Australia in the 1900s

Innovations and discoveries

In 1900, more than 103 people died from the bubonic plague in Sydney. Between 1900 and 1909, 219 people died from bubonic plague in Brisbane. In 1905, dengue fever broke out in Queensland and northern New South Wales, resulting in thousands being infected and the loss of many lives.

In 1900, an artesian bore in Roma, Queensland, yielded Australia's first natural gas.

In 1900, Adelaide introduced electric street lighting, though Tamworth in regional NSW was the first town to introduce it in 1888. In 1904, Sydney streets were lit for the first time by electric lights, ten years after Melbourne, whose city streets were illuminated by electricity in 1894.

In 1901, Tarrant Motor and Engineering Company of Melbourne manufactured the first successful Australian petrol-driven car. In 1905 Frank Bottril patented his 'pedorail', a caterpillar-style road wheel that would subsequently be used on many tractors throughout Australia.

In 1905, the first purpose built cinema opened in Sydney.

In 1907, a telephone trunk line opened between Sydney and Melbourne.

In 1908, the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology opened in Melbourne. In the following year, observatories traced Halley's comet return for the first time since 1844.

In 1909, Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair McKay reached the south magnetic pole.

In 1909, the Aerial League of Australia was formed with members including George Taylor, Lawrence Hargrave and Major Charles Rosenthal. At Narrabeen, NSW, he designed and built a glider (a full-size biplane fitted with a double box kite), which was the first unpowered flight in Australia.


A snapshot of 1908

  • March
    • Mawson and David scale Mount Erebus in Antarctica.

  • May
    • The first official Australian Coat of Arms is granted.
    • Alfred Deakin's government is defeated and Andrew Fisher becomes prime minister.

  • July
    • The Invalid and Old Age Pensions Act 1908 (Cth) is passed

  • August
    • The Great White Fleet sent by President Roosevelt arrives in Australia at Alfred Deakin's request.

  • September
    • 'My Country', Dorothy Mackellar's poem, is published in London's Spectator.

  • October
    • Canberra is selected for the site of a national capital city.


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