The History of Australia for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are driving in a jeep down a dirt road. The land is flat and brown and the sky is clear and bright blue. You drive for several miles and see nothing but brush and empty land, then suddenly there is movement in the brush and you spot two kangaroos hopping across the road. Further ahead you see some a pack of dingos, or wild dogs, racing through the brush. Soon there are trees and you slow the jeep to a stop. You pull out your binoculars and gaze through them at the trees. You see exotic birds and other wildlife and take notes about what you observe. Soon the sun goes down and the air is alive with the buzz of insects. The stars are glittering overhead. You unroll your bedroll and lay out, staring at the sky above and listening to the sounds of the night, amazed at the wonders of the Australian outback.

Have you ever heard of Australia? Australia is an awesome country, with a fascinating history and incredible wildlife, which is also home to many amazing Bedtime History fans. As Australian fans have donated and written reviews and shared their love of Bedtime History I’ve thought “wouldn’t it be fun to do an episode all about Australia!?” 

First off, Australia is the only country in the world that covers an entire continent! It’s located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and is often called “the world’s largest island.” It’s also the sixth largest country in the world by land area. The geography in Australia is very diverse. It has fertile land for farming in the southwest and southeast — and in the northeast it has wet rainforests. There’s also the famous Australian “outback” which is an extremely hot and dry desert with very little water and plant life. In the southeast is a long mountain range called the Great Dividing Range — off the northeast coast is the Great Barrier Reef, which is the world’s largest coral reef, where people travel from all around the world to snorkel and scuba dive to explore its exotic sealife. 

People have lived in Australia for a very long time. 65,000 years ago it’s believed humans crossed ancient land bridges from Asia to Australia. These people later became known as the aborigines. They were hunter-gatherers, which means they lived off hunting animals and gathering food such as berries and other plants they could eat. Aborigines spread across Australia and formed their own unique cultures and societies thousands of years before Europeans arrived. 

The first recorded European explorer to land in Australia was a Dutch sailor named Willem Janszoon. In 1606 he made a map of the area, met the native aborigine people, and named the island “New Holland.” Later English explorers such as William Dampier arrived and then in 1770 Captain James Cook, who claimed Australia for his own people.

In 1787 the first fleet of 11 ships left England and sailed to Australia. Because settling a new land is hard and often very dangerous, one way the British decided to do this was to use convicts to farm and settle the land. A convict is someone who has been found guilty of a crime and sentenced to prison. But the British leaders decided that rather than put these people in prison, they could use them to settle Australia. This first group included 730 convicts and 250 free persons. The early years in Australia were very hard. The settlers had to deal with diseases, insects and other pests, and often fought with the native Aborigines. But the British continued to settle Australia and sent more convicts to farm and prepare the land. Over time the settlements grew and spread further across Australia. 

By 1830, 58,000 convicts had come to Australia. To the surprise of many, the settlements did well even though they were mostly populated by former criminals, and most of the convicts didn’t continue to commit crimes. Eventually, Australia began to prosper as farms produced grain and other industries such as whaling and sheep farming thrived. Before long sheep wool was one of Australia’s major exports. An export is an item that a country can produce and sell to other countries. This was also a time when explorers ventured out and discovered new, exotic places across Australia. They wrote about their adventures and captured the imagination of people all around the world with their tales about the wonders, beauty and wildlife of Australia. 

Over time the governments of Australia changed from being authoritarian, that means run by a single person or groups of people, to a democracy, where the people vote and have say in what laws are passed and decisions are made. Different states began to form across Australia and today it consists of six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. 

Because Australia is a separate continent, surrounded by water, its animal life has evolved on its own for many thousands of years. For this reason, many of the animals in Australia don’t exist anywhere else in the world and are very unique. Have you ever seen a picture of a kangaroo? Kangaroos stand up-right, carry their babies in a pouch and hop across the land. Nowhere else in the world will you find kangaroos. The same goes for wallabys which are similar to kangaroos but much smaller. Koalas, which climb in trees and the very funny look platypus can also only be found in Australia. The platypus looks like the combination of a duck, a beaver and an otter! Be sure to find a picture later if you’ve never seen a platypus before. Tasmanian devils and dingos are two other mammals unique to Australia.

Many of the deadliest species in the world can be found there, too, such as the poisonous funnel-web spiders and twenty types of venomous snakes, such as the taipan.

Australia is also famous for the Sydney Opera House. The Sydney Opera House is also one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It was built along the harbor and its roof is shaped like several huge overlapping white shells. Workers started on it in 1959 and it cost $102 million dollars to build. 10,000 people worked on it until it was finished in 1973. Every year more than 10 million people visit the beautiful Opera House to wonder at its architecture and to be entertained.

Some notable people born in Australia are Saint Mary MacKillop, who served the aboriginal people in the Outback and established several schools to help educate the poor and needy. Howard Florey, who saved millions of lives by developing penicillin into a usable drug. Edith Cowan, who campaigned for women and children’s rights in the 1900s. And Sir Marcus Oliphant who helped develop the radar and atomic bomb.

Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter and Nancy Wake, the WW2 spy and commando, were also Australian. You can find episodes about them on our podcast. 

Australia is also one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries. This means people come from many different races and backgrounds, such as the United Kingdom, Africa, China, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Many famous actors and actresses were also born in Australia: Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor in the Marvel movies, Hugh Jackman from The Greatest Showman and X-Men, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Mel Gibson, Hugo Weaving, Margo Robbie, and Errol Flynn are other actors to name just a few.

Some of the popular sports are Australian football, rugby, soccer, cricket, basketball and baseball. Australian football is similar to rugby, but with different rules. If you’ve never seen rugby it’s similar to American football, but the players don’t wear pads and can toss the ball back and forth. In Australian football the goal is to carry the oval ball down the field and then kick it between goal posts. If you’ve never seen it before be sure to find a video. Swimming, cycling, dancing and tennis are also popular in Australia. 

Do you think it would be fun to visit Australia someday? I do sure do! Learning about people from different places shows us how diverse the world is. I think this makes life very interesting. That everyone looks different, has different customs, and interests and hobbies, and a unique history makes the world a vibrant and unique place. Be sure to take the time to learn more about Australia by looking up photos and watching videos of this most fascinating country and continent!