It is difficult to know precisely when the Aboriginal people first arrived in Queensland. The oral tradition of Aboriginal people, passed down through myths and legends of the Dreaming, tells us that they lived in what we now know as Queensland for many thousands of years prior to European settlement. Archaeological sites in southern Australia have been firmly dated to around 40,000 years. In Queensland, many sites 15,000 to 30,000 years old have been excavated.
There are differing theories as to how Aboriginal habitation occurred. Some suggest the earliest Aborigines settled along the coast and estuaries. Others believe the woodland sites with their abundance of food and water were first settled, allowing the Aborigines to develop the skills that later enabled them to occupy arid inland. The Queensland of 40,000 years ago was very different from today. Temperatures were cooler and most of Queensland was covered by forest and treed grasslands. Lake Carpentaria dominated what is now the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Aboriginal people in Queensland traded extensively over short and long distances, exchanging items such as dilly bags, spear throwers, and fighting shields for necklaces, boomerangs and axe heads. Prior to non-indigenous settlement, it is estimated that there were more than 90 indigenous languages in Queensland.
Queensland was first seen by Europeans in the 1600s. Dutch explorers Willem Jansz and Jan Carstens arrived at the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York Peninsula in 1606 and 1623 respectively. An Englishman, Lieutenant James Cook, is acknowledged as the first European to encounter Queensland’s east coast in 1770 in HMS Endeavour. When non-indigenous settlement occurred it was not for reasons of high principle or sentiment as in North America, but rather to establish a penal settlement.
Queensland’s early days were spent as part of the British-administered Colony of New South Wales which, at that time, occupied a large part of the Australian continent. Brisbane was established in 1825 as a penal settlement for the more intractable convicts. The Brisbane penal settlement was officially closed in 1839 and the land was prepared for sale for permanent settlement.
As Queensland’s economic significance increased and its productivity and population expanded, a separate sense of identity emerged. The people of Queensland began to realise the importance of Brisbane as a port and urban centre. Brisbane had become the dominant urban centre of the north, linked by land with the northern pastoral settlements and by sea with Sydney and London. The physical remoteness of Queensland from the centre of government in New South Wales and disquiet with the maintenance of public infrastructure, further contributed to a desire for independence.
A New Colony
In 1851 a public meeting was held to consider Queensland’s separation from New South Wales. Queen Victoria gave her approval and signed Letters Patent on June 6 1859 to establish the new colony of Queensland. On the same day an Order-in-Council gave Queensland its own Constitution. Queensland became a self-governing colony with its own Governor, a nominated Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly. June 6 is now celebrated by Queenslanders as the day acknowledging the birth of Queensland. On December 10, Queensland’s first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen, officially proclaimed Queensland to be a separate colony from New South Wales.
In 1860 Queensland Parliament sat for the first time and was also the year when Queensland elections were held and when Ipswich and Rockhampton were officially declared towns.
Rockhampton was also near where gold was found and it is said that the increased development into the state as a result helped minimise the effects of the depression in the mid 60′s.