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.
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, and hundreds of thousands from Italy, Greece and Germany.
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, and goes on to win the general election.
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. Turning to Asia
1991 December - Paul Keating becomes Labor prime minister.
1993 - The Native Title Act establishes a process for the granting of Aboriginal land rights.
1996 - John Howard of the Liberal Party wins elections to become prime minister.
1999 - Australia leads intervention force in East Timor to counter pro-Indonesia militia violence after territory's independence vote.
1999 November - Referendum on making Australia a republic defeated, with 55% voting to retain the status quo.
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.
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 claimed by al-Qaeda.
2004 August - Government announces a multi-million dollar cruise missile programme, set to give Australia the region's "most lethal" air combat capacity.
2004 October - John Howard wins fourth term as prime minister.
2005 January - Worst bush fires for more than 20 years kill nine people in South Australia.
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.
2007 November - Opposition Labor Party, under Kevin Rudd, sweeps to power with landslide victory over John Howard.
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.
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.
2010 February - 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 takes over
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. 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.
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.
2013 September - Parliamentary elections. Landslide victory for Liberal-National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott.
2013 October - Government adopts new policy of naval vessels intercepting boats of migrants and directing them back to Indonesia, which is followed by a dramatic reduction in arrivals.
2014 September - Police carry out the nation's biggest ever counter-terrorism raids, with 15 arrests in Sydney and Brisbane, sparked by intelligence reports that Islamic extremists were planning random killings.
2014 December - Islamist Man Haron Monis takes 18 people hostage in Sydney cafe; two hostages and gunman die when police storm premises.
2015 March - Parliament passes law requiring its internet and mobile phone providers to store customer data for two years as anti-terror measure.
2015 June - Government announces 20-year plan to develop the infrastructure of the north, including transport and water resources.
Turnbull takes over
2015 September - Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull replaces Tony Abbott as prime minister after a successful Liberal Party leadership challenge.
2016 July - An early general election sees Prime Minister Turnbull's conservative Liberal-National coalition secure the narrowest of majorities over the Labor Party.
2016 August - Australia agrees to close a controversial asylum seeker detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island but says none of the 850 people held there will be resettled on Australian soil.
2016 December - Police arrested five men suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Melbourne on Christmas Day.
2017 May - Indigenous leaders from across the country reject a bid for recognition in the country's constitution, deciding instead to push for representation in parliament.
2017 December - Parliament makes same-sex marriage legal, following a national survey that showed support from 61% of voters.
2018 August - Malcolm Turnbull steps aside after an unsuccessful right-wing challenge to his leadership, allowing the conservative but pragmatic finance minister Scott Morrison to take over as prime minister and Liberal Party leader.
2019 May - Scott Morrison leads the Liberal/National coalition to a majority in parliamentary elections.
2020 January - Unprecedented heatwave since September causes bushfires that kill at least 25 people and millions of animals, and destroy about 2,000 homes in south-east of country.