2 years ago
Last edited at 12:56AM on 8/10/2011
About the time Australia was settled the Brits had been having some problems with their colonies in North America where a ragtag army of unappreciative subjects handed them their imperialistic asses and sent them packing.
So they came south and founded a penal settlement on Sydney Harbour -- undoubtedly the finest harbour in the world.
But condemning petty criminals to a life of sunbaked deprivation on the flip side of the planet was only one of the benefits. They did what the other European seafaring nations always did and invaded what they considered to be an unoccupied continent. It didn't matter than the Aboriginal peoples (there were many individual tribes) had populated the place for the past 40,000 years -- they were uneducated, uncouth, and un-British, so they didn't count.
The European empire-builders occupied whatever new land they could because the wealth they could build there -- or, in the case of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, for the plunder they could send home.
The Brits seem to have chosen well with Australia because, in spite of the fact that vast areas of the interior are virtually unusable desert, it is a land rich in minerals and with a climate that made food production profitable. Then, of course, in 1849 gold was discovered at two major centres and that created even more wealth.
So to answer your question in a single word -- opportunism.
There were a number of reasons why the Europeans went to Australia. Some of these reasons included; the British who explored the Australian continent with the aim of increasing their empire, the Dutch were on their way to where they traded goods in the West Indies when they came across the continent by accident.