Australia's indigenous inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people collectively referred to today as Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders, arrived more than 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. Indigenous population density ranged from one person per square mile along the coasts to one person per 35 square miles in the arid interior. When Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. In 2006 the indigenous population was approximately 517,200, representing about 2.5% of the population. Since the end of World War II, the government and the public have made efforts to be more responsive to aboriginal rights and needs, most recently with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's historic apology to the indigenous people in February 2008.
Immigration has been vital to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin, with a culture and outlook similar to those of Americans. Non British/Irish immigration has increased significantly since World War II through an extensive, planned immigration program. Since 1945 around 6.6 million migrants have settled in Australia, including 690,000 refugee and humanitarian entrants. About 80% have remained; 24%--almost one in four--of Australians are foreign-born. Britain, Ireland, Italy, Greece, New Zealand, and the former Yugoslavia were the largest sources of post-war immigration, but New Zealand is closing on Britain as the largest source country for permanent migrants to Australia, with India, China, and the Philippines making up the rest of the top five. Since the end of World War II, Australia's population has more than doubled.
Australia's humanitarian and refugee program of about 13,000 per year is in addition to other immigration programs. In recent years, refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia have comprised the largest element in Australia's refugee program. Although Australia has scarcely more than three people per square kilometer, it is one of the world's most urbanized countries. Less than 2.5% of the population lives in remote or very remote areas.
Much of Australia's culture is derived from European 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 -- film, opera, music, painting, theater, dance, and crafts -- have achieved international recognition.
Australian actors and comedians such as Nicole Kidman, Rachel Griffiths, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Hogan, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, and Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) have achieved enormous popularity in the United States. Directors such as Peter Weir, Philip Noyes, and Russell Mulcahy, the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, and singers and musicians such as Olivia Newton-John, The Wiggles, AC/DC, Dame Joan Sutherland, Dame Nellie Melba, and Kylie Minogue are well known.
Australian artists with international reputations include Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Pro Hart, and Arthur Boyd. Writers who have achieved world recognition include Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West, Jill Ker Conway, Peter Carey, Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White. In sports, too, Australian athletes are internationally renowned, particularly in swimming, diving, cricket, tennis, rugby, and golf. Australia's share of Olympic medals and world titles is proportionately larger than its share of the world's population.
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