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Australia is an island continent, a very sparsely populated island that is home to just 23 million people of whom less than half a million represent the indigenous population, the original inhabitants of the land. In its homes, over two hundred different languages are spoken and more than one hundred different religions practised. At the time of the last census in 2006 almost a third of the population was born outside Australia, and about half of these came from southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In addition, 18 per cent of the total had one or both parents born overseas, predominantly in the United Kingdom, but also in New Zealand, Europe, Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy and, increasingly, in Asia—China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong. Australia is indeed a multicultural nation where 16 per cent of the population speak a language other than English at home, including the 0.3 per cent who keep alive around 130 Aboriginal languages.

Yet in spite of this diversity, contemporary Australia is built on a foundation that is solidly British—English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh, and combinations of all of these. Almost half the population claimed British ancestry in the 2006 census, with a further 37 per cent nominating Australian. Notwithstanding the polyglot—and very welcome— additions in the last half century, the predominant source of Australia’s population has been Britain. Not unexpectedly, much of our culture also derives from Britain.

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