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Australia is a continent and country, to the northwest of New Zealand, and south of Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. It is the smallest continent, being three times the area of the largest island, Greenland. With a land area of 7,686,810 sq km (2,967,877 sq mi), Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. The name 'Australia' comes from the Latin phrase terra australis incognita ("unknown southern land").

 (public domain map courtesy Xerox PARC Map Viewer)
 (45.00 deg. wide by 22.50 deg. (1552.50 miles) high)

History Australia has been populated for over 40,000 years. Its earliest human inhabitants crossed the [Torres Strait]? from the lands that currently make up Indonesia and Papua New Guinea]. At that time the Torres and Bass? Straits were [land bridge]?s.

The first European to sight Australia was probably a Portuguese, Manuel Godhino de Eredia, in 1601. It may also have been sighted by a Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres, around 16056. Australia was later visited by the Dutch (based in Java, who named it New Holland, and Abel Tasman landed on the island of Tasmania in 1642. In 1688 the Englishman William Dampier landed at King Sound on the northwest coast.

In 1770 Captain James Cook discovered the northern two-thirds of the east coast. He named it New South Wales (the reasons for this particular name are unknown) and claimed it for Great Britain. In his report he recommended Botany Bay as an ideal site for a future colony. Cook's report was ignored at first, but in the 1780's the interest of the British government increased. The most important factor was Britain's need to relieve its overcrowded prisons. Several violent incidents at overcrowded prisons convinced the British government of the need to separate unruly elements from the rest of the prison populace. The loss of the North American territories during the War of Independence added to the urgency. A decision was made to found a prison colony at Botany Bay.

As a result, Captain Arthur Phillip, commanding eleven ships full of convicts, left Britain for Australia on May 13, 1787. He successfully landed a full fleet at Botany Bay on January 18, 1788. However, they left the bay eight days later because of its openness, short supply of fresh water and poor soil, and settled instead at Port Jackson, a few kilometres north. The ships landed 1,373 people, including 732 convicts, and the settlement became Sydney Town (later Sydney). The early years of the colony were somewhat disastrous; Phillip ordered the crops to be planted in March (failing to factor in the reversal of seasons) and they promptly withered during the winter, leading to a number of famines.

In 1803, another prison colony was established in Van Diemen's Land, later renamed Tasmania to remove the convict connotation. Other colonies were not established to take convicts (although some did), and eventually support for shipping convicts from England declined, and Australia ceased to take them.

Australia became a commonwealth of the British Empire in 1901. She was able to take advantage of her natural resources to rapidly develop her agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. Original policies of Australia were designed to encourage the British nature of the country, and policies such as the White Australia Immigration policy were set up to exclude those not from Britain from coming into the country. This policy was eventually undone after World War II when mass immigration was encouraged, and racist views began to decline.

A referendum to change Australia's nation status, from a commonwealth headed by the [British monarch]? to an independent republic, was defeated in 1999. This is partially attributable to the terms of the referendum; however, most referenda in Australia to change the Consititution? have failed, so it could also be argued that this was just another example of Australians rejecting change. Australia remains a member of The Commonwealth, an organisation containing Britain and most of its former colonies, but this increasingly irrelevant organisation is mainly concerned with promoting human rights, democracy, and open government in some of its less developed members rather than discussing shared economic interests as existed in the past.

Australia has a population of about 19 million people. There are two territories, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, and six states, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Each State or Territory has a capital city, those being (in the above order) Canberra, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart.

Australia also has an additional minor internal territory, [Jervis Bay Territory]?, several inhabitated external territories (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos and Keeling Islands) and several largely uninhabited external territories ([Coral Sea Islands Territory]?, Heard? and [McDonald Islands]? and the [Australian Antarctic Territory]?).

Australia's capital? is Canberra (population 320,000), situated between its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

When the constitution for the Commonwealth of Australia was being negotiated between the colonies, Melbourne and Sydney each demanded that they become the capital. As a compromise, it was agreed that the capital would initially be Melbourne, until a new capital city could be built. This new capital city would be located in territory taken from New South Wales, and be 200 statute miles or more from Sydney. The present site was chosen and named Canberra in 1906; the federal government moved there from Melbourne in the 1920s, Parliament making the shift in 1927. Canberra's name comes from the Aboriginal word Kamberra, meaning 'meeting place'

The area occupied by the Australian Capital Territory is wholly contained in New South Wales. For administrative purposes, the Australian Capital Territory also incorporates the [Jervis Bay Territory]? (being a naval base in New South Wales near the town of Jervis Bay), and several external territories.

The official name of Australia is the Commonwealth of Australia. Its national anthem is Advance Australia Fair

See also Australian Constitutional History, Australian Prime Ministers

External links

http://www.austemb.org/history.htm - an excellent and thorough on-line history of Australia.
http://www.australia.com - official site of the Australian Tourist Commission

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Last edited December 4, 2001 12:22 am by 200.191.188.xxx (diff)