Australia and its people

At the citizenship ceremony, you pledge your loyalty to Australia and its people. It is therefore important for you to have an understanding of Australia�s community and population, including our Indigenous heritage. It is also important for you to understand Australia�s history and how we have developed into a stable and successful multicultural nation.

In this section, you will read about some of the events that have contributed to our story. There is information about our states and territories, and the traditions and symbols that we proudly identify as being distinctly Australian.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Australia’s first inhabitants are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have the oldest continuous cultures and traditions in the world.

Historically, Aboriginal people are from mainland Australia and Tasmania. The archaeological record indicates that Aboriginal peoples arrived in Australia between 65,000 and 40,000 years ago; however, the Aboriginal peoples believe they are central to the creation stories of this land, and their creation stories commence with the beginning of time. Torres Strait Islander people are from islands between the northern tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have age-old beliefs and traditions that still guide them today. They have a deep connection with the land, which is expressed in their stories, art and dance. Indigenous cultures are diverse and an important part of Australia’s national identity.

More information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can be found in Part 5, Australia today and Part 6, Our Australian s

Early days of European settlement

European settlement started when the first 11 convict ships, which became known as the ‘First Fleet’, arrived from Great Britain on 26 January 1788.

At this time British laws were harsh and the jails could not hold the large number of people imprisoned for their crimes. To manage this problem, the British Government decided to transport convicts to the other side of the world: to the new colony of New South Wales.

The first Governor of the colony of New South Wales was Captain Arthur Phillip. The colony survived, and as more convicts and free settlers arrived, it grew and developed. More colonies were established in other parts of Australia.

Early free settlers came from Great Britain and Ireland. This British and Irish heritage has had a major influence on Australia’s recent history, culture and politics.

In 1851, a ‘gold rush’ began when gold was discovered in the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria. People from all around the world came to these colonies to try to make their fortunes. Chinese people arriving at this time were the first large group of migrants not from Europe. In 10 years, Australia’s population more than doubled.

The nation of Australia

In 1901, the separate colonies were united into a federation of states called the Commonwealth of Australia. It was at this time that our national democratic institutions, including our national parliament, government and the High Court were established under the new Australian Constitution. In 1901, Australia’s population was about four million. This number did not include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as it was not until after a Referendum in 1967 that they were included in official estimates of the Australian population.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, migration levels rose and fell. There were programs to actively encourage British migrants to settle here, and many did.

A wave of non-British migration came after World War II, when millions of people in Europe had to leave their homelands. Large numbers of Europeans came to Australia to build a new life.

In recent years, our migration and refugee programs have brought people to Australia from all over the world. People have come here to join family, to make a new life, or to escape poverty, war or persecution.

The diversity of Australia’s population has increased over the last two centuries. This diverse and prosperous society enhances Australia’s connection to the world. While we celebrate the diversity of Australia’s people, we also aim to build a cohesive and unified nation.

Australia’s national language is English. It is part of our national identity. In keeping with Australian values, migrants should learn and use English to help them participate in Australian society. Communicating in English is important for making the most of living and working in Australia.

Other languages are also valued, including more than 100 distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

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Part 1 - Australia and its people

» Australia's states and territories
» Important days for Australians
» Australia's flags and symbols

Part 2 - Australia's democratic beliefs, rights and liberties

» Our democratic beliefs
» Our freedoms
» Our equalities
» Responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship
» Participating in Australian society

Part 3 - Government and the law in Australia

» How do I have my say?
» How did we establish our system of government?
» How is the power of government controlled?
» Who is Australia's Head of State?
» Who are some of Australia's leaders?
» How is Australia Governed?
» What do the three levels of government do?
» What role do political parties play in the way Australia is governed?
» How is the Australian Government formed?
» How are laws made?
» How are laws enforced?
» Criminal offences in Australia

Part 4 - Australian values

» Our values
» Our community

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