The history of Queensland spans thousands of years, encompassing both a lengthy indigenous presence, as well as the eventful times of post-European settlement. The north-eastern Australian region was explored by Dutch, Spanish and French navigators before being encountered by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. The state has witnessed frontier warfare between European settlers and Indigenous inhabitants (which did not result in any settlement or treaty), as well as the exploitation of cheap Kanaka labour sourced from the South Pacific through a form of forced recruitment known at the time as "blackbirding". The Australian Labor Party has its origin as a formal organisation in Queensland and the town of Barcaldine is the symbolic birthplace of the party. June 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of its creation as a separate colony from New South Wales. A rare record of early settler life in north Queensland can be seen in a set of ten photographic glass plates taken in the 1860s by Richard Daintree, in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.
Arrival of Aboriginal Australians
The Aboriginal occupation of Queensland is thought to predate 50,000 BC, likely via boat or land bridge across Torres Strait, and became divided into over 90 different language groups.
During the last ice age Queensland's landscape became more arid and largely desolate, making food and other supplies scarce. This led to the world's first seed-grinding technology. Warming again made the land hospitable, which brought high rainfall along the eastern coast, stimulating the growth of the state's tropical rainforests.
European arrival (1606)
In February 1606, Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon landed near the site of what is now Weipa, on the western shore of Cape York. This was the first recorded landing of a European in Australia, and it also marked the first reported contact between European and Aboriginal Australian people. The region was also explored by French and Spanish explorers (commanded by Louis Antoine de Bougainville and Luís Vaez de Torres, respectively) prior to the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. Cook claimed the east coast under instruction from King George III of the United Kingdom on 22 August 1770 at Possession Island, naming Eastern Australia, including Queensland, 'New South Wales'.
The Aboriginal population declined significantly after a smallpox epidemic during the late 18th century. (There has been controversy regarding the origins of smallpox in Australia; while many sources have claimed that it originated with British settlers, this theory has been contradicted by scientific evidence. There is circumstantial evidence that Macassan mariners visiting Arnhem Land introduced smallpox to Australia. )
In 1823, John Oxley, a British explorer, sailed north from what is now Sydney to scout possible penal colony sites in Gladstone (then Port Curtis) and Moreton Bay. At Moreton Bay, he found the Brisbane River. He returned in 1824 and established a settlement at what is now Redcliffe. The settlement, initially known as Edenglassie, was then transferred to the current location of the Brisbane city centre. Edmund Lockyer discovered outcrops of coal along the banks of the upper Brisbane River in 1825. In 1839 transportation of convicts was ceased, culminating in the closure of the Brisbane penal settlement. In 1842 free settlement was permitted. In 1847, the Port of Maryborough was opened as a wool port. The first free immigrant ship to arrive in Moreton Bay was the Artemisia, in 1848. In 1857, Queensland's first lighthouse was built at Cape Moreton.
Fighting between Burke and Wills
's supply party and Indigenous Australians at Bulla in 1861
A war, sometimes called a "war of extermination", erupted between Aborigines and settlers in colonial Queensland. The Frontier War was notable for being the most bloody in Australia, perhaps due to Queensland's larger pre-contact indigenous population when compared to the other Australian colonies. About 1,500 European settlers and their allies (consisting of Chinese, Aboriginal and Melanesian assistants), were killed in frontier skirmishes during the nineteenth century. Casualties among the Aboriginal people may have exceeded 30,000. The "Native Police Force", employed by the Queensland government, was key in the oppression of the indigenous people.
On 27 October 1857, Aboriginals retaliating against being poisoned and raped by members of the Fraser family, attacked the Hornet Bank pastoral station on the Dawson River killing eleven people. This was one of the largest massacres of British colonists by Indigenous Australians. The largest reported massacre of colonists by Aboriginals was in 1861 on the Nogoa River where 19 people were killed. One author estimates 24,000 Aboriginal men, women and children died at the hands of the Native Police in colonial Queensland between 1859 and 1897 alone.
Colony of Queensland
A public meeting was held in 1851 to consider the proposed separation of Queensland from New South Wales. On 6 June 1859, Queen Victoria signed Letters Patent to form the separate colony of what is now Queensland. Brisbane was appointed as the capital city. On 10 December 1859, a proclamation was read by British author George Bowen, whereby Queensland was formally separated from the state of New South Wales. As a result, Bowen became the first Governor of Queensland. On 22 May 1860 the first Queensland election was held and Robert Herbert, Bowen's private secretary, was appointed as the first Premier of Queensland. Queensland also became the first Australian colony to establish its own parliament rather than spending time as a Crown Colony. In 1865, the first rail line in the state opened between Ipswich and Grandchester.
Queensland's economy expanded rapidly in 1867 after James Nash discovered gold on the Mary River near the town of Gympie, sparking a gold rush. While still significant, they were on a much smaller scale than the gold rushes of Victoria and New South Wales.
Parade of troops in Brisbane, prior to departure for the Boer War
in South Africa.
Immigration to Australia and Queensland in particular began in the 1850s to support the state economy. During the period from the 1860s until the early 20th century, many labourers, known at the time as Kanakas, were brought to Queensland from neighbouring Pacific Island nations to work in the state's sugar cane fields. Some of these people had been kidnapped under a process known as blackbirding or press ganging, and their employment conditions amounted to indentured labour or even slavery. Italians had entered the sugar cane industry as early as the 1890s. During the Australian federation of 1901, the White Australia policy came into effect, which saw all foreign workers in Australia deported under the Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901, which saw the Pacific Islander population of the state decrease rapidly.
Returned World War II soldiers march in Queen Street, Brisbane, 1944
On 1 January 1901, Australia was federated following a proclamation by Queen Victoria. During this time, Queensland had a population of half a million people. Brisbane was subsequently proclaimed a city in 1902. In 1905, women voted in state elections for the first time, and the University of Queensland was established in 1909. In 1911, The first alternative treatments for polio were pioneered in Queensland and remain in use across the world today.
World War I had a major impact on Queensland. Over 58,000 Queenslanders fought in World War I and over 10,000 of them died.
Australia's first major airline, Qantas, was founded in 1920 to serve outback Queensland.
In 1922, Queensland abolished the Upper House, becoming the only State with a unicameral State Parliament in Australia.
In 1935, cane toads were deliberately introduced to Queensland from Hawaii in a poorly-thought-out and unsuccessful attempt to reduce the number of French's cane and greyback cane beetles that were destroying the roots of sugar cane plants, which are integral to Queensland's economy. In 1962, the first commercial production of oil in Queensland and Australia began at Moonie.
The humid climate—regulated by the availability of air conditioning—saw Queensland become a more accommodating place to work and live for Australian migrants. To this day, it is one of Australia's economic powerhouses and the third-most populous state in the country.
In 2009, Queensland celebrated Q150, its 150th anniversary as an independent colony and state. The Queensland government and other Queensland organisations commemorated the occasion with many events and publications, including the announcement of the top 150 icons of Queensland by the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, and the creation of monuments at significant survey points in Queensland's history to honour the many early explorer/surveyors who mapped the state.