Overcrowded prisons in England and disruption caused by the American Revolution were two key reasons for the first shipment of convicts to the great southern land. It was the explorer and botanist Joseph Banks who, in 1779, suggested that New South Wales would be a fine site for a penal colony!
For more than 50,000 thousand years, Australia's Aboriginal people have lived and thrived in Australia's unique and challenging natural environment. Australia's rich vegetation and native wildlife helped them establish their presence on the land. Today it is believed the Aboriginals are the world's oldest civilisation.
'Terra Australis' was the last landmass to be discovered by European explorers. Talk of this mystical land and the riches it held inspired explorers to sail into the unknown. It wasn't until Captain James Cook arrived in Botany Bay in 1770 that the great southern land was officially claimed by Europeans.
Australia is made up of six states and two territories. Each state and territory has its own parliament, flag and floral emblem. Australia became a federated nation after the union of the six colonies on 1 January 1901. Bound by one parliament, one constitution and one flag, Australia celebrated its Centenary of Federation in 2001.
Australia's defence force has a long and proud tradition dating back to the original ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). Australian soldiers have fought in both World Wars and numerous allied conflicts. All Australian troops are remembered each year on Anzac Day, 25 April, the anniversary of the first landing of Australian 'Diggers' at Gallipoli during the First World War.
A short walk from the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House is one of the world's premier performing arts centres. Taking almost 15 years to build, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.
Dramatic canyons, sheer valleys, thundering waterfalls and gum forests all make up Australia's most recent World Heritage area - the Blue Mountains National Park. Also part of this latest listing is nearby Wollemi National Park - the home of the prehistoric Wollemi Pine.
Located along the spectacular Great Ocean Road in Victoria, the 12 Apostles stand as sentinels against a dramatic backdrop of sheer cliff face and wild ocean. Formed over thousands of years by the action of the sea, only eight of the original 12 Apostles remain.
Australia's most famous natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef, will stun you with its magnificence. It's as big as the total combined area of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and contains more than 1,000 islands, from sandy cays to rainforest isles. The beauty of the waters and the prolific life it supports enraptures visitors. You can reach coral sites by air and water taxi and scuba dive or snorkel for intimate reef views. Or choose comfortable accommodation on some secluded reef islands.
Stretching 120 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, World Heritage listed Fraser Island offers vast white beaches, beautiful headlands and rainforests, and the best camping ever. You can mingle with kangaroos, wallabies and other unique animals, or stay in style at a resort!
Reef and rainforest touch in this region of World Heritage protected beauty. The Daintree River winds gently through tangled woodland through jungle homes of unique birds, pythons and crocodiles, north to Cape Tribulation, a spectacular national park.
Located in the centre of Australia, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is the world's biggest monolith. It's 3.6 kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide and has a 9.4 kilometre circumference. Made of arkosic sandstone, Uluru changes colour in different lights, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
Limited development has ensured an abundance of wildlife on this island located close to the tip of South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula. Here, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, koalas and of course, kangaroos, live in a protected natural environment. Pure air and clean water provide one of the last unspoiled wonders of the world.
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area is one of the largest conservation reserves in Australia, covering 1.38 million hectares. This stronghold of temperate rainforest and alpine vegetation provides pristine habitats for plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, including many rare and endangered species.
In Australia's tropical Top End, the delicate pink beauty of the waterlily and the prehistoric brute strength of the crocodile merge in stunning Kakadu National Park. Rivers with roaring waterfalls and a landscape of towering sandstone escarpments cradle some of Kakadu's treasures waiting to be explored.
L The Bungle Bungle Range, in Purnululu National Park, is one of the most fascinating geological landmarks in Western Australia. Orange and black stripes of silica and algae across the beehive-like mounds are clearly visible as you approach from the air. Closer up, a hidden world of gorges and pools is revealed, with fan palms clinging precariously to walls and crevices in the rocks.