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History of Sydney

Highlights

Uncover Sydney's history, culture and artistic past at one of several quality museums around the city. For pioneering colonial history, visit Elizabeth Farm and Old Government House, learn about the city's railway heritage at The Rocks Discovery Museum or make your way to Trainworks in Thirlmere.

Must Do

Sydney heritage and history

Before the arrival of Europeans, New South Wales had been inhabited for many thousands of years by Aboriginal people. Aboriginal Australia comprises up to 300 Aboriginal nation-states, speaking more than 250 languages and many more dialects. As hunter-gatherers, Aboriginal people developed a profound relationship with the land they inhabited, and a unique knowledge of its plants and animals.  By the time the British arrived in Sydney in January 1788, there were more than 1500 Aboriginal people belonging to many clans living in the area from Botany Bay to Broken Bay and as far west as Parramatta.

Europeans settled after Sydney was chosen as a penal colony for prisoners shipped out from the overflowing jails of England. Two decades later, Governor Lachlan Macquarie charted a new course for New South Wales, the first state of Australia, as a society of free men and women. At about the same time, it was discovered that the broad plains of New South Wales were eminently suitable for the production of fine merino wool, and the country's economic future was assured.

Over the past half century, Sydney's character has been transformed from a predominantly Anglo-Irish population to one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities with more than 180 nationalities calling Sydney home. Find out more about Sydney's history and heritage at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street in the city centre.


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