Important historic sites in Australia: Top 10

1 MUNGO NATIONAL PARK

The starkly beautiful dry lakes and shifting sand dunes of outback NSW's Willandra Lakes World Heritage Region hide many secrets, and in 1974 human remains unearthed in Lake Mungo changed what we knew about indigenous Australia. Carbon dating of "Mungo Man" showed he had lived between 40,000 and 68,000 years ago. Previously, it was thought Australia had been inhabited for about 20,000 years. See visitmungo.com.au

2 UBIRR

You don't forget the view from the top of Ubirr once you see it – the floodplain of the East Alligator River stretches out in front. But it's what's further down the escarpment that's important. The rock art galleries here have been painted for approximately 40,000 years, giving vital information about indigenous beliefs in ancestral spirits, the traditional diet and way of life. See parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu

3 DUYFKEN POINT

There's not much there, beyond a couple of plane wrecks and a cairn with a commemorative plaque hammered into it, but the first documented European sighting of Australia took place at Duyfken Point in 1606. Willem Janszoon, skipper of the Dutch merchant ship Dufyken, became the "discoverer" of the continent. Half the fun is getting there – it requires a bumpy 4WD adventure along the beach from Weipa. See tourismcapeyork.com

4 WIEBBE HAYES' FORT

The oldest known European building in Australia, however, can be found on West Wallabi Island in the Houtman-Abrohlos archipelago west of Geraldton. It came as a result of the notorious Batavia shipwreck in 1629. While mass murder was taking place on the other islands, marooned soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes built the fort for their own protection from the mutineers. Geraldton Air Charter runs scenic flights over it. See Geraldtonaircharter.com.au

5 COOK'S LANDING SITE

In 1770, Lt (he wasn't a captain at the time) Cook's Endeavour was the first European ship to sight Australia's East Coast. Given that he then charted said east coast and paved the way for colonisation 18 years later, the memorial at the initial landing spot is surprisingly circumspect. It can be found near Silver Beach in Kurnell, as part of the Botany Bay National Park. A few interpretative signs go into the initial European and Aboriginal interactions, but there's surprisingly little there. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

6 ELIZABETH FARM

Sydney was where the first convicts settled, but Parramatta was where farmers proved the fledgling colony was viable. One of the pioneers was John Macarthur, whose Elizabeth Farm still stands as a heritage building and museum. Macarthur was, to put it mildly, a character. He was involved in the overthrow of several governors, was sent back to England to be tried for duelling and kicked off the Australian wool industry for importing merino sheep. See sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

7 PORT ARTHUR

Many of the convicts that came out in the early days had a pretty grim life, and those who reoffended had it even tougher. Port Arthur in Tasmania was where the worst of the recalcitrant convicts were kept, and the tours around the (staggeringly beautiful) site tell bleak stories of gruesomely hard work and failed escape attempts. See portarthur.org.au

8 EUREKA

While wool sustained the Australian colonies in its early years, gold brought proper riches. And the Eureka Stockade in the Ballarat goldfields marked a coming of age – the armed uprising in 1854 that left 22 miners dead was a turning point in labour rights and the spark for universal male suffrage. The site of the rebellion now hosts the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka. See made.org

9 THE STUART HIGHWAY

For a long time, it was thought that there was a giant inland sea in the middle of Australia. John McDouall finally disproved that after successfully managing to cross the continent from south to north at the sixth attempt in 1861/62. His route was used as the path of the Overland Telegraph Line, which connected Australia to the world. The gargantuan Stuart Highway also broadly follows it.

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10 KING GEORGE SOUND

Albany was the first European settlement in Western Australia, but in 1914 in played a huge role in the newly-federated country's coming of age. Just offshore in King George Sound was where the convoys of ships taking Australian soldiers to Europe in the First World War gathered. Thousands of those men would never return, dying at Gallipoli or in the Flanders Fields. The National Anzac Centre now looks down on the sound. See nationalanzaccentre.com.au

David Whitley was a guest of Tourism Australia.

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