Most people are well aware of Australia's past as a penal colony. It's first inhabitants, however, arrived around 40,000 years prior to the first Europeans. Descendants of these peoples are the Aboriginal Australians, who now make up about .5 percent of the continent's current population.
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Hundreds of thousands of people lived in Australia dating back to prehistoric times. It wasn't until 1770 that Captain James Cook claimed the country's east coast for Britain and the entire country became British territory in 1829. Australia was officially founded January 26, 1788, when (after a quick relocation from Botany Bay to Sydney Cove in Port Jackson) the First Fleet of 11 ships arrived to establish the colony of New South Wales. There were over a thousand settlers on this voyage, including about 778 convicts. This was when thousands of years of isolation ended for the Aboriginal people.
Australia has come a long way from its infamous beginnings. Cultures separated by massive expanses of land and sea met and clashed and combined on this continent, resulting in a country unlike any other. It's also, of course, a natural wonder with 10 percent of the world's diversity, an impressive population of deadly creatures, and the distinction of being the driest inhabited continent on earth - a fact that makes it especially vulnerable to climate change.
Read more about Australia's history:
Google Books: History of New South Wales from the Records
The World Factbook: Australia
Migration Heritage Centre: 1788