Australia is a vast continent of spectacular diversity. From the tropical rainforests and sparkling blue seas to the red-hot deserts and snow-capped mountains, Australia is a continent of explosive contrast and colour. Add famously friendly people to this beautiful landscape and you get one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Native Australians have the longest continuous cultural history in the world, with origins dating back to the last Ice Age. The first humans probably travelled across the sea to Australia from Indonesia about 70,000 years ago. These first visitors were heavy-boned, and they were followed 20,000 years later by the more slender ancestors of native Australians. Europeans began to arrive in the 16th century: first with Portuguese and Dutch explorers and soon followed by Captain James Cook who claimed the continent for Britain and named it New South Wales.
The continent was soon used as a British penal colony with the first convicts arriving in 1788. For these new arrivals New South Wales was a thoroughly unpleasant place, and the colony came close to being wiped out by starvation. The discovery of gold in the 1850s changed Australian colonies completely. Vast numbers of migrants ruthlessly pushed native Australians off their tribal lands as the economy began to boom. Australian farms and mines attracted more settlers when England's industrial revolution required huge quantities of raw materials. In 1901 the separate colonies joined together in a federation and Australia became a nation, although many of the cultural and legal ties with England remained.
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