Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world today.
Almost one in four Australian residents were born outside of Australia and many more are first or second generation Australians, the children and grandchildren of recently arrived migrants and refugees.
This wide variety of backgrounds, together with the culture of Indigenous Australians who have lived on the Australian continent for more than 50,000 years, have helped create a uniquely Australian identity and spirit.
Indigenous Peoples and Cultures
Before the arrival of British colonisers in 1788, Australia was inhabited by the Indigenous peoples - Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, sometimes referred to as the First Australians. Aboriginal people inhabited the whole of Australia and Torres Strait Islanders lived on the islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea, in what is now called the Torres Strait.
There were over 500 different clan groups or 'nations' around the continent, many with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages.
Today, Indigenous people make up 2.4 per cent of the total Australian population (about 460,000 out of 22 million people).
The First Colony
New South Wales was settled as a penal colony – a place where Britain could send convicted criminals because her prisons were overcrowded. Many convicts had grown up in poverty and committed only minor offences, such as the theft of a loaf of bread. Conditions in the new colony were little better than at home – it took many years for British settlers to understand the different environment of the new colony, and disease and malnutrition were widespread during the first decades of settlement.
Convicts formed the majority of the colony's population for the first few decades of settlement. Convicts continued being sent to New South Wales until 1823, although as time went by, convicts were increasingly seen as a source of labour to build the colony, rather than just being sent away from...