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Theme 4 - The Collision of Worlds

One year after the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in January 1788, a smallpox plague mysteriously broke out in April 1789. It spread through the whole country, killing 90% of the Australian population. The event is preserved in legend, story and song.

The cause, course and impacts of this first ever Australian pandemic are discussed in the first three articles.

The nature of Aboriginal resistance is then discussed, with the focus in the final two articles shifting locally to Melbourne’s Yarra Valley.


  1. In checking what is historically recorded about the Lieutenant Governor, Major Robert Ross, would he be capable of deliberate genocide?

  2. Is it reasonable to estimate an Australian death rate of 90% from the 1789 smallpox plague?

  3. Did the level of smallpox deaths materially affect Aboriginal resistance to colonisation?

  4. How many Aboriginal place names do you know the meaning of in your local area?

AH 4.1

Was Australia settled or invaded?

This important contemporary issue is discussed, and it is put that while truths must be told, we are all only responsible for what we do in our own lifetimes.

AH 4.2

The Aboriginal sense of humour

Historical accounts are utilised to show the impish and teasing nature of Aboriginal wit.

AH 4.3

The 1789 constitutional crisis in Australia

Governor Phillip wanted peace with the natives, Lieutenant Governor Major Ross wanted war, and the two men were at bitter loggerheads all throughout 1788.

AH 4.4

The darkest day in Australian history

In early 1789, a smallpox plague mysteriously broke out in Sydney to suddenly solve Major Ross’ native problem.

AH 4.5

Just imagine corona virus 1000 times worse

With no resistance to European diseases, smallpox spread throughout the continent, killing at least 80% of three million Australians, but only one colonist.

AH 4.6

The social effects of our greatest pandemic

All people over sixty, under six and all pregnant women died in the plague. A whole generation of Elders was wiped out and there was a shortage of women. Chaos ensued.

AH 4.7

The second Smallpox plague of 1828

A generation after the first smallpox plague, a second plague started in Sydney after a convict ship docked. Aboriginal society was once more thrown into chaos.

AH 4.8

Aboriginal resistance to colonisation

Despite decimation by disease, frontier resistance persisted, leading to declarations of Martial Law and punitive expeditions in each of the Australian colonies.

AH 4.9

The history of the Yarra

The geological history of the Yarra River is accurately seeded within the Woiwurrung legends of ancestor heroes such as Moyarra, Barwool and Yanyin.

AH 4.10

Placenames and meanings in Manningham

Like many other municipalities, a number of Aboriginal placenames have been preserved in Manningham and give important clues to our early history.

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