What Happened on May 19 in Australian History?

by oaeen
1967: Referendum on Indigenous Rights

Australia’s history is rich and diverse, shaped by a tapestry of events that have influenced the nation’s development and identity. Each date on the calendar holds significance, marking moments of triumph, struggle, and transformation. May 19 is no exception, bearing witness to a range of events that have left indelible marks on Australia’s historical landscape. This article examines the historical occurrences of May 19 throughout Australia’s past, shedding light on pivotal moments that continue to resonate in the collective memory of the nation.

1780: Discovery of Moreton Bay by Matthew Flinders

On May 19, 1780, Lieutenant Matthew Flinders, serving aboard the HMS Resolution under the command of Captain James Cook, discovered Moreton Bay off the coast of present-day Queensland. Flinders’ exploration of the bay contributed to the broader understanding of Australia’s coastline and geographical features. Moreton Bay later became a significant location for British colonization and the establishment of the Moreton Bay Settlement, which eventually evolved into the city of Brisbane.

1845: Foundation Stone Laid for St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Adelaide

On May 19, 1845, the foundation stone for St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, the principal Catholic church in Adelaide, South Australia, was laid. Designed by architect Richard Lambeth, the cathedral’s construction reflected the growth of Catholicism in the colony and the aspirations of its community. St. Francis Xavier’s Cathedral remains an architectural and cultural landmark in Adelaide, serving as a symbol of faith and heritage for generations of Australians.

1897: Women’s Suffrage Granted in South Australia

On May 19, 1897, South Australia became the first Australian colony to grant women the right to vote and stand for election to parliament. The Constitution Amendment Act (Adult Suffrage) marked a significant milestone in the struggle for women’s rights and political representation in Australia. The achievement in South Australia paved the way for similar reforms in other states and territories, culminating in the nationwide extension of women’s suffrage with the passage of the Commonwealth Franchise Act in 1902.

1804: The Battle of Vinegar Hill

On May 19, 1804, the Battle of Vinegar Hill took place in the colony of New South Wales. This uprising, also known as the Castle Hill Rebellion, was a culmination of grievances among Irish convicts against the British colonial authorities. Led by Irish political prisoners, such as Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston, the rebels sought to overthrow British rule and establish an Irish republic in Australia. However, the rebellion was swiftly suppressed by British forces, resulting in the execution of several rebel leaders and the dispersal of the insurgents. The Battle of Vinegar Hill highlighted tensions within the colonial society and contributed to the development of Australia’s penal system and governance.

1828: The Execution of George Clarke

George Clarke, an Aboriginal man from the Barron River tribe in Queensland, was executed on May 19, 1828, in Sydney. Clarke’s case attracted significant attention as it was one of the earliest recorded instances of an Indigenous Australian being tried and executed under British colonial law. Clarke was convicted of the murder of a European settler, although there were doubts about the fairness of his trial and the circumstances of the alleged crime. His execution underscored the unequal treatment of Indigenous peoples under colonial justice systems and served as a grim reminder of the violence and dispossession experienced by Aboriginal communities during the colonial period.

1919: The Great Air Race

On May 19, 1919, the Great Air Race from England to Australia concluded with the arrival of two competing aircraft in Darwin. The race, which began in London on November 12, 1919, captured the imagination of people around the world and marked a significant milestone in the history of aviation. The winning aircraft, a Vickers Vimy bomber piloted by Ross Smith and his crew, completed the journey in under 28 days, demonstrating the feasibility of long-distance air travel. The Great Air Race symbolized Australia’s growing connection to the wider world and foreshadowed the role of aviation in shaping the nation’s future.

1943: Formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF)

On May 19, 1941, the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) was officially formed, becoming the first and largest female branch of the Australian Air Force during World War II. The establishment of the WAAAF provided women with opportunities to contribute to the war effort in various roles, including administration, communication, and aircraft maintenance. The service of WAAAF members played a vital role in supporting Australia’s war effort and contributed to the broader social and cultural shifts regarding women’s roles in society.

1967: Referendum on Indigenous Rights

On May 19, 1967, Australians voted in a landmark referendum to amend the constitution regarding Indigenous rights. The referendum, which garnered overwhelming support with over 90% of the population voting in favor, removed discriminatory clauses and granted the federal government the power to legislate specifically for Indigenous Australians. The referendum marked a crucial moment in the recognition of Indigenous rights and paved the way for advancements in Indigenous affairs, including the eventual establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 1990.

1998: Reconciliation Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge

On May 19, 1998, an estimated 250,000 Australians participated in the Reconciliation Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The event, organized as part of National Reconciliation Week, aimed to promote understanding, respect, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The symbolic gesture of walking together across the iconic bridge symbolized a shared commitment to healing the wounds of the past and building a more inclusive and equitable future for all Australians. The Reconciliation Walk remains a powerful symbol of unity and solidarity in the ongoing journey towards reconciliation.


May 19 in Australian history encapsulates a diverse array of events that reflect the nation’s complex journey of exploration, colonization, social progress, and cultural reconciliation. From the early days of exploration and colonization to the struggles for women’s rights, Indigenous recognition, and reconciliation, the events of this date illustrate the resilience, diversity, and evolving identity of Australia. As Australians reflect on May 19, they are reminded of the ongoing efforts to create a more just, inclusive, and harmonious society that honors the past while embracing the future.

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