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Australia was first colonized by humans between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. The ancient colonization of the continent is notable because other members of the genus Homo, such as Homo habilis made it from Africa to as far as the islands of Southeast Asia, such as Java, but not all the way to Australia, which would have required crossing the oceans in a boat.
When the first humans arrived in the area, they encountered many megafauna, including hippo-sized marsupials, giant kangaroos, the Marsupial Lion, and a 7-meter lizard, Megalania prisca. Soon after human arrival, all these megafauna went extinct. The only megafauna remaining are kangaroos, emus, the cassowary, saltwater crocodile, carpet python, and the goanna lizard.
From the European perspective, Australia was first sighted by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Throughout the 17th century, the northern and western coast was mapped by the Dutch, but they made no attempt at colonization. In 1770, the navigator James Cook mapped the east coast of and claimed parts of it for his country, Great Britain. This area, New South Wales, includes modern-day Sydney.
The British colonization of the continent began when Port Jackson was founded by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. Today, January 26th is celebrated by Australians as Australia Day. An island to the south of Australia, Tasmania, was settled soon thereafter, in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. Tasmania began as a penal colony but this practice was halted in 1848. Throughout the 19th century, additional colonies were established all over the continent: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.
The area's indigenous population at the time of settlement was estimated at about 300,000, but many of these natives were killed due to imported disease and mistreatment by European settlers. Traditional ownership of land by indigenous peoples was not recognized until 1992, and there continues to be racial tension between descendants of Europeans and native Australians, although reconciliation is in progress. The Australian government issued a formal apology to the indigenous people in 2008.
Between 1855 and 1890, Australian colonies became independent entities under the British Crown, and on 1 January 1901, the colonies all united as a federation. This created the Commonwealth of Australia as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Statute of Westminster 1931 made the country largely separate from the British Empire that had founded it. Beginning in the 1970s, it welcomed immigrants from Europe and elsewhere, increasing the diversity of the nation. Today, it is a prosperous democracy, with a GDP per capita slightly higher than the UK, Germany, and France.
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