Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.
Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to as Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders, arrived more than 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups.
Australia was uninhabited until stone-culture peoples arrived, perhaps by boat across the waters separating the island from the Indonesia archipelago more than 40,000 years ago. Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English explorers observed the island before 1770, when Captain Cook explored the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain (three American colonists were crew members aboard Cook's ship, the Endeavour).
Australia's advanced market economy is dominated by its services sector (70% of GDP), yet it is the agricultural and mining sectors (7% of GDP combined) that account for the bulk (57%) of Australia's goods and services exports. Australia's comparative advantage in primary products is a reflection of the natural wealth of the Australian continent and its small domestic market; 20 million people occupy a continent the size of the contiguous United States. The relative size of the manufacturing sector has been declining for several decades, and now accounts for around 11% of GDP.
The World War II experience, similarities in culture and historical background, and shared democratic values have made U.S. relations with Australia exceptionally strong and close. Ties linking the two nations cover the entire spectrum of international relations--from commercial, cultural, and environmental contacts to political and defense cooperation. Two-way trade reached $25 billion in 2003. More than 400,000 Americans have visited Australia in a single year.
Important: Travel to Australia may require a travel visa.
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Full country name: Commonwealth of Australia
Capital city: Canberra
Area: 7,741,220 sq km
Ethnic groups: white 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%
Languages: English 78.5%, Chinese 2.5%, Italian 1.6%, Greek 1.3%, Arabic 1.2%, Vietnamese 1%, other 8.2%, unspecified 5.7%
Religions: Protestant 27.4%
Government: federal parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm
Chief of State: Queen of Australia ELIZABETH II
Head of Government: Prime Minister Julia Eileen GILLARD
GDP: 915.1 billion
GDP per captia: 40,800
Annual growth rate: 2.1%
Agriculture: wheat, barley, sugarcane, fruits
Major industries: mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, steel
Natural resources: bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, rare earth elements, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum
Location: Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean
Trade Partners - exports: China 27.4%, Japan 19.2%, South Korea 8.9%, India 5.8%
Trade Partners - imports: China 18.5%, US 11.4%, Japan 7.9%, Singapore 6.2%, Germany 4.7%