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European settlement of Australia began in 1788 when a British penal colony was established on the east coast of the continent. Six British colonies were eventually established. In 1901, these colonies joined as a federation. The years following saw Australia becoming increasingly independent of Britain.

Australia’s six States are New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The mainland territories are the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home of the national capital, Canberra, which includes Jervis Bay Territory, and the Northern Territory.

Australia is also responsible for administering seven external territories - Norfolk Island, the uninhabited Coral Sea Islands Territory, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, the uninhabited Ashmore and Cartier Islands Territory, the Territory of Heard Island and the McDonald Islands in the sub-Antarctic and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

This document has been prepared by Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. Information is current to April 1995. Money values are in Australian currency