Indigenous Australia Timeline - Pre-Contact

A timeline of events relating to Indigenous Australians from the time of human colonisation of Australia until 200 years ago.

Grinding stone E049213

Grinding stone E049213
Photographer: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

Timeline - Pre-Contact

65 000 years ago

There is still uncertainty surrounding the exact timing of the initial human colonisation of Australia, and both the timing and nature of megafaunal extinctions.

For more conservative archaeologists, the most commonly accepted age of initial human occupation is 40 000 years or 43 000 - 45 000 calendircal years after calibration (Allen 200:65; Mulvaney & Kaminga 1999). In contrast, Roberts et al. (1990;1993; 1998; 2001) and others argue for initial colonisation at 56 000 +/- 4 000 years, based on optical dates for two north Australian sites (Nauwalabila and Malakunanja). In south-east Australia, recent datings of the Lake Mungo 3 (LM3) human remains arrived at an age of about 60 000 years (more specifically, 56 000 - 68 000 years) using three different dating methods (Thorne et al. 1999). Although the use of three methods should yield a reliable age estimate with high accuracy, there is still much argument about the 'true' age of LM3, with several archaeologists and geomorphologists insisting it is more likely to be 43 000 years old.

40 000 years ago

Clear archaeological evidence that Aboriginal people have been living for some time in south eastern Australia eg. Lake Mungo.

31 000 years ago

Aboriginal people living at the Keilor site in Victoria.

20 000 years ago

Aboriginal people are well established throughout coastal and mainland Australia and Tasmania.

Some 10% of Tasmania is covered by glacial ice. Kutikina Cave is occupied by Tasmanian Aboriginal people at the height of the last ice age.

18 000 years ago

Grass seed harvesting is an integral activity in the socio-economic life on the large grasslands.

16 000 years ago

Sea levels begin to rise as ice caps melt. Inland lakes such as Lake Mungo have dried up.

13 000 years ago

Land bridges between mainland Australia and Tasmania are flooded. Tasmanian Aboriginal people become isolated for the next 12 000 - 13 000 years.

10 000 years ago

Present day Australian climate established.

8 000 years ago

The Torres Strait Islands are formed when the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea is flooded by rising seas.

6 000 years ago

The 'shape' of Australia's coastline is defined by present sea level.

Settlement of Pacific Islands.

5 000 years ago

Dingo arrives in Australia.

400 years ago

Bone tool deposits at Otway Peninsula, Victoria suggest Aboriginal people were working with animal skins.

The following references were used in compiling this timeline:

  • Bostock, Lester, 1990, The Greater Perspective, Special Broadcasting Service
  • Fraser, Bryce, (ed) 1983, The Macquarie Book of Events, Weldon,
  • Directorate of Special Programs, NSW Department of Education, 1982, Aboriginal Australia, a Preliminary Chronology
  • Jonas, Bill and Langton, Marcia 1994 The Little Red, Yellow and Black (and Green and Blue and White) Book, AIATSIS
  • Horton, D (ed) 1994, Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press
  • Butler, Kevin, Cameron, K & Percival, B., 1995, The Myth of Terra Nullius, Invasion and Resistance -the early years, Board of Studies

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