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Aboriginal people paint a fascinating (and literal) portrait of Australian history. Their beliefs, scribbled on cave walls and swirled through unique “dot” paintings favored by art collectors, trace their heritage to The Dreaming, when ancestral beings drifted across the continent to create desert, mountains, stars and sky. This seemed like an absolute truth until the 17th century, when a new force made its way across Australia: European explorers.
Some historians believe that the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot in Australia; others theorize that the Portuguese landed here as early as 1520, but abandoned all hope of colonization when faced with rough terrain. But it was England’s contributions to the land that made long-term impact, starting with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770. English settlements soon sprouted along Botany Bay, the watery entrance to modern-day Sydney. Prisons were built, too, and Europe began exporting its criminals to its newest discovery. This idea was not popular among the Aboriginal people, and was unfortunately followed by decades of unrest between natives and colonials.
Australia’s immigrant population changed dramatically in the 1850s after the discovery of gold drew thousands of fortune seekers to New South Wales. The home-grown population shifted, too -- by that time, more than 90% of residents had been born on the continent, infusing the land with a new-found sense of nationalism and giving rise to anti-colonial outlaws like Ned Kelly. The Commonwealth of Australia -- a title that helped unite individual territories to create a single nation -- was born on Jan. 1, 1901. Though still a constitutional monarchy, this is a destination that survived a turbulent past to return to a second Dreaming -- one that creates not land and sky, but new opportunities for a nation as it begins the 21st century.