Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to as Aborigines, arrived about 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups. Aboriginal population density ranged from 1 person per square mile along the coasts to 1 person per 35 square miles in the arid interior. Food procurement was usually a matter for the nuclear family and was very demanding, since there was little large game, and they had no agriculture.
Australia may have been sighted by Portuguese sailors in 1601, and Capt. James Cook claimed it for Great Britain in 1770. At that time, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. The aboriginal population currently numbers more than 300,000, representing about 1.7% of the population. Since the end of World War II, efforts have been made both by the government and by the public to be more responsive to aboriginal rights and needs.
Today, tribal aborigines lead a settled traditional life in remote areas of northern, central, and western Australia. In the south, where most aborigines are of mixed descent, movement to the cities is increasing.
Immigration has been essential to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from Britain and Ireland, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin, with a culture and outlook similar to those of Americans. However, since the end of World War II, the population has more than doubled; non-European immigration, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, has increased significantly since 1960 through an extensive, planned immigration program. From 1945 through 1996, nearly 5.5 million immigrants settled in Australia, and about 80% have remained; nearly one of every four Australians is foreign-born. Britain and Ireland have been the largest sources of post-war immigrants, followed by Italy, Greece, New Zealand, and the former Yugoslavia.
The 1970s saw progressive reductions in the size of the annual immigration program due to economic and employment conditions; in 1969-70, 185,000 persons were permitted to settle, but by 1975-76 the number had dropped to 52,700. Immigration has slowly risen since. In 1995-96, Australia accepted more than 99,000 regular immigrants. In 1999-2000, Australia will accept 82,000 new immigrants. In addition, since 1990 about 7,500 New Zealanders have settled in Australia each year.
Australia's refugee admissions of about 12,000 per year are in addition to the normal immigration program. In recent years, the government has given priority to refugees from the Former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and Africa. In recent years, refugees from Indochina and the former Yugoslavia have comprised the largest single element in Australia's refugee program.
Although Australia has scarcely more than two persons per square kilometer, it is one of the world's most urbanized countries. Less than 15% of the population live in rural areas.
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European and more recently American roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, aboriginal culture, and the influence of Australia's neighbors. The vigor and originality of the arts in Australia--films, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts--are achieving international recognition.
Australia has produced a wide variety of popular music. While many musicians and bands (some notable examples include the 1960s successes of The Easybeats and the folk-pop group The Seekers, through the heavy rock of AC-DC, and the slick pop of INXS and more recently Savage Garden) have had considerable international success, there remains some debate over whether Australian popular music really has a distinctive sound. Perhaps the most striking common feature of Australian music, like many other Australian art forms, is the dry, often self-deprecating humor evident in the lyrics.
Australia has had a significant school of painting since the early days of European settlement, and Australians with international reputations include Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, and Arthur Boyd - not to mention the prized work of many Aboriginal artists. Writers who have achieved world recognition include Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West, Jill Ker Conway, and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White.
Australia has a long history of film production - in fact, it is claimed that the first feature-length film was actually an Australian production. However, during the late 1960's and 1970's in influx of government funding saw the development of a new generation of directors and actors telling distinctively Australian stories. The 1980's is regarded as perhaps a golden age of Australian cinema, with many wildly successful films, from the apocalyptic science fiction of Mad Max to the blatantly commercial Aussie-bloke fantasy of Crocodile Dundee, a film that defined Australia in the eyes of many foriegners despite having remarkably little to do with the lifestyle of most Australians. The indiginous film industry continues to produce a reasonable number of films each year, also many US producers have moved productions to Australian studios as they discover a pool of professional talent well below US costs. Notable productions include The Matrix and the upcoming Star Wars Episode II and III.
Population: 19,169,083 (July 2000 est.)
0-14 years: 21% (male 2,052,095; female 1,954,543)
15-64 years: 67% (male 6,458,083; female 6,322,475)
65 years and over: 12% (male 1,040,950; female 1,340,937) (2000 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.02% (2000 est.)
Birth rate: 13.08 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Death rate: 7.12 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Net migration rate: 4.26 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)
at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2000 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 5.04 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 79.75 years
male: 76.9 years
female: 82.74 years (2000 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.79 children born/woman (2000 est.)
Ethnic groups: Caucasian 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%
Religions: Anglican 26.1%, Roman Catholic 26%, other Christian 24.3%, non-Christian 11%
Languages: English, native languages
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 100%
female: 100% (1980 est.)