Australia is the sixth largest country in the world.
It is the largest island and the world’s smallest, flattest continent.
It's about the same size as the USA and 50 per cent larger than Europe, but it has the lowest population density in the world - only two people per square kilometre.
Australia is the only nation to govern an entire continent.
More than 85 per cent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast.
Australia’s coastline is 50,000 kilometres long and has over 10,000 beaches, more than any other country in the world.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometres.
Ayer’s Rock, the world's largest monolith, is located in Western Australia, in the middle of the desert. It is a sacred place for the Aborigines, who call it Uluru.
The largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid and it is called the outback.
Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps swamps, and desert.
Flora and Fauna
Australia developed a unique fauna when it broke away from the super-continent Gondwana more than 50 million years ago.
The kangaroo is unique to Australia and one of its most famous mammals. There are 40 million kangaroos in Australia.
Today Australia has a wildlife not found anywhere else in the world. You can see the koala, the emu, the dingo, the echidna, the platypus... there are around 800 species of birds, 4,000 fish varieties and tens of thousands of species of invertebrates and micro-organisms. Australia has also got 25,000 species of plants, compared to 17,500 in Europe.
People and politics
The population is just over 21.3 million, with approximately 60% concentrated in and around the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
The nation's capital city is Canberra.
Today, more than 20 per cent of Australians are foreign born and more than 40 per cent are of mixed cultural origin.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy based on a federal division of powers. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General. The executive powers are normally exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister. There is a Parliament composed by the House of the Representatives and the Senate.
Australia has six states and two major mainland territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. There are also smaller territories that are under the administration of the federal government.
Australia produces 95 per cent of the world's precious opals. The world’s opal capital is the underground town of Coober Pedy in South Australia. Kalgoorlie in Western Australia is Australia's largest producer of gold. Australia's 85.7 million sheep (mostly merinos) produce most of the world's wool. With 25.4 million head of cattle, Australia is also the world's largest exporter of beef.
HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA
The first human inhabitants of Australia are called aborigines which means original. They arrived from Asia around 60,000 years ago. There were around 300,000 aborigines in about 250 tribal groups before the first white settlers came. Each group had its own territory, traditions, beliefs and language. The aborigine people had never seen white people until Captain James Cook arrived. At first the Aborigines were friendly towards the visitors but were very confused at the way white foreigners behaved: the foreigners walked on aborigine sacred sites and dug up aborigine graves, they beat and hang people, they chop down trees and took food without asking, they did not share their belongings. When the aborigines first saw the white settlers they thought they were the spirits of their dead ancestors. When the aborigines realised that the white men were not spirits and that the settlers were taking more and more of their land and destroying the trees and wildlife, they began to fight back. The aborigines killed a number of the settlers in an attack. The settlers reacted by killing and poisoning the aborigines and systematically destroying the land and wild animals they lived on. The settlers also brought diseases the aborigines had never had before. Aborigines caught smallpox and even the common cold and died in great numbers. The killing and exploitation of aborigines by whites continued well into the twentieth century. The aboriginal population declined from the original 300,000 when the first white settlers arrived to only about 60,000 people. Aborigines were second class citizens in their own land and only got the right to vote in 1967. Much progress has been made over recent years to try to right the wrongs of the past. Where possible the government has been returning land to their traditional owners and encouraging Aborigines to rebuild their culture and lives. They however still are the single most disadvantaged group of people in Australia.
A number of European explorers sailed the coast of Australia, then known as New Holland, in the 17th century. In 1770 Captain James Cook arrived on the east coast and declared it British. The new site was used as a penal colony and in 1788 1,500 people – half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney. Until 1868, 160,000 men and women came to Australia as prisoners.
Free settlers began to arrive in the 1790s, but life was harsh. There was one woman every five men, men could be hung for as small crimes as stealing. The Aboriginal people displaced by the new settlements suffered even more. The dispossession of land and illness and death from introduced diseases destroyed their traditional lifestyles and practices.
Settling over the continent
By the 1820s, many soldiers, officers and emancipated convicts had turned land they received from the government into farms. News migrants arrived from Britain. Settlers or ‘squatters’ began to move deeper into Aboriginal territories – often with a gun - in search of pasture and water for their stock. Gold was discovered in 1851, so thousands of young people arrived from all over the world.
Australia becomes a nation
Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution in 1901. Today Australia is home to people from more than 200 countries.
New Australians arrive to a post-war boom
After the war ended in 1945, hundreds of thousands of migrants from across Europe and the Middle East arrived in Australia, many finding jobs in the manufacturing sector. Australia’s economy grew. The international market asked for Australia’s exports of metals, wools and meat.
Australia’s new ethnic diversity and increasing independence from Britain contributed to an atmosphere of political, economic and social change. In 1967, Australians voted ‘yes’ in a referendum to let the government make laws on behalf of Aboriginal Australians. The result was a strong reform campaign by both Aboriginal and white Australians.
It is founded on stories of battlers, bushrangers and brave soldiers, of working heroes and migrants. Today Australia also defines itself by its Aboriginal heritage and a vibrant mix of cultures.
The Dreamtime is the sacred ‘time before time’ of the world’s creation. According to Aboriginal belief, totemic spirit ancestors emerged from the earth and descended from the sky to awaken a dark and silent world. They created the sun, moon and stars, forged mountains, rivers, trees and waterholes and changed into human and animal forms. Spirit ancestors connect this ancient past with the present and future through every aspect of Aboriginal culture.
Rock art, craft and bark painting reveal Dreamtime stories, mark territory and record history, while songs tell of Dreamtime journeys, verbally mapping water sources and other essential landmarks. Their special songs have been passed down virtually unchanged for at least 50,000 years, and are often accompanied by the didgeridoo. Similarly, traditional dances reveal creation myths, enact the deeds of Dreamtime heroes and even recent historical events.
Australians believe in friendship and have a strong affection for people who struggle for life. These values stem from convicts and early colonialists who struggled against a difficult and unfamiliar land and often unjust authority. On the goldfields of the mid-1850s, diggers were portrayed in stories and songs as romantic heroes, strong people who loved democracy.
Australians have a unique colloquial language. This combines many long lost cockney and Irish sayings of the early convicts with words from Aboriginal languages. They often abbreviate words and then add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end. They also like reverse nicknames, calling people with red hair ‘bluey’, saying ‘snowy’ to someone with dark hair, and ‘lofty’ to someone who is small in stature.
Today, more than 20 per cent of Australians are foreign born and more than 40 per cent are of mixed cultural origin. In their homes they speak 226 languages - after English, the most popular are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic.
Their rich cultural diversity is reflected in their food, which embraces most of the world’s cuisines. You can also see their melting pot of cultures in the many colourful festivals: samba and capoeira at Brazilian festival, the dragon parade during Chinese New Year or the annual Italian celebrations. As a nation, they have a lot of of religious belief and you’ll find Catholic and Anglican churches, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples, mosques and synagogues in the streets.