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Brisbane - History

Brisbane History

Brisbane was established when Sydney and the colony of New South Wales needed a better place to store its more recalcitrant 'cons'. The tropical country further north seemed a good place to put them and in 1824 a penal settlement was established at Redcliffe Point on Moreton Bay. This location was soon abandoned in favour of the riverside site to the south where Brisbane's business district now stands. The penal settlement was abandoned in 1839 and the area was thrown open to free settlers in 1842. As Queensland's huge agricultural and mineral resources were developed, Brisbane grew into a prosperous city, and in 1859 the state of Queensland separated from the colony of NSW. Brisbane was declared its capital.

Queensland's early white settlers indulged in one of the greatest land grabs of all time and encountered fierce Aboriginal opposition. At the time of white settlement, Queensland was the most densely populated area of Australia, supporting over 100,000 Aboriginal people in around 200 tribal groups - Aboriginal people had probably been in the country for at least 50,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. For much of the 19th century, what amounted to a guerrilla war took place along the frontiers of the white advance. By the turn of the century, the Aboriginal people of Queensland had been comprehensively run off their lands and the white authorities had set up reserves for the survivors. In the 1980s control of the reserves was handed over to the residents, subject to rights of access for prospecting, exploration or mining.

By the 1860s Brisbane had shed its convict background and developed into a handsome provincial centre, although it wasn't until the 1880s that the central business district was transformed by the construction of many fine public and commercial buildings.

Despite a country-wide climate of jingoism and giving it all for the motherland, WWI saw Queensland vote in an anti-conscription Labor government. Labor hung on to government until 1957, introducing a series of social and industrial reforms including compulsory voting and workers' compensation.

During WWII, large areas of the state were transformed into military camps, with thousands of Americans garrisoned throughout Queensland as Australia and the USA fought against Japan throughout the Pacific. The war resulted in Australia shifting its allegiance from the UK to the USA, as the north of the country, in particular, realised how vulnerable it was to invasion. In the post-war years Queensland shifted from a rural to an industrial economy and Labor was replaced by a conservative Liberal-Country Party political coalition.

Brisbane's history is dominated by the right-wing Joh Bjelke-Peterson regime which lasted from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, thanks to a bit of sleight-of-hand with electoral boundaries. Queensland (and Brisbane in particular) suffered a government which was at odds with the rest of the country in matters such as human rights, rainforest conservation, Aboriginal land rights and even the availability of condoms (although it must be said in its favour that economically, Bjelke-Peterson's policies were a huge success). Corruption was rife and since the defeat of the National Party in 1989, it seems everyone from the former Commissioner of Police to Joh himself has appeared in court on charges relating to some sort of shady deal.

Brisbane's rapid economic growth, its favourable climate and Joh's 1977 decision to abolish death duties have all attracted a massive wave of internal migration. Since 1980 over half a million Australians from other states have packed up and moved to Queensland.

Joh Bjelke-Peterson's long reign came at a cost - to the state, and to conservative politics. Following his departure, massive political corruption was discovered, leading to ongoing decimation of conserative politics in the state. In recent years, Premier Peter Beattie's Labor government has dominated state politics to the point that the nationally-dominant Liberals were almost electorally obliterated at a state level in the late nineties. Yet, at the same time, Queensland is the state where the controversial far-right One Nation party has at times gained more than 25% of the vote, and where gun-owners in Gympie staged angry demonstrations opposing Federal gun-ownership reforms.

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