The AUSTRALIAN Portal
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 24 million is concentrated mainly in the coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
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The history of the Australian Capital Territory as a Territory of Australia began after the Federation of Australia in 1901, when it was created in law as the site for Australia's capital city Canberra. The region has a long prior history of human habitation before the Territory's creation, however, with evidence of Indigenous Australian settlement dating back at least 21,000 years. The region formed the traditional lands associated with the Ngunnawal people and several other linguistic groups, an association known through both early European settler accounts and the oral histories of the peoples themselves. Following the colonisation of Australia by the British, the 19th century saw the initial European exploration and settlement of the area and their encounters with the local indigenous peoples, beginning with the first explorations in 1820 and shortly followed by the first European settlements in 1824. In the early 20th century, the development of the region took an unusual turn when it was chosen as the site for the creation of Australia's capital city in 1908. The planning and construction of Canberra followed, with the Parliament of Australia finally moving there in 1927, and the Territory officially becoming the Australian Capital Territory in 1938. The political development of the Territory began in 1949, when it was given its first representative in the Parliament of Australia, and was completed when it became an autonomous territory when self-government was granted in 1988.
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For a topic outline on this subject, see Outline of Australia.