A chronology of key events:
40,000 BC - The first Aborigines arrive from south-east Asia. By 20,000 BC they have spread throughout the mainland and Tasmania.
1770 - Captain James Cook charts the east coast in his ship HM Endeavour. Cook claims it as a British possession and names eastern Australia "New South Wales".
1788 - British Navy captain Arthur Phillip founds a penal settlement at Sydney. He had arrived with a fleet of 11 vessels, carrying nearly 800 convicts. The Aboriginal population at the time is thought to number several hundred thousand.
1829 - Colony of Western Australia established at Perth by Captain James Stirling.
1836 - South Australia established, with Adelaide as its capital.
1850s - Gold is found at several locations leading to gold rushes throughout the decade. The population increases three-fold in 10 years to pass the million mark. An influx of Chinese leads to restrictions on their entry. Aborigines are treated very badly and their numbers collapse.
1856 - Australia becomes the first country to introduce the secret ballot - or 'Australian ballot' - for elections.
1877 - Australia and England play the first-ever cricket Test match in Melbourne.
1901 - The country is unified. The Commonwealth of Australia comes into being on 1st January.
The Immigration Restriction Act puts a brake on non-white immigration.
1911 - Canberra is founded and designated as the capital.
1914 - Outbreak of World War I. Australia commits hundreds of thousands of troops to the British war effort.
Their participation - alongside New Zealanders - in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915 leads to heavy casualties. The Gallipoli landings help cement a sense of identity in the young nation.Economic woes
1929 - The Great Depression following the Wall Street Crash hits Australia hard. Recovery is uneven, and the Labor government is defeated in the election in 1931.
1939 - Australia follows Britain's lead and declares war on Nazi Germany.
1941 - The US declares war on Japan. Australia turns to the US for help in its defence after the Japanese take Singapore. Australia allows the US to base its supreme command for the Pacific war on its territory.
1948 - Australia begins a scheme for immigration from Europe. Over the next 30 years, more than two million people arrive, about one-third of them from Britain.
1950 - Australia commits troops to the UN forces in the Korean war.
1956 - Olympic Games held in Melbourne.
1965 - Australia commits troops to the US war effort in Vietnam.
1967 - National referendum on changes to constitution is passed. Section which excluded Aboriginal people from official census is removed. Another change enables federal government to pass laws on Aboriginal issues.
1975 - Australia introduces new immigration laws, restricting the number of unskilled workers allowed into the country.
The government of Gough Whitlam is plagued by resignations and the blocking of its budget by the upper house of the parliament. In an unprecedented move, the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, dismisses the government. A caretaker administration under Malcolm Fraser is installed.
1983 March - Bob Hawke becomes prime minister after his Labor Party secures a landslide victory.
1986 - The Australia Act makes Australian law fully independent of the British parliament and legal system. There is no longer any provision for Australian courts to mount final appeals to the Privy Council in London.Turning to Asia
1991 December - Paul Keating becomes prime minister.
1992 - The Citizenship Act is amended to remove swearing an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Prime Minister Paul Keating's Labor government pledges to make Australia a republic and to concentrate on links with Asia.
1993 - Keating wins elections. The Native Title Act establishes a process for the granting of Aboriginal land rights.
1996 - Keating defeated in elections. John Howard of the Liberal Party becomes prime minister.
1998 - Elections see Howard's Liberal and National party coalition re-elected, but with a reduced majority. Delegates to a constitutional convention vote to replace Queen Elizabeth II as head of state with a president chosen by parliament. The issue is put to a referendum in 1999. The proposal is defeated, with 55% voting to retain the status quo.
1999 - Australia leads intervention force in East Timor to counter pro-Indonesia militia violence after territory's independence vote. Relations with Indonesia worsen.
2000 - Australia hosts the Olympic Games in Sydney, the most popular ever.
2001 January - Australia celebrates 100 years since its inauguration as the Commonwealth of Australia.
2001 February - Sir Donald Bradman, Australia's most famous cricketer, dies at the age of 92.
2001 May - Churches rebuke Prime Minister John Howard for failing properly to acknowledge suffering of thousands of Aborigines under past assimilation policy. Howard has refused to apologise to "Stolen Generations" of Aborigines who as children were forcibly removed from their parents to live with whites.
2001 August - Australia turns away hundreds of boat people over several months, the most prominent group having been rescued from a sinking ferry. Australia pays Nauru to detain many of them.
2001 November - Howard wins a third term in general elections.
2002 - Aid agencies, rights groups and UN report criticise policy of holding asylum seekers in detention camps until their visa applications are processed. Woomera desert camp in South Australia sees riots, hunger strikes and escapes.Bali bombing
2002 October - Australia mourns as 88 of its citizens are killed in a night club bombing in Bali, Indonesia, which some call Australia's September 11. The attacks - which killed 202 people in total - are blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamists.
2003 January - Australia deploys troops to the Gulf ahead of a possible war. The move sparks public protests.
Bushfire ravages the capital, Canberra. More than 500 homes are destroyed. Other fires rage across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania.
2003 February - Senate passes no-confidence motion against Prime Minister John Howard over his handling of Iraq crisis. It is Senate's first-ever vote of no-confidence in serving leader.
2003 May - Governor-General Peter Hollingworth resigns after admitting that, as an Anglican archbishop in the 1990s, he allowed a known paedophile remain a priest.
2003 July - Australia heads peacekeeping force intended to restore order in troubled Solomon Islands.
2004 February - Race riots in district of Sydney, sparked by death of Aboriginal teenager.
2004 March - Parliamentary committee clears government of lying about threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In July, report details intelligence failings over Iraq, Bali bombings, but clears government of manipulating Iraq intelligence.
2004 August - Government announces a multi-million dollar cruise missile programme, set to give Australia the region's "most lethal" air combat capacity.
2004 September - Bomb attack outside Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, kills at least nine, injures dozens more.Howard's fourth term
2004 October - John Howard wins fourth term as prime minister; his party extends its grip on parliament.
2004 November - Death of Aboriginal man in police custody sparks rioting on Palm Island, off north-east coast.
2005 January - Worst bush fires for more than 20 years kill nine people in South Australia.
2005 July - Australia says it will deploy 150 special forces troops in Afghanistan to counter rebel attacks. The original contingent was withdrawn in 2002. Further deployments are announced in 2006.
2005 November - As parliament debates controversial new anti-terrorism laws, police say they have foiled a planned "large-scale terrorist attack".
2005 December - Racially-motivated violence, involving thousands of youths, hits Sydney.
2006 January - Australia and East Timor sign a deal to divide billions of dollars in expected revenues from oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea. Under the agreement, discussions on a disputed maritime boundary are postponed.
2006 April-May - Australian troops spearhead peacekeeping forces in the Solomon Islands and East Timor after unrest in both countries.
2006 August - Proposed legislation, under which future asylum seekers who arrive by boat will be sent to offshore detention camps, is scrapped after a revolt by ruling party lawmakers.
2006 December - Amid the worst drought in a century, the government slashes economic growth forecasts, reflecting a slump in farm output. In January PM John Howard declares water security to be Australia's biggest challenge.Rudd as PM
2007 November - Opposition Labor Party, under Kevin Rudd, sweeps to power with landslide victory over John Howard.
2007 December - Prime Minister Rudd signs documents ratifying Kyoto protocol on climate change, reversing the previous government's policy.
2008 February - Government apologises for past wrongs committed against the indigenous population.
Australia ends its policy of sending asylum seekers into detention on small Pacific islands, with the last refugees leaving Nauru.
2008 July - Labor government abandons policy - introduced in 1990s - of holding all asylum seekers in detention centres until their cases are heard.
2008 September - Quentin Bryce sworn in as Australia's governor-general, the first woman to hold the post.
2009 February - Devastating bushfires in the south-eastern state of Victoria kill more than 170 people.
2009 May - Australia announces plans to more than double its submarine fleet and buy 100 US Stealth fighters as part of a $70bn military modernisation programme.
Indian students hold rallies in protest against a series of violent attacks - more than 70 in the past year - which they say are racially motivated. India voices concern about the violence.
2010 February - Five Muslim men are sentenced to lengthy prison terms for conspiracy to carry out attacks.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologises for the policy of sending thousands of children to former colonies under a migrant programme that ended 40 years previously.Gillard as PM
2010 June - Julia Gillard becomes prime minister, ousting Kevin Rudd in a Labor Party leadership challenge.
2010 August - Parliamentary elections fail to deliver a clear winner. Prime Minister Gillard clings to power after securing support of independents to form a minority government.
2011 January - Queensland is hit by floods which are described as the most expensive natural disaster in the country's history.
2011 December - Economy grows unexpectedly fast in the third quarter of 2011, driven by construction and mining. GDP rose 2.5% on the year, whereas analysts had expected 2.1%.
2012 January - Talks between government and opposition on asylum seekers break down. The opposition says the government fails to address concerns about a plan to swap refugees with Malaysia that the high court had declared unlawful.
2012 February - Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd resigns to mount a challenge to Prime Minister Gillard's leadership, but is defeated.
2012 July - Controversial carbon tax, which penalises big polluters, comes into force. Prime Minister Gillard says it is needed to meet climate change obligations; opponents say it will cost jobs and raise prices.
2012 August - Five Australian troops are killed in Afghanistan in what Prime Minister Gillard says is Australia's deadliest day in combat since the Vietnam War.
2012 September - After an independent panel recommends setting up holding centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to cope with rising numbers of asylum-seekers, the government says it will send the first group for processing in Nauru. Australia also signs an agreement with Papua New Guinea to conduct offshore processing on Manus Island.
2013 January - Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard says elections will be held in September, hoping to use the long run-in to recoup support.
2013 March - A chaotic and abortive leadership challenge bounces Prime Minister Gillard into a major cabinet reshuffle to oust supporters of long-standing rival Kevin Rudd. The previous month the Greens dropped their alliance with Labor, but pledged to keep the government in power.Gillard ousted
2013 June - After months of infighting, Kevin Rudd manages to oust Julia Gillard as Labor leader and prime minister in a parliamentary party vote.
2013 July - Australia reaches deal with Papua New Guinea that will allow it to ship asylum seekers arriving by boat onwards to its Pacific neighbour. Papua New Guinea will receive generous aid in return, and the offshore processing centre on PNG's Manus Island will be significantly expanded to hold up to 3,000 people.
2013 September - Parliamentary elections. Landslide victory for Liberal-National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott.
2013 December - High Court overturns local law allowing gay marriage in the capital Canberra, after a challenge by the federal government saying it is inconsistent with federal laws. Court says parliament should decide the issue. Parliament voted against same-sex marriage in September 2012.