The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aborigines, who migrated there some 40,000 years ago from Southeast Asia.
In the 17th century, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish explorers all sighted Australia. The Dutch landed in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606 and in 1616 that territory became known as New Holland.
In 1688, the British arrived, and in 1770, which Captain James Cook's voyage, Great Britain claimed Australia for its own and called it New South Wales.
Great Britain quickly established a penal colony at Port Jackson (what is now Sydney) in 1788. In 1839, when the system was suspended, there were 161,000 convicts there.
Six colonies were established by free settlers: New South Wales (1786), Tasmania (then Van Diemens's Land) (1825), Western Australia (1829), Victoria (1851), Queensland (1859), and South Australia (1834).
Gold and other valuable minerals, as well as fertile land for farming, attracted many settlers.
In 1901, the six colonies became states and formed the Commonwealth of Australia, which was a mix of British parliamentary and U.S. federal forms of government.
Australia fought with the British in World War I and worked closely with the United States in World War II.
(Click here to see a clip of the dancing Aborigines)
The Aborigines constitute approximately 1.6% of Australia's population.
During the first several years of European colonialism in Australia, many Aborigine were killed either by hostilities of the Europeans or by new diseases their bodies weren't ready for.
In 1850, many Aborigines were put into reservation (much like the Native Americans in North America) to combat the widespread poverty.
Starting in the 1950's, the Australian government started making efforts to redress the lack of understanding between British and Aborigine. While conditions for the Aborigine are improving, most Aborigine are doing worse than other Australians.
In 1992, the Australian High Court overturned terra nullius-- the doctrine that stated that Australia belonged to no one when they began colonization.
Soon after terra nullius was revoked, the Native Title Act was passed, which states that where any Aborigine could establish unbroken occupancy of a certain area, they could claim that land as their own.
Today, the Aborigines culture is gaining more and more respect, which their art and literature moving to the forefront.