The ancestors of the first aborigines may have come from Southeast Asia to what is now Australia some 50,000 years ago. For thousands of years, the aborigines lived a primitive, peaceful, and nomadic life, undisturbed by outsiders.

Until British settlement began late in the 18th century, Australia remained inhabited only by the aborigines. However, as early as the second century A.D., some ancient map makers were indicating the probable existence of a large, unknown continent south of Asia. The actual discovery of Australia followed the expansion of Portuguese, Dutch, and Spanish trade into Asian waters.

Important dates in Australia (before 1788)
45,000-60,000 B.C. The Aborigines reached Australia from Southeast Asia.
6,000 B.C. Rising sea levels separated Tasmania from the mainland at the end of the last great ice age. Aborigines on the island were separated from mainland Aborigines by Bass Strait.
A.D. 1606 The Dutch captain Willem Jansz made the first recorded European exploration of the Australian coast, sailing along the western side of the Cape York Peninsula.
1642 The Dutch explorer Abel Tasman charted the southern coast of Tasmania and the southern island of New Zealand.
1770 The English navigator James Cook sailed completely around the New Zealand islands, proving they were not part of Australia. He then charted the eastern coast of Australia, claiming it for Britain.