Australia was discovered in 1606 by a Spaniard named Queiros. English colonization began in 1788. The veneration of the Virgin Mary predates this time though: a stone statue of the Virgin is conserved today in the museum of Brisbane, dating from about 1610 and found near Gladstone. It must have been brought with Queiros' crew in 1606: he had erected a cross and built a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto (therefore associated to Nazareth).
In 1800 the penal colony was founded: prisoners from England were sent to Australia to clear and cultivate the land, and to start new colonies. A tombstone dating from that period was discovered (bearing the name of Bridget Egan) with a Rosary wrapped around a cross. Australia being largely made up of immigrants from different countries, each one brought along the memory of the shrines of his native country. For example in Campbelltown, near Adelaide, the Italians used to venerate Our Lady of Montevergine in the Church of St Francis of Assisi.
The period between 1808 and 1817 is known as the time of the "catacombs." The Catholic religion was outlawed by the dominant religion, English Protestantism: all the priests had to leave and the faith was kept alive by the daily recitation of the Rosary and by community prayer on Sundays near the house of James Dempsey.
We have to wait until 1820 to see the government appointing a chaplain to serve the Catholics, Father John Therry. This priest built the first Catholic Church, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, in Sydney. Since 1844, Mary Help of Christians is the patroness of Australia, and her feast day is celebrated on May 24. (1844 is the year when the first Catholic hierarchy was constituted in Australia - at the time: Sydney, Hobarth, and Adelaide).
In 1947, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima began her great pilgrimage around the world and reached Australia in 1951. A Marian Congress took place in the city of Adelaide. Our Lady of Fatima was welcomed with great joy inside the Cathedral, at the closing of the Congress. A vast movement of consecration to Mary spread throughout the country, facilitated by the Blue Army (est. in 1947), a worldwide public association of the faithful dedicated to the spreading of the message of Fatima. Parishes and entire communities and schools entered the spirit of the consecration.
1954 was a deeply significant Marian year. Unintentionally, the Vatican II Council (1963), caused Marian devotion to experience a strong decline. Indeed, the Council dedicated to Mary the summit of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church and encouraged each believer to discover her spiritual motherhood (see in particular Lumen Gentium 65-69). In 1976, a Marian Congress was held in Sydney which helped renew Marian devotion: in its wake the love of Mary blossomed again.
The World Youth Days of 2008 took place in Sydney, Australia, July 15- 20, with the theme:
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1: 8).
This passage comes after the death and resurrection of Jesus, just before his ascension to the Father. It represents the birth of the Church.
The disciples, although almost all of them had abandoned Jesus at Calvary, were gathered together to pray in the Cenacle with the mother of the Lord. And the Holy Spirit was given to them, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of Jesus, with an interior renewal and a mission. Whoever we are, we can go to a church and pray with Mary, open the door to the Holy Spirit, receive his power and become his witnesses.
cf. Attilio GALLI, Madre della Chiesa dei Cinque continenti, Ed. Segno, Udine, 1997.