Timeline: Pre 1800’s

Pre 1700

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander societies

For thousands of years the Australian continent is isolated from the rest of the world. During this time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies develop their network of diverse cultures with separate laws and ceremonial traditions, home country, Dreamings and languages. In these societies, languages differ but communication with neighbouring groups is common.
The number of Aboriginal people living on the Australian continent before European migration is widely debated with figures ranging from 300,000 to one million. The Aboriginal population is estimated to have comprised some 700 different cultural groups, speaking 250 different languages.

Contact between Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander & Asian societies

Aboriginal people living in the coastal areas of what is now Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory have contact with people from the various Melanesian groups of Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands for many years. Explorers and traders from Asia and the Pacific Islands also have contact with the Indigenous Australian peoples.

Pre 1700
Pre 1700

Dutch documents record journeys of Macassan trepangers to northern Australia

Macassan praus sail to the north-eastern coast of the Northern Territory. Trade continues between Aboriginal people and Macassans until the early 1900s.

First contact between Aboriginal people & Europeans

Earliest recorded contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people – by crew of Dutch ship Dwyflken under Captain Willem Jansz on the western coast of Cape York Peninsula. During the 1600s parts of the Australian coast become known to European explorers, including Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British and French.

Pre 1700

Trade between the Indonesian archipelago and the people of the Kimberly and Arnhem Land

Trepangers from the Makassar region of Sulawesi (modern day Indonesia) begin visiting the coast of northern Australia sometime around the middle of the 1700s, first in the Kimberley region, and some decades later in Arnhem Land, to collect and process trepang (also known as sea cucumber).

Captain Cook & ‘terra nullius’

1770: Captain Cook lands in Botany Bay, home of the Eora people, and claims possession of the East Coast of Australia for Britain under the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’. This means that the British declare the land as uninhabited and can claim ownership.


First Fleet Diversity of people | Smallpox outbreak

Colony of Port Jackson is established in 1788 and transportation of convicts begins. Some 60 nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and religions are recorded among First Fleet.
1789: Outbreak of smallpox introduced by the British leads to the devastation of the Aboriginal population in the Sydney area and later in other areas.

Conflict & colonisation | Aboriginal resistance

Aboriginal people resist the occupation of their land and the process of colonisation.
Pemulwuy leads a campaign of resistance to British settlers on the land of the Darug people.
Governor Macquarie orders punitive campaigns against Aboriginal people living around Sydney – the Darug, Tharawal and Gundangarra.
Many Aboriginal people are killed and nations destroyed. A number of massacres of Aboriginal people are recorded over the years as the colony expands.Protectionist policies are implemented, restricting the right of free movement by Aboriginal people.Aboriginal resistance flares with incidents in the Parramatta and Hawkesbury areas of New South Wales.