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The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the world's smallest continent and a number of islands in the Southern, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Australia's neighbouring countries are Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the north-east, and New Zealand to the south-east.

The continent of Australia has been inhabited for more than 42,000 years by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. After sporadic visits by European explorers and merchants from the 17th century onwards, the eastern half of the continent was claimed by the British in 1770, and officially settled as the penal colony of New South Wales on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown colonies were successively established over the course of the 19th century.

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The current population of around 21 million is concentrated mainly in the coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

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Short track speed skater Mark McNee, third from left at the 2004 World Cup in Saguenay. His uniform features the green and gold and the Southern Cross

Australia (IOC code: AUS) first competed in the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and has participated in every Winter Olympics since, with the exception of the 1948 Games in St. Moritz. Australia achieved its first medal, a bronze, in 1994 in the men's 5,000 metres short track relay event. Zali Steggall gained Australia's first individual medal in 1998 when she won bronze in the slalom event. In 2002, Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1,000 metres short track speed skating and Alisa Camplin won gold in the aerials event, making Australia the only southern hemisphere country to have ever accomplished gold at a Winter Olympics. Australia sent 40 competitors to compete in 10 sports at the 2006 Games in Turin, a record number of athletes and events for the nation. For the first time, there was a stated aim of winning a medal, and this goal was achieved when Dale Begg-Smith won the gold medal in men's moguls freestyle skiing. Camplin attained her second medal, a bronze in the aerials event.

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John Landy (born 12 April 1930) is a former track athlete and was the 26th Governor of Victoria. Landy became the second man after Roger Bannister to achieve a sub-4 minute mile, recording a world record time of 3:58.0 minutes in Finland. He subsequently achieved the same in what was dubbed the The Miracle Mile at the 1954 British Empire Games.

Photo credit: Max Stevens


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