Sydney is located in a coastal basin between the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Blue Mountains to the west. Sydney features the largest natural harbour in the world, Port Jackson, and also enjoys more than 70 beaches, including the famous Bondi Beach.
Sydney's urban area of 1,687 km² is similar in size to Greater London, but has half that city's population.
The metropolitan area (Sydney Statistical Division) has 12,145 km², but much of this area is national park and other wilderness.
The area surrounding Sydney Harbour (called Warrane by the aborigines) has been inhabited by Aboriginal tribes, notably the Eora and Cadigal, for at least 40,000 years.
Although urbanisation has destroyed most evidence of these
settlements (such as shell middens), there are still rock carvings in several locations.
European interest arose with the sighting of Botany Bay (now a
southern suburb of Sydney) in 1770 by Captain James Cook. Under instruction from the British government, a convict settlement was founded by Arthur Phillip in 1788.
Most convicts came from Ireland and England. A great number were in fact not real criminals but were simply sent to the new colony as a harsh punishment by the ruling aristocracy.
Phillip first landed at Botany Bay, but found it unsatisfactorily shallow for a permanent settlement.
After a brief sail north, Phillip founded the colony at Sydney Cove on Port Jackson (the correct name for Sydney Harbour).
Phillip originally named the colony "New Albion".
Each day, ships would arrive from Ireland and England with immigrants looking to start a new life in a new country.
The first of several gold rushes was in 1851, since which time the port of Sydney has seen many waves of people from around the world.
With industrialisation Sydney expanded rapidly, and by the early 20th century it had a population well in excess of one million. Throughout the 20th century Sydney continued to expand with various new waves of European and (later) Asian immigration, resulting in its highly cosmopolitan atmosphere of today.
Although Sydney does not suffer from cyclones, and the earthquake risk is considered very low, many areas of Sydney bordering bushland have experienced bushfires, including ones in 1994 and 2002.
The city is also subject to infrequent severe hail storms and wind storms (maybe once every five to ten years, although these appear to be increasing).
In recent years, the city has also faced water shortages. Warragamba Dam levels are falling to the extent that the state government has imposed a range of prohibitions intended to reduce consumption.
This is possibly due to the fact that Lord Sydney issued the charter authorising Phillip to establish a colony.
Prisoners were quickly set to work to build the settlement and by 1822 the town had banks, markets, well-established thoroughfares and an organised constabulary:
By 1847, convicts accounted for only 3.2% of the population.