Skip to main content

The land and its people


Australia's Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the Australian continent, arrived at least 60,000 years ago.

Indigenous rock art
Indigenous rock art, Arnhem Land (James Fisher, Tourism Australia)

Did you know?

Australian Indigenous art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world.

Parts of the continent were mapped by Dutch navigators in the 17th century and by French and British navigators the following century, but it was not until 1770 that Captain James Cook charted the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain.

From 1788, Britain established penal colonies in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. Free settlers followed in increasing numbers, gradually outnumbering convicts. A colony made up entirely of free settlers was established in South Australia in the 1830s.

Queensland and Victoria separated from New South Wales in the 1850s, by which time gold had been discovered in New South Wales and Victoria. The gold rush brought immigrants to Australia from all over the world.

In 1901, the six colonies united to form the federal Commonwealth of Australia.

From 1914 to 1918, more than 400,000 Australians volunteered in World War I. Although Australia's first major campaign in Gallipoli in 1915 was a failure, with almost 9,000 Australian soldiers losing their lives, its commemoration came to be an important element in the emergence of an Australian national identity.

The signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles by the Prime Minister was the first time Australia had signed an international treaty. In World War II (1939–45), Australian troops were deployed against the Axis powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and allied with the United States in the Pacific War against Japan. On 1 November 1945, Australia became a founding member of the United Nations. In 1951, Australia entered into the ANZUS Treaty with the United States and New Zealand, and in 1957 signed an agreement on commerce with Japan which underpinned Australia's increasing engagement with Asia.

Over the past 50 years, Australia has developed a highly diversified economy with considerable strengths, particularly in the mining and agricultural sectors as well as manufacturing and services, and it has become increasingly economically integrated with the countries of East Asia.

Did you know?

There are more than 3,000 convict sites remaining in Australia. This is unique in the world today. In 2010, 11 Australian convict sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Back to top