Officially named the Commonwealth of Australia, Australia - derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern" - is composed of the mainland, the island of Tasmania and various smaller islands. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area and is designated one of Earth’s seven (or six if one considers Europe and Asia one mass) continents in its own right.
For at least 40,000 years, the native (indigenous) Aboriginal Australians had occupied the territory before Dutch explorers discovered the ‘lands to the south’ in 1606.
The region remained relatively unexplored until 1770 when Captain James Cook, a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and officer in the British Royal Navy sailed along and mapped the east coast of the continent. Naming this portion of Australia New South Wales, Cook claimed it for Great Britain.
Nearly two decades later, a fleet of ships was dispatched to establish a penal colony in New South Wales. On 26 January 1788, the date which would eventually become a national holiday called Australia Day, the Union Jack was raised over a camp that was established at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, a site that would eventually grow to become the city of Sydney.
With convict ships continuing to arrive from the United Kingdom until 1848, the population expanded, as did territorial exploration, thus, eventually, leading to the establishment of an additional five self-governing crown colonies primarily concentrated along the coast and in the eastern states.
On 1 January 1901, the six colonies — New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA) — formed the federated states of the Commonwealth of Australia, a dominion of the British Empire.
By 1939, just prior to World War II, most of the formal constitutional links between Australia and the UK were ended. The final constitutional ties were severed in 1986, thus ending any British role in the government of Australia.
Though all constitutional ties have been severed, Queen Elizabeth II still serves a unique monarch role as Queen of Australia.
Since Australia’s federation at the start of the 20th Century, it has developed to become the fifth wealthiest per capita country in the world, in addition to a country with exceptional quality of life, health care and freedoms.
All in all, the Aussie’s who started out, essentially, as convicts haven’t done too badly for themselves.
Largest City: Sydney
Government: Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Monarch: Great Britain – Queen Elizabeth II
Square Miles: 2,969,907 sq mi (US - 3,531,905.43 sq mi)
Total Population (2015): 23,803,100 (US - 320,206,000)
GDP (nominal – 2014): $1.483 trillion (US - $16.768 trillion / 2013)