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For at least 40,000 years before European settlement, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who belonged to one of roughly 250 language groups. The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent were attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula on an unknown date in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York, near the modern town of Weipa.

The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of "New Holland" during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer landed on the northwest coast of Australia in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. Cook's discoveries prepared the way for establishment of a new penal colony. The British Crown Colony of New South Wales was formed on 26 January 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet to Port Jackson. This date became Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1828.

Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia. South Australia was founded as a "free province"—it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts. A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.

Willem Janszoon William Dampier Lieutenant James Cook Captain Arthur Phillip

On 1 January 1901 federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting. The Commonwealth of Australia was established and it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1907. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was constructed. The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911.

Original Coat of Arms - 1908 Current Coat of Arms - 1912

Coat of Arms

The coat of arms of Australia (formally known as Commonwealth Coat of Arms) is the official symbol of Australia. The initial coat of arms was granted by King Edward VII on 7 May 1908, and the current version was granted by King George V on 19 September 1912.

Contained within the shield is the badge of each Australian state. In the top half, from left to right, the states represented are: New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland. In the bottom half, from left to right: South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania. Above the shield is the seven-pointed 'Commonwealth Star' or 'Star of Federation' above a blue and gold wreath, forming the crest. Six of the points on the star represent the original six states, while the seventh point represents the combined territories and any future states of Australia. In its entirety the shield represents the federation of Australia.

The Red Kangaroo and Emu that support the shield are the unofficial animal emblems of the nation. They are native Australian fauna, (found only on that continent), It is often claimed these animals were chosen because neither animal can move backward, only forward representing progress. In the background is wreath of Golden Wattle. At the bottom of the coat of arms is a scroll that contains the name of the nation.

Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Also known as ‘The Union Flag’ Australian Flag Australian Flag (Red Ensign) Australian Flag (White Ensign)

Australian Flag

Before 1901, what is now Australia was six separate British colonies. The Union Flag, as the flag of the British Empire, was first used on Australian soil on 29 April 1770 when Lieutenant James Cook landed at what is now Botany Bay, and it was again used at the start of European settlement of the country on 26 January 1788.

As Federation approached, thoughts turned to an official federal flag. After Federation on 1 January 1901 and following receipt of a request from the British government to design a new flag, the new Commonwealth Government held an official competition for a new federal flag in April. The competition attracted 32,823 entries

Each competitor was required to submit two coloured sketches, a red ensign for the merchant service and public use, and a blue ensign for naval and official use. The designs were judged on seven criteria: loyalty to the Empire, Federation, history, heraldry, distinctiveness, utility and cost of manufacture. The majority of designs incorporated the Union Flag and the Southern Cross, but native animals were also popular, including one that depicted a variety of indigenous animals playing cricket.

The entries were put on display at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne and the judges took six days to deliberate before reaching their conclusion. Five almost identical entries were chosen as the winning design, and their designers shared the £200 prize money. They were Ivor Evans, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy from Melbourne; Leslie John Hawkins, a teenager apprenticed to an optician from Sydney; Egbert John Nuttall, an architect from Melbourne; Annie Dorrington, an artist from Perth; and William Stevens, a ship's officer from Auckland, New Zealand. The five winners received £40 each.

The differences to the current flag were the six-pointed Commonwealth Star. The flag's initial reception was mixed.

The Australian White Ensign (also known as the Australian Naval Ensign or the Royal Australian Navy Ensign) is a naval ensign used by ships of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from 1967 onwards. From the formation of the RAN until 1967, Australian warships used the British White Ensign as their ensign. However, this led to situations where Australian vessels were mistaken for British ships, and when Australia became involved in the Vietnam War, the RAN was effectively fighting under the flag of another, uninvolved nation. Proposals were made in 1965 for a unique Australian ensign, which was approved in 1966, and entered use in 1967.

The Australian White Ensign is identical in design to the Australian National Flag, but with the reversal of the blue background and the white Commonwealth Star and Southern Cross.

Australian Colonial History

Australia's floral emblem

The golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha, Australia's national floral emblem, encapsulates the spirit of the Australian bush. The shrub or small tree grows in the understorey of open forest, woodland and in open scrub in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Like all emblems and symbols, the golden wattle captures an essence of Australia that brings the colours, smells and textures of the Australian bush alive.

The flower has long been recognised as Australia's premier floral symbol and was officially proclaimed in 1988. In 1912, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Hon. Andrew Fisher MP, wattle was included as the decoration surrounding the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and it has also been used in the design of Australian stamps and many awards in the Australian honours system.

Golden wattle was honoured further with the proclamation in 1992 that 1 September in each year be observed as National Wattle Day. This day provides an opportunity for all Australians to celebrate our floral heritage, particularly through the planting of an Acacia species suitable for the area in which they live.

Australia's national gemstone

The opal is a rare and beautiful precious stone. A very special series of geographical and climatic phenomena need to coincide for the opal to form. The great desert regions of central Australia provide such conditions and Australia produces over 90 per cent of the world's precious opal.

Australia 's precious opals include the black opal (produced in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales), white opal (majority of the world's production occurs in Coober Pedy, South Australia), crystal opal and boulder opal (mined in Central Queensland). The precious stone was proclaimed Australia's national gemstone on 28 July 1993.

In Aboriginal legend, the mesmerising opal was a gift from the sky, from a rainbow that had touched the earth and created the colours of the opal.

Australia's national colours

Australia's national colours, green and gold, were popular and well loved by Australians long before they were officially proclaimed by the Governor-General on 19 April 1984.

At international sporting events since before Federation, and of course at many since, the colours have been associated with the achievements of many great Australian sports men and women.

As well as instilling national pride on the field, spectators often also don the official colours and cheer their team waving green and gold boxing kangaroo flags. Back home in Australia, the green triangle and gold kangaroo of the Australian Made logo is the most recognised country of origin symbol on Australian shop shelves.

Prior to proclamation, Australia had no official colours and different combinations vied for the honour: red, white and blue; blue and gold; and green and gold. The colours red, white and blue featured in the first Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth in 1908 and are the colours of the Australian National Flag. Blue and gold have heraldic significance, as the colours of the crest in the 1912 (present) Commonwealth Coat of Arms.

But it was the green and gold of Australia's landscape, principally of many species of wattle, which won the day. Green and gold is also represented on the Commonwealth Coat of Arms by the wattle which is an ornamental accessory to the shield.

For more information on the states - click on one of the links below