Australia’s Aboriginal people were thought to have arrived here by boat from South East Asia during the last Ice Age, at least 50,000 years ago. However it wasn’t until 1770 that European Captain James Cook chartered the east coast and claimed it for Britain, and the new outpost was put to use as a penal colony.
By the 1820s, many soldiers, officers and emancipated convicts had turned land they received from the government into flourishing farms. News of Australia’s cheap land and bountiful work was bringing boatloads of adventurous migrants from Britain and when gold was discovered in Victoria in 1852, and in Western Australia 12 years later, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Europe, America, and China flooded the country in search of fortune.
By 1860, more than a million non-Aboriginal people were living in Australia. Sadly the Aboriginal peoples’ traditional lifestyles and practices were being severely disrupted by the new settlement and the dispossession of land, as well as illness and death from introduced diseases.
On January 1 1901, the six states that made up Australia proclaimed themselves to be part of one nation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. In the same ceremony, the first governor general was sworn in as the representative of the Queen, who remained head of state.
However massacres of Aborigines continued to go mostly unpunished into the 1920s, by which time it was official government policy to remove light-skinned Aboriginal children from their families and to sterilize young Aboriginal women. Many children of the "stolen generations" were brought up in white foster homes or church refuges and never reunited with their biological families, a process which sadly continued even into the 1970s.
At the end of 2007, the first act to be carried on by the new Labour Government following a landslide victory in the general election was to officially apologize to those "stolen generations" of Aborigines.
Waves of immigration have continued to bring in millions of people since the end of World War II. Results from the census in 2001 showed that more than 4.1 million Australian residents, 22% of the population, were born overseas.