The earliest form of Australian English was spoken by the children of the colonists in early New South Wales. This first generation of native-born children created a new dialect that was to become the language of the nation. The Australian-born children in the new colony were exposed to a wide range of dialects from all over the British Isles, in particular from Ireland and South East England.
The native-born children in the colony created the new dialect from the speech they heard around them, and with it expressed peer solidarity. Even when new settlers arrived, this new dialect was strong enough to blunt other patterns of speech.
A quarter of the convicts were Irish. Many had been arrested in Ireland, and some in Great Britain. Many, if not most, of the Irish spoke Irish and either no English at all, or spoke it poorly and rarely. There were other significant populations of convicts from non-English speaking parts of Britain, such as the Scottish Highlands, Wales and parts of Cornwall.
Records from the early 19th century show this distinct dialect in the colonies after the first settlement in 1788. Peter Miller Cunningham's 1827 book Two Years in New South Wales, described the distinctive accent and vocabulary of the native-born colonists, that differed from that of their parents and with a strong London influence. Anthony Burgess writes that "Australian English may be thought of as a kind of fossilised Cockney of the Dickensian era."
The first of the Australian gold rushes, in the 1850s, began a large wave of immigration, during which about two per cent of the population of the United Kingdom emigrated to the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. According to linguist Bruce Moore, "the major input of the various sounds that went into constructing the Australian accent was from south-east England".
Some elements of Aboriginal languages have been adopted by Australian English—mainly as names for places, flora and fauna (for example dingo) and local culture. Many such are localised, and do not form part of general Australian use, while others, such as kangaroo, boomerang, budgerigar, wallaby and so on have become international. Other examples are cooee and hard yakka. The former is used as a high-pitched call, for attracting attention, (pronounced /kʉːiː/) which travels long distances. Cooee is also a notional distance: if he's within cooee, we'll spot him. Hard yakka means hard work and is derived from yakka, from the Jagera/Yagara language once spoken in the Brisbane region.
Also of Aboriginal origin is the word bung, from the Sydney pidgin English (and ultimately from the Sydney Aboriginal language), meaning "dead", with some extension to "broken" or "useless". Many towns or suburbs of Australia have also been influenced or named after Aboriginal words. The best-known example is the capital, Canberra, named after a local language word meaning "meeting place".
Among the changes starting in the 19th century were the introduction of words, spellings, terms and usages from North American English. The words imported included some later considered to be typically Australian, such as bushwhacker and squatter.
This American influence continued with the popularity of American films and the influx of American military personnel in World War II; seen in the enduring persistence of such terms as okay, you guys and gee.