The Cocos (Keeling) Islands, formally the Territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, are an Australian external territory in the Indian Ocean, consisting of a tiny archipelago about halfway between Australia and Sri Lanka and very near to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The territory's dual name (official since the islands were incorporated into Australia in 1955) reflects the fact that the islands were formerly known as either Cocos Islands or the Keeling Islands.
The region comprises two atolls made up of 27 coral islands, only two of which are inhabited (West Island and Home Island). The population of roughly 600 people is mostly made up of Cocos Malays, who practice Sunni Islam and speak a Malay dialect as their primary language. The territory is administered as an Australian external territory by the Australian federal government's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications, and it forms the Australian Indian Ocean Territories administrative grouping with Christmas Island (which is about 960 kilometers (600 mi) to the east). The islanders do, however, enjoy some degree of self-government under the local shire council. The state of Western Australia provides many public services, including health, education, and police, and Western Australian law prevails unless the federal government has ruled otherwise. Western Australian postcodes are also used throughout the territory.
The British naval captain William Keeling found the islands in 1609, but no settlement happened until the early nineteenth century. John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish trader, was among the initial immigrants; most of the island's present population is derived from Malay laborers he brought in to work on his copra plantation. For over 150 years, the Clunies-Ross family administered the islands as a private fiefdom, with the head of the family commonly recognized as the resident magistrate. The British acquired the islands in 1857, and they were managed from either Ceylon or Singapore for the following century. Although the territory was handed to Australia in 1955, the Clunies-Ross family retained practically all of the island's real estate until 1979.