Indigenous Australians termed australites ooga ("staring eyes"), and they were used as sacred objects or as cutting tools. Europeans found out about australites in 1857, when explorer Thomas Mitchell gave naturalist Charles Darwin a mysteriously shaped piece of natural black glass. Darwin thought that australites were of volcanic origin due to their similarity to obsidian, volcanic glass. Later, australites were called blackfellows' buttons and obsidian bombs.
One of the first scientists to seriously study australites was Charles Fenner, who saw his first australite in 1907. He believed that australites were glass meteorites.
Early theories about the source of australites included volcanoes, the bushfires that are common in Australia, or fusion of sand by lightning (fulgurites). Some scientists believed them to be meteorites, possibly lunar meteorites ejected from the Moon in impacts (now disproved due to the different composition of lunar rocks).
Although different theories about the origin of australites are still circulating, most scientists believe that australites formed during a large asteroid or comet impact on the Earth. The impact ejected myriads of small rocks right out of the atmosphere. The australites acquired their streamlined, aerodynamic forms when they re-entered the Earth's atmosphere while molten and travelling at high velocities.
Most australites are found in Southern Australia, below 25 degrees latitude. Based on similar ages and compositions, they represent the southern edge of the vast Australasian tektite strewnfield that stretches from southern China to Australia. The Australasian strewnfield has an age of 0.8 million years and is the result of an impact in Indochina.