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This article describes the history of the Australian state of Victoria.


Aboriginal History

See also Prehistory of Australia, Victorian Aborigines
Map of Victorian Aborigines language territories

The state of Victoria was originally home to many indigenous nations that had occupied the land for tens of thousands of years[1]. According to Gary Presland Aborigines have lived in Victoria for about 40,000 years,[2] living a semi-nomadic existence of fishing, hunting and gathering, and farming eels.[3]

At the Keilor Archaeological Site a human hearth excavated in 1971 was radiocarbon-dated to about 31,000 years BP, making Keilor one of the earliest sites of human habitation in Australia.[4] A Cranium found at the site has been dated at between 12,000[5] and 14,700 years BP.[4]

Archaeological sites in Tasmania and on the Bass Strait Islands have been dated to between 20,000 – 35,000 years ago, when sea levels were 130 metres below present level allowing Aboriginal people to move across the region of southern Victoria and on to the land bridge of the Bassian plain to Tasmania by at least 35,000 years ago.[6][7]

During the Ice Age about 20,000 years BP, the area now known as Port Phillip Bay would have been dry land, and the Yarra and Werribee river would have joined to flow through the heads then south and south west through the Bassian plain before meeting the ocean to the west. Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands became separated from mainland Australia around 12,000 BP, when the sea level was approximately 50m below present levels [8]. Port Phillip Bay was flooded by post-glacial rising sea levels between 8000 and 6000 years ago.[9]

Oral history and creation stories from the Wada wurrung, Woiwurrung and Bun wurrung languages describe the flooding of the bay. Hobsons Bay was once a kangaroo hunting ground. Creation stories describe how Bunjil was responsible for the formation of the bay,[7] or the bay was flooded when the Yarra river was created (Yarra Creation Story[10].)

The Wurundjeri mined diorite at Mount William Quarry which was a source of the highly valued greenstone hatchet heads, which were highly prized and traded across a wide area as far as New South Wales and Adelaide. The mine provided a complex network of trading for economic and social exchange among the different aboriginal nations in Victoria.[11][12][13] The Quarry had been in use for more than 1,500 years and covered 18 hectares including underground pits of several metres. In February 2008 the site was placed on the National heritage list for its cultural importance and archeological value.[14]

In some areas semi-permanent huts were constructed and a sophisticated network of water channels were constructed for farming eels. During winter the Djab Wurrung encampments were more permanent, sometimes consisting of substantial huts as attested by Major Thomas Mitchell near Mount Napier in 1836:

"Two very substantial huts showed that even the natives had been attracted by the beauty of the land, and as the day was showery, I wished to return if possible, to pass the night there, for I began to learn that such huts, with a good fire between them, made comfortable quarters in bad weather."[15]

During early Autumn there were often large gatherings of up to 1000 people for one to two months hosted at the Mount William swamp or at Lake Bolac for the annual eel migration. Several tribes attended these gatherings including the Girai wurrung, Djargurd wurrung, Dhauwurd wurrung and Wada wurrung. Near Mount William, an elaborate network of channels, weirs and eel traps and stone shelters had been constructed, indicative of a semi-permanent lifestyle in which eels were an important economic component for food and bartering, particularly the Short-finned eel.[16] Near Lake Bolac a semi-permanent village extended some 35 kilometres along the river bank during autumn. George Augustus Robinson on 7 July 1841 described some of the infrastructure that had been constructed near Mount William:

" area of at least 15 acres was thus traced out... These works must have been executed at great cost of labour... There must have been some thousands of yards of this trenching and banking. The whole of the water from the mountain rivulets is made to pass through this trenching ere it reaches the marsh..."[17]

Early European Exploration

Coming from New Zealand in 1770, Captain James Cook in HM Bark Endeavour sighted land at Point Hicks, about 70 km west of Gabo Island, before turning east and north to follow the coast of Australia.

Ships sailing from the United Kingdom to Sydney crossed the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean, sailing around Van Diemen's Land before turning north to their destination. Several captains viewed the expanse of water between Van Diemen's Land and the east coast of New South Wales and wondered whether it was a large bay or a strait. Survivors of the Sydney Cove, wrecked in the Furneaux Group of islands, also thought it might be a strait.

To clear up the question, Governor Hunter sent George Bass to thoroughly explore the coast in a whaleboat. After reaching Wilsons Promontory and Western Port in January 1798 he was forced by bad weather and lack of provisions to return to Sydney. Bass returned with Matthew Flinders in December 1798 and sailed through the strait, proving its existence.

In December 1800, Lieutenant James Grant in HMS Lady Nelson, on way from Cape Town to Sydney, sailed through Bass Strait from west to east. Governor King, disappointed at the vagueness of Grant’s chart, sent him back to survey the strait more thoroughly. Bad weather prevented him from proceeding beyond Western Port, where he stayed for five weeks, planting wheat, fruit trees and vegetables on Churchill Island off Phillip Island.

In January 1802 Lieutenant John Murray in the Lady Nelson visited Western Port and entered Port Phillip on 14 February. He named Arthur’s Seat, explored Corio Bay and formally took possession of the bay (which he named Port King) for Britain.

Three weeks later the French explorer Nicolas Baudin sailed through the strait from east to west and was the first to properly survey the coast to the west.

On 26 April 1802, Flinders, unaware of Murray’s visit, entered Port Phillip in Investigator, climbed Arthur’s Seat, rowed to Mornington and across to the Bellarine Peninsula and climbed the You Yangs.

In January 1803 Acting-Lieutenant Charles Robbins in the schooner Cumberland sailed right around Port Phillip. With him were acting surveyor-general Charles Grimes and gardener James Flemming. At the head of the bay they found a river and followed it upstream where it soon divided. They followed the western branch and named it the Saltwater River (the present Maribyrnong) to what is now Braybrook, and then the eastern fresh-water branch (the Yarra) to Dights Falls. They had a friendly meeting with Aboriginal people and returned to their ship via Corio Bay. They concluded that the best site for a settlement would be on the freshwater at the northern head of the bay, but were unenthusiastic about the soil and its agricultural potential.

1803 British settlement

With Britain involved in the French revolutionary wars, Governor King was concerned that Bass Strait could harbour enemy raiders, and that in peace time it could provide an important trade route and trading base. The appearance of Baudin’s ships served to reinforce the concern that France was interested in the area. King was also looking for an alternative settlement for the increasing number of convicts in Sydney and to reduce the pressure on food resources. Port Phillip, with a favourable climate and rich fishing and sealing resources, seemed an ideal location for another settlement.

A full description of Murray’s and Flinders’ discoveries, together with King’s thoughts on settlement, but not Grimes’ report, reached England just as HMS Calcutta was being prepared to send a shipload of convicts to Sydney. In February 1803, Lord Hobart the Secretary of State changed the destination to Port Phillip. On 24 April 1803, HMS Calcutta, commanded by Captain Daniel Woodriff, with Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins as commander of the expedition, left England accompanied by the store-ship Ocean. On board were some 300 male convicts, a few free men, a dozen civil officers, a guard of about 50 marines, the wives of 36 of the men, plus 38 children.

The party entered Port Phillip on 9 October 1803 and chose a site at Sullivan Bay near present-day Sorrento.

Collins was soon disappointed with the area. Reports from exploring parties led by Lieutenant James Tuckey and surveyor George Harris described strong currents, sandy soil, poor timber, swampy land and scarce fresh water. They also clashed with the Wathaurung people near Corio Bay, killing their leader – the first Aboriginal known to have been killed by settlers in Victoria.

Collins reported his criticisms to Governor King, who supported him and recommended moving the settlement. On 18 December Calcutta departed for Port Jackson, and the party was prepared for evacuation. This was achieved in two voyages of Ocean in January and May 1804, assisted by the Lady Nelson which had been surveying Port Dalrymple on the north coast of Van Diemens Land. The party was transferred to the fledgling settlement of Hobart, founded by Lieutenant John Bowen as a penal colony at Risdon Cove in September 1803.

The brief settlement at Sorrento achieved little and left only a few relics for modern tourists to observe. Collins has been criticised for not investigating the bay thoroughly, in particular the northern head with its fresh-water river, and for being too hasty in his condemnation of the bay. The site of the settlement is now a reserve incorporating some graves from the period.

When Collins departed, one man was left behind. A convict, William Buckley, had escaped and was presumed killed by Aborigines. He was to see his next European in 1835.

For the next thirty years a few sealers and whalers rested on the southern coast of New South Wales. In 1826 the French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville visited one of these camps on Phillip Island. There was a brief convict settlement at Corinella on Western Port under the command of Samuel G. Wright from November 1826 to April 1828, to protect the approaches to the bay. A sealer William Dutton built a hut on the shore of Portland Bay in 1829 where he resided until his death.

Interest grows in the north coast of Bass Strait

Following a number of exploratory expeditions south from the settled areas of New South Wales, the pastoralist Hamilton Hume and former sea-captain William Hovell set off to explore the country to the south in October 1824. They crossed the Murray River (which they named the Hume River) near the site of Albury and continued south. They crossed the Goulburn River (which they called the Hovell) above the site of Yea, and were forced to detour around mountains. They arrived on the shores of Corio Bay, mistakenly believing it to be Western Port, and returned to Sydney in January 1825, lavishly praising the quality of the country they had passed through.

In April 1826 the French explorer d'Urville visited one of the sealers’ camps on Phillip Island. Worried by this renewed French interest in the area and encouraged by Hume and Hovell’s reports, Governor Darling ordered a settlement to be established at Western Port. A small convict party arrived in November 1826 at Corinella under the command of Samuel Wright, to protect the approaches to the bay. Hovell, accompanying the party, soon realised that this was not where he had arrived two years before, and reported unfavourably on the swampy land around Western Port, although he referred to better land to the north. In spite of clearing the land for crops, and the construction of a fort and houses, the settlement was abandoned in April 1828.

The shortage of good pasture in Van Diemen's Land led to settlers there showing interest in the country across Bass Strait, following Hume and Hovell’s reports and stories of visiting sealers. Pastoralist John Batman and surveyor John Wedge planned an expedition from Launceston in 1825 but permission was not granted. A number of settlers sought land over the next few years, but Governor Darling turned down all requests.

The expedition down the Murray River by Charles Sturt in 1830 again aroused interest in settlement in the south. In April 1833 Edward Henty, returning to Van Diemen's Land from Spencer Gulf called in to Portland for a cargo of oil, and was much impressed. In November 1834 John Hart, another sailor, reported favourably in Launceston on Western Port. It was now inevitable that settlement would occur.

In June 1834 banker Charles Swanston advised his client George Mercer that land was scarce in Van Diemen's Land and he should invest across Bass Strait. Pastoralists John Aitken and George Russell suggested forming a partnership, and in August 1834 a group of eight Launceston capitalists formed what became the Port Phillip Association. On 19 November 1834 Edward Henty landed in Portland Bay and began the first permanent European settlement on the north coast of Bass Strait.

1834 Permanent Settlement

Victoria's first successful British settlement was at Portland, on the west coast of what is now Victoria. Portland was settled by the Henty family in 1834, who were originally farmers from Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). When Major Mitchell led an expedition to the region from Sydney in 1835, arriving at Portland in August 1836, he was surprised to find a small but prosperous community living off the fertile farmland.

With the dispossession of aboriginal tribes from their lands with the establishment of sheep runs, conflict over resources and land use inevitably occurred. One highly notable incident called the Convincing Ground massacre occurred in Portland Bay in 1833 or 1834 in a dispute about a Beached whale between whalers and the Kilcarer gundidj clan of the Gunditjmara people. According to aboriginal reports the clan was wiped out with just two survivors from the incident. The number of aborigines reported killed varies from 60 to 200.[18]

Melbourne was founded in 1835 by John Batman, also from Van Diemen's Land and quickly grew into a thriving community. The first petition for the separation of the Port Phillip District (or 'Australia Felix') from New South Wales was drafted in 1840 by Henry Fyshe Gisborne and presented by him to Governor Gipps. Gipps, who had previously been in favour of separation, rejected the petition.

The British Act of Parliament separating Victoria from New South Wales, and naming and providing a Constitution for the new Colony, was signed ten years later by Queen Victoria on 5 August 1850. It was followed by enabling legislation passed by the New South Wales Legislative Council on 1 July 1851. This was formally the founding moment of the Colony of Victoria as separation from New South Wales was established by Section 1 of the 1851 Act. [1]

1850s Gold Rush

In 1851 gold was first discovered in Clunes near Ballarat,[19] and subsequently at Bendigo. Later discoveries occurred at many sites across Victoria. This triggered one of the largest gold rushes the world has ever seen. The colony grew rapidly in both population and economic power. In ten years the population of Victoria increased sevenfold from 76,000 to 540,000. All sorts of gold records were produced including the "richest shallow alluvial goldfield in the world" and the largest gold nugget. Victoria produced in the decade 1851-1860 20 million ounces of gold, one third of the world's output.

Immigrants arrived from all over the world to search for gold, especially from Ireland and China. Many Chinese miners worked in Victoria, and their legacy is particularly strong in Bendigo and its environs. Although there was some racism directed at them, there was not the level of anti-Chinese violence that was seen at the Lambing Flat riots in New South Wales. However, there was a riot at Buckland Valley near Bright in 1857. Conditions on the gold fields were cramped and unsanitary - an outbreak of typhoid at Buckland Valley in 1854 killed over 1,000 miners.

In 1854 there was an armed rebellion against the government of Victoria by miners protesting against mining taxes (the "Eureka Stockade"). This was crushed by British troops, but some of the leaders of the rebellion subsequently became members of the Victoria Parliament, and the rebellion is still sometimes regarded as a pivotal moment in the development of Australian democracy.

The first foreign military action by the colony of Victoria was to send troops and a warship to New Zealand as part of the Maori Wars. Troops from New South Wales had previously participated in the Crimean War.

1901 Federation

Map of Victoria in 1916

In 1901 Victoria ceased to be an independent colony and became a state in the Commonwealth of Australia. Victorian and Tasmanian politicians were particularly active in the Federation process.

As a result of the gold rush, Melbourne became the financial centre of Australia and New Zealand. Between 1901 and 1927, Melbourne was the capital of Australia while Canberra was under construction. It was also the largest city in Australia at the time, and the second largest city in the Empire (after London). Whilst Melbourne remains an important financial centre, Sydney is now the largest city.

World War two

Main articles: Australian home front during World War II, and Military history of Australia during World War II

1990s Economic Slump

Victoria experienced an economic slump from 1989 to 1992 during the term of John Cain's government. This was largely attributable to lagging property markets and manufacturing sectors as well as a financial crash involving industry giants such as the Pyramid Building Society and the collapse of The State Bank of Victoria, in particular its merchant banking arm Tricontinental. The result was a loss of employment and a drain of population to New South Wales and Queensland.

In the 1990s, the Victorian state government of Premier Jeff Kennett (Lib) sought to reverse this trend with the aggressive development of new public works, mainly centred around the state capital of Melbourne. These included the Melbourne Museum, Federation Square, the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre (nicknamed "Jeff's Shed"), Crown Casino, capital works such as the CityLink tollway, the sale of state assets (including the State Electricity Commission and some state schools), the pruning of state services and a public relations campaign promoting Melbourne's merits, aimed at Melbourne residents and visitors alike. These policies were continued under the government of Premier Steve Bracks (ALP) and the current Premier John Brumby (ALP).

See also


  • Richard Broome, Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005, ISBN 1741145694, ISBN 9781741145694
  • A. G. L. Shaw, A History of the Port Phillip District: Victoria before separation, Melbourne, MUP, 1996. (ISBN 0-522-85064-2).
  • Marjorie Tipping, Convicts Unbound: The story of the Calcutta convicts and their settlement in Australia, Melbourne, Viking O’Neil, 1988. (ISBN 0-670-90068-0).
  • Jenny Fawcett,"Captain Henry Wishart of Port Fairy Bay", Warrnambool,Collett,Bain & Gaspar, 2005

External links


  1. ^ Richard Broome, pp xviii-xxii, Aboriginal Victorians: A History Since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005, ISBN 1741145694, ISBN 9781741145694
  2. ^ Gary Presland, The First Residents of Melbourne's Western Region, (revised edition), Harriland Press, 1997. ISBN 0646331507. Presland says on page 1: "There is some evidence to show that people were living in the Maribyrnong River valley, near present day Keilor, about 40,000 years ago."
  3. ^ Gary Presland, Aboriginal Melbourne: The Lost Land of the Kulin People, Harriland Press (1985), Second edition 1994, ISBN 0957700423. This book describes in some detail the archaeological evidence regarding aboriginal life, culture, food gathering and land management
  4. ^ a b Gary Presland, Keilor Archaeological Site, eMelbourne website. Accessed November 3, 2008
  5. ^ Peter Brown, The Keilor Cranium, Peter Brown's Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, Accessed November 3, 2008
  6. ^ Hanna Steyne, Investigating the Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria Heritage Victoria, Accessed November 3, 2008
  7. ^ a b David Rhodes, Terra Culture Heritage Consultants, Channel Deepening Existing Conditions Final Report - Aboriginal Heritage, Prepared for Parsons Brinckerhoff & Port of Melbourne Corporation, August 2003. Accessed November 3, 2008
  8. ^ Hanna Steyne, Investigating the Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria Heritage Victoria, who sources (Lambeck & Chappell 2001) Accessed November 3, 2008
  9. ^ Hanna Steyne, Investigating the Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria Heritage Victoria, who sources(Bird 1993, Bowler 1966, Holdgate et al. 2001). Accessed November 3, 2008
  10. ^ Ian Hunter, Yarra Creation Story, Wurundjeri Dreaming. Recorded 2004-5. Accessed November 3, 2008
  11. ^ Isabel McBryde, Kulin Greenstone Quarries: The Social Contexts of Production and Distribution for the Mt William Site, in World Archaeology, Vol. 16, No. 2, Mines and Quarries (Oct., 1984), pp. 267-285 (article consists of 19 pages) Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Accessed November 3, 2008
  12. ^ Isabel Ellender and Peter Christiansen, pp44, People of the Merri Merri. The Wurundjeri in Colonial Days, Merri Creek Management Committee, 2001 ISBN 0957772807
  13. ^ Gary Presland, Aboriginal Melbourne. The lost land of the Kulin people, Harriland Press, 1985. New edition 2001. ISBN 0-9577004-2-3
  14. ^ National Heritage List, Mount William Stone Hatchet Quarry, Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Accessed November 3, 2008
  15. ^ Major Mitchell quoted in Two Native Tribes Shared Shire Area Shire of Mt. Rouse Centenary booklet, 1964, as detailed by the MT. Rouse & District Historical Society website, 20 October 2007. Accessed November 25, 2008
  16. ^ Victorian Eel Fishery - Management Plan Accessed November 25, 2008
  17. ^ Harry Lourandos, pp63-65, Continent of Hunter-gatherers: New Perspectives in Australian Prehistory, Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0521359465
  18. ^ Ian D. Clark, pp17-22, Scars on the Landscape. A Register of Massacre sites in Western Victoria 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 ISBN 0855752815 Excerpt also published on Museum Victoria website, accessed November 26, 2008
  19. ^ "150 Years of Gold Mining in Victoria". Stawell Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-02-12.  


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