Australia is the world's largest island and the smallest continent. Its area is about the United States (without Alaska). Today there live about 17 million people. Australia is a country almost 3 million square miles far from other countries and that's why it wasn't discovered for a long time. Only in 1606 Dutch sailors reached the shores of the unknown continent, but no one settled there until the English Captain Cook discovered the East Coast in 1770. When settlement began in 1788 the continent was inhabited by about 300 000 people, who are now called aborigines. Diseases brought by settlers caused many deaths among the aborigines and now there are only about 60 000 of them. At the beginning of the 19-th century the English colonists gave the fifth continent the name Australia or "the unknown southern land ". At first, nobody wanted to live there because it was used as a prison where the British government would send British prisoners. Most of Australia is a semi-desert, so most people in Australia live in the south-east. The climate is hot and the Australians boast that they can sleep outdoors all the year round. The sun shines in winter and in summer. Snow and ice are rare, except in the high mountains. There is not much rain, and drought is a constant anxiety. In bad times, and in the driest parts, many animals may die for want of water. Today Australia is an independent federative state consisting of 6 states and 2 territories. It is a member of the Commonwealth headed by the British Queen. The capital is Canberra.