About Australia History
The Aborigines first arrived in Australia from somewhere in Asia at least 40,000 years ago and probably up to 60,000 years ago. They had occupied most of the continent by 30,000 years ago, including the south-western and south-eastern corners. Tasmania at this point was still part of the mainland; it was only separated by rising sea levels some 16,500 to 22,000 years later. Their successful adaptation to a wide range of environments had enabled the population to grow to between 300,000 and 1 million by the time of the first European settlement. Macassan traders from what is now Indonesia are thought to have been visiting Arnhem Land well before the 17th century to harvest sea cucumbers for export to China. There were also contacts with New Guinea, and Chinese, Malaysian, and Arab sea captains may also have landed in northern Australia after the 15th century. Australia remained unexplored by the West, however, until the 17th century.
Early European Exploration
Although Australia was not known to the Western world, it did exist in late medieval European logic and mythology: a "Great Southern Land", or Terra Australis, was thought necessary to balance the weight of the northern landmasses of Europe and Asia. Terra Australis often appeared on early European maps as a large, globe-shaped mass in about its correct location, although no actual discoveries were recorded by Europeans until much later. Indeed, the European exploration of Australia took more than three centuries to complete; thus, what is often considered the oldest continent, geologically, was the last to be discovered and colonized by Europeans
Australia, a federal parliamentary democracy, is an independent self-governing state and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The constitution of Australia, which became effective in 1901, is based on British parliamentary traditions, and includes elements of the United States system. The head of state is the British sovereign, represented by a governor-general; there is growing pressure within Australia for the country to become a republic within the Commonwealth. The head of government is the Australian prime minister, who is responsible to the Australian Parliament.
National legislative power in Australia is vested in a bicameral parliament, made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate consists of 76 members (12 from each state and, since 1974 2 from each territory), popularly elected to 6-year terms under the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. According to the Australian constitution, the House of Representatives should have about twice as many members as the Senate. The number of members from a state is proportional to its population, but must be at least five for any original state. The Northern Territory is represented by one member and the Australian Capital Territory by two. In the early 1990s the House had 148 members, popularly elected on the alternative vote system to a term of up to three years. The prime minister can ask the governor-general to dissolve the House and call new elections at any time. Australia has universal suffrage for all citizens over the age of 18.
Initially the dominant way of life in Australia substantially reflected the heritage of the British settlers. Customs were modified as the settlers adapted to the new country and its exceptionally fine climate. A culture evolved that, although based on British traditions, is peculiar to Australia. Since the 1960s, the arrival of large numbers of immigrants from continental Europe and Asia has led to the development of a more multicultural society in which the Aborigines, marginalized since the arrival of Europeans, have also begun to play a larger part.
Australia produced noted writers and painters from the earliest days, and Nobel Laureates like the author Patrick White. However, a much wider cross-section of society now participates in the arts, thanks to government subsidies and the provision of greatly improved facilities. State capitals and provincial towns alike have built or expanded art galleries and performing arts centres. The architecturally stunning Sydney Opera House is the best known of the modern venues. The biennial Adelaide Festival is a renowned focus for the performing arts, bringing together the best artistes and companies in the world, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Kirov Ballet. Opera, ballet and dance companies, orchestras, artists, playwrights, and writers are supported by the Australia Council. The federally funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation is also a notable patron of the arts. Australia has many other media companies as well as a wide range of newspapers and magazines that contribute to local culture (although some are now foreign owned) and a flourishing film industry.
Australia is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of the leading industrialized nations and its people generally enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living. In 1994 Australia’s gross national product (GNP) was US$320.7 billion (World Bank estimate; 1992-1994 prices), equivalent to US$17,980 per capita. At the same time, however, Australia’s trade profile is more akin to that of a developing nation. It exports predominantly primary products and imports mainly manufactured goods of various kinds. As a result, like many developing countries, Australia’s economy is vulnerable to price fluctuations in the world commodities markets and to inflation in its main supplier markets.
Agriculture and mining played a central role in the historical development of Australia, and the country is still one of the world’s outstanding producers of primary products. It is self-sufficient in almost all foodstuffs and is a major exporter of wheat, meat, dairy products, and wool. Australia usually produces more than 25 per cent of the world’s yearly output of wool. It is also one of the world’s top producers and exporters of minerals, particularly coal. However, while primary production plays a central role in the country’s exports, in terms of the domestic economy it has grown far less significantly in recent years. Agriculture now accounts for only about 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and mining about 5 per cent. In contrast, the manufacturing sector, which has grown rapidly since the 1940s, accounts for some 15 per cent of GDP. The service sector is even more important. In Australia, as in other OECD nations, services have grown since the 1970s to become the largest sector. In the early 1990s they accounted for more than 60 per cent of Australia’s GDP. The financial services sector was the single most important economic sector, contributing almost 22 per cent of GDP.
In the 1995 fiscal year the estimated federal budget included about US$95.69 billion of revenue and about US$95.15 billion of expenditure.
The Commonwealth of Australia comprises six states and two territories. The states and their capitals are New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne), Queensland (Brisbane), South Australia (Adelaide), Western Australia (Perth), and Tasmania (Hobart). The territories and their chief cities are the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and the Northern Territory (Darwin).
In terms of its urban communities, Australia is very much a country of suburbs. Its cities are extensive, and about 60 per cent of Australians live in the metropolitan areas of the six state capitals and Canberra. Sydney (1993 estimate; greater city, 3,738,500) was Australia’s first city and remains its largest. It is the country’s leading financial and commercial centre, and one of its most important ports. It also contains the world’s largest area of suburbs, and is twice the area of Beijing and six times that of Rome. Australia’s other major cities are (1993 greater city): Melbourne (3,198,200); Brisbane (1,454,800); Perth (1,239,400); and Adelaide (1,076,400). Canberra, the purpose-built national capital and the only one of Australia’s largest cities located inland, had a population of 328,000 in 1994.
Australia has no established Church and its constitution guarantees freedom of worship. Although the majority of the population characterizes itself as Christian, most individuals are not active in that faith and Australian society is predominantly secular. The largest Christian denominations are the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, with about 24 per cent of the total population Anglican and 27 per cent Catholic. Over 25 per cent more belong to other Christian denominations, predominantly Nonconformist and Protestant, but also including Eastern Orthodox communities. There are small Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim communities. The number of Buddhists and Muslims has increased sharply since the 1970s, in keeping with changing immigration patterns.