The rich tapestry of contemporary multicultural Australia is as varied as the landscape in which its people live. The island continent is also one of the oldest in the world, reaching back for at least 40,000 years of human inhabitation by the aboriginal and Torres' Strait islander peoples. Australia Day commemorates the day, 214 years ago, when Captain Arthur Phillip, the leader of the First Fleet, unfurled the British flag at Sydney Cove. It was not until 1808, however, that the first recorded commemorations took place on Jan. 26, and not until 1817 that Governor Macquarie recommended that the name Australia replace New Holland for the whole continent.
Australia today celebrates Australia Day on a much wider scale than that first simple ceremony at Sydney Cove, with citizenship ceremonies, flag-raising, fireworks and presentations of awards for community service.
It is a celebration of Australia's diversity - the building of a nation with peoples from 150 different ethnic groups and nationalities. A total of 5.7 million people have been welcomed to Australia since 1945, and of the population of 19 million, one in four were born overseas.
Migrants have brought with them their cultures, their food, their languages and other skills, all of which were used so effectively during the Sydney Olympics in September 2000.
Many Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians who have chosen Australia as their new home have made their own valuable contribution to today's multicultural Australia. Latvia's connection with Australia dates back to Willem De Wlamingh's expedition exploring the West Australian coast in 1696-97, which included four seamen and soldiers from Latvia.
The first Lithuanian to migrate to Australia is believed to have come in 1836, and the first recorded naturalized Estonian migrant to Australia was Alfred Julius Sickler, from Tallinn, who arrived in 1853 and settled in Dubbo in New South Wales.
Since then, Australia has been enriched by further waves of migration from the Baltics - particularly in the 1940s and 1950s.
Australia was one of the first countries to recognize the Baltic countries' return to independence, and since then linkages between us have continued to grow.
The contributions of Australia's indigenous people and migrants from all over the world have earned the country a strong international reputation in the arts, science, education and sports.
Australia's contemporary art reflects an ancient landscape that is home to the world's oldest cultural traditions and to a rich mix of migrant cultures. Over recent years, aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists have achieved international acclaim.
Australian composers Peter Sculthorpe and Larry Sitsky, Nobel Prize for literature recipient Patrick White and Australian artists and actors have also made their mark.
Australians have been at the forefront of scientific research, with six Nobel laureates in the fields of medicine, physics and chemistry. They have also been instrumental in developing the heart pacemaker, the bionic ear, microsurgery, the black-box flight recorder, an anthrax vaccine and the ultrasound scanner.
Australian scientists continue to work closely with their colleagues in the global community in the pursuit of scientific advancement.
More than 180,000 students from all over the world come to Australia every year to study in Australia's leading universities, training colleges, and business and English language schools. Australia now has the third-largest number of international students in the English-speaking world.
While many have "discovered" Australia through tourism and migration links, European business has also viewed Australia as an attractive location for investment and regional headquarters operations in the Asian Pacific. Australia has one of the strongest economies in the world, a flexible labor market with access to a skilled and multicultural workforce and high usage of technology. Service industries today represent 64 per cent of the Australian economy. In fact, the finance and business services sectors contribute twice as much to the Australian economy as agriculture and mining together.
As the Baltic states pursues closer integration with the European Union and its institutions, and Australia continues to focus on its relationships in the Asian Pacific region, it will be important that we not lose sight of the ongoing opportunities to broaden and deepen the relationship between our countries. On this Australia Day, I send the warmest greetings of Australians to the people throughout the Baltics.