Byline: David Williamson
WHEN Spike Milligan was stopped at Australian Customs and asked if he had a criminal record, he quipped: "I didn't know you still needed one."
Four Welshmen and two women were among the first convicts sent in 1788 to the distant penal colonies where hardship and homesickness awaited them.
But it did not take long be-forAustralia became a destination for the ambitious and the hope-ful.
Theand their children have shaped this enigma of a country - a giant land mass with a small population which is home to an ancient indigenous people and a youthful democracy.
In 2006, there were 113,242 Australians who were Welsh by ancestry, and 23,317 who were born in Wales.
The fusion of adversity and opportunity which confronted the first Welsh to arrive is epitomised in the life of Zephaniah Williams.
The Nantyglo collier and innkeeper first sought freedom in Wales as a leader of the Chartists, radical working class campaigners for social and political reform.
Their 1839 march on Newport to liberate fellow activists whom they believed were held captive in the Westgate Hotel culminated in a bloody battle.
Williams was initially sentenced to death but then sent to modern-day Tasmania.
What was intended as the harshest of punishments became a bridge to prosperity. When granted leave he discovered coal on the island and died a wealthy man.
Such stories of success inspired many to make the perilous journey - an odyssey of an almost lunar scale - from Wales to the far side of the world.
Mary Jones, originally from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant in North Wales, said in an 1855 letter to her parents that she had seen "four buried and four born" during the 72-day voyage.
These pioneers brought nonconformist religion and progressive politics to Australia.
Like Zephaniah Williams, John Basson Humffray from Newtown, Montgomeryshire, had also been an active Chartist while in Wales.
He came to Australia of his own free will and made his way to the gold-rush town of Ballarat. There, he was elected president of the Reform League which demanded rights for miners and the freedom to vote.
He opposed the use of violence and was not involved in the revolt which centred on the Eureka Stockade - an event sometimes described as the birth of Australian democracy - but he defended 13 men charged with high treason.
He was propelled into a career in politics and became Minister for Mines.
Wales' contribution to Australian politics is by no means over.
Julia Gillard, considered a "firebrand" and tipped as the nation's first female Prime Minister, was born in Barry in 1961.
She is Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's official deputy and is rated as one of the Labor Party's strongest performers.
This daughter of a policeman and British Rail clerk has a profile on the world stage which is growing quickly.
Last month she visited the United States, Israel and the Occupied Territories and Iraq.
If she does win the top job, she will be following in the footsteps of William Morris "Billy" Hughes - Prime Minister from 1916-1923.
His father, a Welsh-speaking carpenter from Anglesey who worked in the House of Lords, would never have imagined that his son, born in 1862, would represent Australia during the Treaty of Versailles negotiations at the end of World War I. Nothing in his upbringing suggested that the life of a luminary awaited Hughes.
His Montgomeryshire-born mother died when he was aged seven and he was sent to live with relations in Llandudno.
He returned to London at the age of 14 and in 1884 left Britain for Australia.
His first years in the colony were not glamorous.
He worked as a labourer, a cook and a "bush worker" and entered a common-law marriage. But the lure of politics was strong, and in 1892 he joined the Socialist League; by 1901 he was an MP and his ascent up the ladder of power was under way. …