Australia is located in the Indian Ocean, with the Timor, Arafura, Coral and Tasman Seas surrounding it. Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to as Australoids or 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, that allowed widely scattered tribal groups to share knowledge.
Immigration has been essential to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from the British Isles, 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.
The Government was created with a constitution patterned partly on the U.S. Constitution. The powers of the Commonwealth are specifically defined in the constitution, and the residual powers remain with the states. Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia."
United States Dept. of State Background Notes, 8/1999