Captain Cook first sighted the east coast of Australia in 1770
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It is generally thought that Aboriginal people began living on the continent 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and some authorities believe their occupation may date back 100,000 years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people totalled 265,378 at the last census, nearly 1.5 per cent of the population. Two thirds of the indigenous people live in towns and cities. Many others live in rural and remote areas, and some still have a broadly traditional way of life.
In 1606, Spanish navigator Luis Vaez de Torres sailed through the strait which now bears his name. In the same year, a Dutch ship, Duyfken, made the first authenticated landing in Australia at Cape York. In 1642, Dutchman Abel Tasman reached Tasmania, which he named Van Diemen's Land.
Other sightings and landings occurred, but it was not until 1770 that the more fertile east coast was sighted by Captain James Cook, of the British Royal Navy.
On 13 May 1787, a fleet of 11 ships sailed from England. They reached Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 with 1,530 people, 736 of them convicts. Eight days later, the fleet left to establish a settlement at Port Jackson, a few kilometres north. The settlement grew to be Sydney, Australia’s biggest city.
For many years, the rugged Blue Mountains blocked western expansion of the Sydney settlement but in 1813 the discovery of a passage over the mountains opened the way for inland exploration.
Settlements were established in Hobart (Tasmania) in 1803, on the Brisbane River (Queensland) in 1824, on the Swan River (Western Australia) in 1829, on Port Phillip Bay (Victoria) in 1835 and on Gulf St Vincent (South Australia) in 1836. Today, the capital cities of five States are on those sites.
Population growth and economic expansion prompted the colonies to call for self-government. On 1 January 1901 the six colonies joined in a federation of States to become the Commonwealth of Australia.
Much of the information on this page has been gleaned from Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is available in much more detail at About Australia.
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