empty; the authorities feared body snatchers and buried her elsewhere.

15/2/1874, Sir Ernest Shackleton, British Antarctic explorer, was born in born in Kilkee, County Clare, Eire.

16/7/1872, Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer who was the first to reach the South Pole in 1911, was born in Borge.

6/9/1870. The last British troops serving in Australia were withdrawn.

16/6/1869, Charles Sturt, British explorer who ventured into the Australian interior to discover the Darling and Lower Murray Rivers, died aged 74 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

14/3/1869, The third Maori rebellion in 15 years ended with the defeat of the rebel leader, Titokowaru.

6/6/1868, Robert Falcon Scott, British explorer of the Antarctic, was born near Devonport, Devon.

1865, Wellington became the capital of New Zealand.

4/5/1863, Maoris clashed with British settlers at Taranaki, New Zealand, over land rights.

3/4/1862, James Ross, English explorer who gave his name to the Ross Barrier, Ross Island and Ross Sea, Antarctica, died.

19/3/1861, An uneasy truce was agreed between the Maoris and the British in the two-year war over the enforced sale of Maori lands.

16/12/1860, The first immigrant ship, the Charlotte Jane, arrived in New Zealand.

7/12/1860, Joseph Cook, Prime Minister of Australia, was born.

25/6/1860, Death of Maori King, Potatau Te Wherowher.

23/4/1860, The explorer James Stuart reached the centre of Australia.

6/7/1859, Queensland, Australia, was formed into a separate colony.

1858, The UK passed the Australian Colonies Act, which gave the four Australian colonies (New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria) virtual autonomy in self-government (see 9/7/1900).

1857, Gold mining began in New Zealand.

22/4/1857, The Parliament in South Australia first opened.

27/8/1856, The first Australian parliamentary election held by secret ballot took place in Victoria, Australia.

22/2/1855, 13 gold diggers were acquitted of rioting and manslaughter in Melbourne, Australia after fighting broke out at the Eureka gold mine. In 1854, at the Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, New South Wales, armed gold prosepctors fought with a combined military and police force; 30 gold miners and 5 policemen died. Miners objected to an expensive licence imposed by the Australian Government, Public opinion went behind the miners, and juries refused to convict them, causing the Government to back down over the issue.

12/2/1851, The Australian Gold Rush began, after Edward Hargreaves discovered gold at Summerhill Creek, 20 miles north of Bathurst, New South Wales.

7/7/1850, The Scottish explorer, Edward Eyre arrived in Albany, Western Australia, having crossed the Nullarbor Plain, the first White man to do this.

18/1/1849, Sir Edmund Burton, the first Prime Minister of Australia in 1901, was born in Glebe, Sydney.

23/3/1848. The first official settlement at Dunedin, New Zealand.

11/3/1845, In New Zealand, a Maori uprising against the British began. The Maori were protesting at European settlement of Maori lands, in breach of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

11/3/1844, In New Zealand, Maoris rose up against British rule.

1841, New Zealand was separated from the colony of New South Wales.

21/5/1840, Captain William Hobson proclaimed New Zealand to be a British Colony.

6/2/1840. Captain Hobson signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chiefs in New Zealand. The Maoris were guaranteed possession of their lands but if they wished to sell them must first offer them to the British government. Britain was concerned at French plans to send settlers to New Zealand, and at mistreatment of the Maoris by land speculators and escaped convicts from Australia.

19/1/1840. The American explorer Charles Wilkes discovered the coast of Antarctica.

27/7/1836, The city of Adelaide, Australia, was founded; it is named after the wife of King William IV of Britain.

29/8/1835. The city of Melbourne was named in Australia. Melbourne was founded by John Batman who wrote in his diary in 1834 ‘this will be the place for a village’, referring to a 270,000 hectare site on the Yarra River. The land was then purchased from the Doutgalla tribe for an annual supply of trade goods worth around £200. The site was named after Lord Melbourne, then British Prime Minister. The city, designed by Robert Russell, was laid out on a rectangular grid, with wide streets and many parks and gardens. It is known as the ‘Garden City’.

2/8/1834, The South Australian Association gained a Charter to found a colony.

27/2/1831, Captain John Briscoe discovered Antarctica. Captain Briscoe, in the ship Tula, commissioned by the London shipping company Enderby, sighted the mountains of what is now known as Enderby Land. The mission was partly exploratory, but also commercial, to find and harvest seals for their fur. Whales were also desired, and sea elephants for their oil.

9/2/1830, The source of the River Murray, Australia, was discovered by the explorer Charles Sturt. See 16/11/1824.

20/4/1827, Copper ore was discovered in Tasmania.

16/11/1824, The Murray River, Australia, was discovered by the explorer Hamilton Hume. See 9/2/1830.

5/8/1815, Edward John Eyre, English explorer, colonial administrator and Governor of Jamaica, who discovered lake Eyre, was born.

24/5/1815, The Lachlan River in Australia was discovered by the explorer George William Evans.

24/2/1815, Land in New Zealand was sold to a White person for the first  time, for a mission church.

19/7/1814, Matthew Flinders, the explorer who surveyed and mapped the coast of Australia, died aged 40.

9/12/1813, The Macquirie River in Australia was discovered by the explorer George Evans.

9/10/1804. Hobart, Tasmania, was founded.

15/4/1800, Sir James Clark Ross, Antarctic explorer, was born in England.

28/4/1795, Birth of Charles Sturt, English explorer of Australia.

1789, Indegenous Australians of the New South Wales area ravaged by a smallpox epidemic.

1788, The city of Sydney was founded.

See Crime, Punishment 1788 for Transportation to Australia

16/3/1774, Matthew Flinders, English explorer who gave his name to the Flinders River and mountain range in Australia, was born.

30/1/1774, Captain Cook turned his ship back at 71 degrees south, 105 degrees west, due to heavy mist, having failed to sight any land of the ‘southern continent’. In fact he was just 75 miles off the coastline of Antarctica.

1773, Captain James Cook became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle.

28/4/1770. Captain Cook went ashore in Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia, and claimed the land for Britain. See 14/2/1779. A penal colony was established there in 1788 but later moved to near Sydney.

20/4/1770. Captain James Cook discovered Botany Bay, Australia. His ship, The Endeavour, had sailed from Plymouth, England, on 26 August 1768.  They originally named the bay Stingray Bay, and found it to be rich in biodiversity.

7/10/1769, Captain Cook reached New Zealand.

25/8/1768, Captain Cook set sail from England on board The Endeavour on his first voyage to explore the Antipodes. His 368-ton ship was 98 feet long by 29 feet wide. His mission was first to visit Tahiti to observe a transit of Venus on 3/6/1769, then to discover the theoretical ‘southern continent’ which was supposed to exist by the Classical Greeks ‘to counterbalance the northern continents’. Such a continent would provide useful colonial opportunities for Britain at a time when its North American colonies were becoming restive. After Tahiti, Cook sailed south and south west down to latitude 40 degrees south; finding no land he turned west and discovered New Zealand, whose coast he charted in six months. This exercise proved New Zealand was not the peninsula of the ‘southern continent’. By now it was March 1769 and the southern summer was ending; to return eastwards meant encountering bad weather in the Pacific. Cook therefore sailed west and encountered the east coast of Australia. Although the Dutch had visited Australia in the 17th century this part of the continent was devoid of European settlement; Cook therefore claimed the entire east coast of Australia for Britain as New South Wales. Cook then sailed along the northern coast of Australia, confirming it was a separate land from New Guinea, and returned to England in 1771.

28/10/1728, The naval officer and explorer Captain James Cook was born at Marton, Cleveland, Yorkshire.  He was the son of a farmer. His voyages in the ship Endeavour led to the discovery of Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.

22/10/1659. The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman died.

13/12/1642. New Zealand was discovered by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.

24/11/1642. Tasmania was discovered by Abel Tasman, Dutch explorer.  It was originally called Van Diemen’s Land, and renamed in 1853.

4/6/1629, The VOC (Dutch) ship Batavia ran aground west of Australia.


5,000 BCE, Indigenous Australians began using boomerangs.

7,000 BCE, The New Guinea land bridge began to disappear.

10,000 BCE, The separation of Tasmania from Australia began as sea levels rose.


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