The Queensland we know today has been shaped by events of the past and the people who pioneered its development as an independent State.
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. It is difficult to know precisely when Aboriginal people first arrived in Queensland. 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.
Increasing aridity shrank the forests and expanded the dry grasslands. Aborigines adapted to these conditions, resulting in a mixture of lifestyles throughout Queensland. Research shows that Aborigines were knowledgeable and sophisticated managers of resources. Aboriginal people arranged themselves into complex social and territorial groupings that varied throughout the continent. The diversity of art styles and ceremonies show that the Aboriginal lifestyle was more than mere survival. These people had spiritual, economic and social practices.
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.
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.
After separation, towns outside Brisbane began to develop. In 1860 Ipswich and Rockhampton were officially declared towns. Maryborough and Warwick followed in the next year.
Queensland's first elections were held in 1860. Robert George Wyndham Herbert led the first elected government as Premier. On May 29 of that year, Queensland Parliament opened for the first time. Immigration, communications and development issues broadly occupied Queensland's early politics. The railway network extended as towns demanded their own link.
One of the earliest resolves of the new parliament was to increase the population of the new colony as rapidly as possible. A land-order system was devised to attract new settlers. As a result, over three years, nearly 25,000 people landed in Queensland lured by the prospect of becoming landed proprietors.
The discovery of payable gold near Rockhampton was to be the first of many successful discoveries that spurred development in Queensland and helped to protect the State from the effects of the 1866 Depression.
Queensland pioneered the state secondary education system in the early 1860s when the government subsidised municipalities to set up grammar schools - the first free education in Australia. In 1866 Queensland Treasury banknotes were issued for the first time.
The Constitution Act 1867 (Qld) defined the formal institutions of Government including parliament and the executive government. The Act locates executive power with the Governor, representing the Crown and Executive Council, which consists of the current Ministers appointed by the Governor. The Constitutional powers of the executive government, including summoning and dissolving parliament, appointing and dismissing Ministers and assenting legislation passed by the houses of parliament, are defined in the Constitution Act.
In 1876 the current design of the Queensland Flag was officially adopted. Local government was established in 1879 with the passage of the Divisional Boards Act.
By 1891, wool had become an enormous industry in Australia. The pay rates and conditions under which shearers worked fuelled discontent which erupted into the shearers' strike when a Darling Downs Station employed non-union men. Thousands of shearers refused to work. The potential for revolution dissolved when Aborigines, Kanaka Islanders and Chinese immigrants were enlisted to work for even cheaper wages. The strike is remembered as an event that created camaraderie among Australian workers from all backgrounds and launched labour politics.
As fears were expressed that Aboriginal people in Queensland faced extinction, the Government resolved to establish new governmental reserves to accommodate the remaining tribes throughout the State. In 1897, the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was passed, authorising the removal of Aboriginal people to reserves (these powers of removal continued until 1971 when the Act was amended).
Just over four decades of autonomy elapsed before Federation, on 1 January 1901, created the union of the Commonwealth of Australia. The majority of Queenslanders voted 'yes' to a referendum asking whether Queensland should join the Federation. Once this referendum was passed, Queensland lost its colonial status and became a State.
There have been few fundamental changes to the government structures established by the original colonial Constitution Acts. Notable changes included:
the gradual introduction of universal adult suffrage for parliamentary elections;
the abolition of the Queensland Legislative Council in 1922;
the abolition, in 1965, of restrictions denying Australian Aborigines the right to vote. However, it was not until 1971 that voting for Aborigines was made compulsory.
Aborigines today are part of a dynamic, living culture with strong traditional beliefs. There are now a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils around Queensland who liaise with Aboriginal communities to provide administrative and cultural support.
Unlike the Commonwealth Government, the legislative authority of the State parliaments is defined broadly. Section 2 of the Constitution Act 1867 authorises the Queensland Parliament 'to make laws for the peace, welfare and good government of the colony in all cases whatsoever'. These broad powers were confirmed by the Australia Act 1986, which declared that the legislative powers of each State Parliament 'include full power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of that State'.
Queensland today has one of the strongest economies in Australia. The State has prospered through agriculture, mining and, more recently, tourism. In 1996 tourist expenditure in Queensland had a higher contribution to the Gross State Product than both mining and agriculture.
The third largest State in Australia, Queensland has consistently had the highest growth rate since 1971, with rates twice the Australian average. At the 30th June 1996, Census results showed that Queensland's estimated resident population is 3.39 million.
Whether you're after adrenalin-pumping adventure, relaxing on sun-kissed beaches, trekking through ancient rainforest or snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, there's an experience just waiting to become YOUR treasured memory.