Australia was first inhabited perhaps 40,000 years ago by aboriginal peoples. During the Age of Exploration, the land was discovered and mapped by many Europeans including the Spanish, Dutch and English. However, Australia wasn’t really explored until 1770 when Captain James Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain. He named it New South Wales.
The first colony was established at Sydney by Captain Arthur Phillip on January 26, 1788. It was initially considered a penal colony. This was because many of the first settlers were criminals. Britain would sometimes send their criminals to the penal colony rather than jail. Oftentimes, the crimes that people committed were small or even made up to get rid of unwanted citizens. Slowly, more and more of the settlers were not convicts. Sometimes you will still hear people refer to Australia as being started by a penal colony.
Six colonies were formed in Australia: New South Wales, 1788; Tasmania, 1825; Western Australia, 1829; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; and Queensland, 1859. These same colonies later became the states of the Australian Commonwealth.
On January 1, 1901 the British Government passed an act to create the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1911, the Northern Territory became part of the Commonwealth.
The first federal Parliament was opened at Melbourne in May 1901 by the Duke of York. Later, in 1927, the center of government and parliament moved to the city of Canberra. Australia took part in both World War I and World War II allied with Great Britain and the United States.
Australia is located in Oceania between the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. Although it is a large country, its topography is not too varied, and most of it consists of low desert plateau. The southeast, however, does have fertile plains. Australia’s climate is mostly arid to semiarid, but the south and east are temperate and the north is tropical.
Although most of Australia is arid desert, it supports a wide range of habitats, thus making it incredibly biodiverse. Alpine forests, tropical rainforests, and a wide variety of plants and animals thrive there because of its geographic isolation from the rest of the world.
As such, 92% of its vascular plants, 87% of its mammals, 93% of its reptiles, 94% of its frogs, and 45% of its birds are endemic to Australia. It also has the greatest number of reptile species in the world as well as some of the most venomous snakes and other dangerous creatures like the crocodile.
Australia is most famous for its marsupial species, which include the kangaroo, koala, and wombat.
In its waters, around 89% of Australia’s fish species both inland and offshore are restricted only to the country.
In addition, endangered coral reefs are common on Australia’s coast—the most famous of these is the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and it stretches over an area of 133,000 square miles (344,400 square kilometers.)
It is made up of more than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral bays and supports more than 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of hard coral, “one-third of the world’s soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals,” including endangered species, according to the World Wildlife Fund.