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aborigine art example Australia's first humans were the Aborigines, a group that migrated to the continent more than 4,000 years ago from Asia.  The Aborigines were a nomadic group who subsisted by hunting and gathering.  Instead of having a formal government, they maintained control through a set of beliefs called the Dreaming, which were passed on through art, song, and dance, as well as through oral tales.  The Aborigines were, for the most part, isolated from the rest of the world.

The first person to land on Australia was the Englishman William Dampier, who did so in 1688.  However, it wasn't until Captain James Cook landed on the continent in 1770 that people really began to take interest.  Noticing that the east coast was very fertile, he claimed the landmass for Britain and named it New South Wales.

historic penal colony, Tasmania, Australia In 1788, the British government decided to use Australia as a penal colony, to relieve the overcrowding of prisons.  Between 1788 and 1868, about 161,000 convicts were forced to relocate on the continent.  Prison transports ended and colonization replaced penal colonies by the mid-1800s.

As new emigrants flooded the land they turned to sheep farming, and wool became one of their primary industries.  The gold and grain industries also flourished, and today they make up a large part of the Australian economy.

Great Ocean Road Memorial, Australia The Commonwealth of Australia was born in 1901.  Today, it is still heavily influenced by British culture and society, and continues to honor the British monarch.  Today, most Australians can be traced back to English or Irish lineage.  After World War II, there was another emigrant influx, some of them coming from Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Lebanon.  After Australia ended discriminatory immigration practices in the 1970s, there was also a large influx of those from Asia.

The influx of European emigrants wreaked havoc on the Aborigine society, and they were exposed to centuries of discrimination and lost land.  In the 1960s, the Aborigine government lobbied strongly to become full citizens, as well as to improve education for their children.

For more information about Australia's history, please visit this Australia in brief web page, published by the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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