The arrival of the British First Fleet in the 18th century made a significant impact on the Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal people's egalitarian social structure hampered their attempts at resistance to the new settlers, and the British refused to recognise their legal rights to the land. Sydney's Aboriginal residents were either driven away by force, murdered by the settlers or killed by unfamiliar diseases. The fleet, which landed at Botany Bay in January 1788 on the recommendation of Captain Cook, who had visited in 1770, carried 730 male and female convicts from Britain's overcrowded jails as well as an assortment of military personnel under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. The settlers eventually established themselves at Sydney Cove, north of the bay, and this is where the city of Sydney grew.
Over the next few years the second and third fleets showed up, despite the fact that the new settlement was on the brink of starvation for most of its first 15 years. In the last decade of the 18th century there was a huge influx of military settlers, the 'Rum Corps', into the settlement - rum became Sydney's main currency and the military, rather than the governors, ran the joint. In 1813 the Blue Mountains, which had previously hemmed in the town, were broached by explorers, and Sydney was linked with the western plains of NSW. When gold was discovered in Victoria and to Sydney's west in the 1850s, settlers poured out of the town in search of wealth and Sydney's importance diminished dramatically.
Australia's states federated on 1 January 1901 - New South Wales became a state of Australia, and Sydney became NSW's capital. Australia went to war in support of Britain in 1914, and the economy boomed until the late '20s, when the Great Depression hit - in 1931 around a third of Sydney's workforce was unemployed. But in 1932 wool prices rose, the city's building industry took off and Sydney once more became the most special city in Australia. The Harbour Bridge was also opened in 1932. There was quite a kerfuffle at the opening of the bridge, when a sword-wielding chappie by the name of de Groot stole the limelight from NSW premier Jack Lang by slashing the opening ribbon before the premier could give it the official chop.
Sydney suffered little during WWII, although several Japanese midget subs were captured in the harbour. After the war, European immigrants flooded into the city, and Sydney spread rapidly westwards, gaining a bunch of pizza places in the process. It also picked up one of its most famous landmarks - in 1957 architect Jørn Utzon won a competition to design the Sydney Opera House. In 1966, before the completion of the Opera House, Utzon resigned in frustration at compromises to his plan. Another architectural team took over, and the Opera House was opened in 1973.
During the Vietnam war, Sydney became a major R&R stopover for US GIs, and the city started tasting of Coke and burgers, while King's Cross developed a fine line in sleazy entertainment for the visiting lads (a specialty it maintains to this day). Throughout the '70s, NSW went against the national trend and voted Labor, and longstanding premier Neville Wran oversaw much of Sydney's building boom. The Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the massive Darling Harbour redevelopment project boosted the city's morale, and today the economy is doing reasonably well, though unemployment remains high.
After winning the bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney poured vast amounts of money into renovating and prettying itself up. Though the Games were declared the 'best ever' by IOC head opportunist, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the follow-on Paralympics were well patronised, visitor numbers were well down on early estimates and changes to Sydney's infrastructure haven't necessarily improved the lot of those impoverished locals who couldn't afford a ticket.
In Sydney, as elsewhere in Australia, the most divisive issue since the Olympics has been that of asylum seekers - or, if you're a Howard minister, 'illegal immigrants'. In the lead up to the 2001 election, Prime Minister Howard drove a wedge through the Labor Party and carried the popular vote by taking a hard line on the issue.
Sydney wasn't a planned city and its layout is further complicated by its hills and the numerous inlets of the harbour, the focal point of the city. The centre of Sydney is on the south shore of the harbour, about 7km (4mi) inland from the harbour heads. Skyscrapers in the Central Business District (CBD) vie for dominance and harbour views, but the city's relentlessness is softened by shady Hyde Park and The Domain parkland to the east, Darling Harbour to the west and the main harbour to the north. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour tunnel link the city centre with the satellite CBD of North Sydney and the suburbs of the North Shore. The city's airport, Kingsford Smith (otherwise known as Mascot), is about 9km (6mi) south of the city centre. Central station, Sydney's main train station, is in the south of the city centre, and the main bus terminal is just outside it.
The harbour is the defining characteristic of the city. Criss-crossed by ferries and carpeted with yachts on weekends, it is both the city playground and a major port. Its multiple sandstone headlands, dramatic cliffs, rocky islands and stunning bays and beaches make it one of the most beautiful stretches of water in the world, and offer a close-up of Aussie beach culture at its best. Officially called Port Jackson, the harbour stretches some 20km (12mi) inland to join the mouth of the Parramatta River. The most scenic area is on the ocean side of the bridge. The Sydney Harbour National Park protects the scattered pockets of bushland around the harbour and offers good walking tracks.