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Australia Information
By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 5, 2003, 10:30


The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world by area. Part of the region of Australasia, it also includes a number of islands, the largest of which is Tasmania. Australia has been inhabited for about 50,000 years, originally by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Eastern Australia was claimed by the British in 1770, and officially settled as a British colony on January 26, 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, six self-governing Crown Colonies were established within Australia. On 1 January 1901 the six colonies federated and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has had a stable democratic political system and it remains a Commonwealth Realm.

Australia's neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east, and New Zealand to the south-east. The shortest border distance is between the mainlands of Papua New Guinea and Australia at about 150 kilometres; however, the northernmost inhabited island, Boigu Island, is about 5 kilometres from Papua New Guinea. This has led to a complicated border arrangement allowing access for traditional uses of the waterway across the border by Papua New Guinean people and Torres Strait Islanders.

The name "Australia"

The name Australia derives from the Latin australis, meaning southern. Legends of an "unknown southern land" (terra australis incognita) date back to the Roman times, and were commonplace in mediaeval geography, but were not based on any actual knowledge of Australia. The Dutch adjectival form Australische ("Australian," in the sense of "southern") was used by Dutch officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south as early as 1638. The first writer in English to use the word "Australia" was Alexander Dalrymple in his An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean, published in 1771, but he used it to refer to the whole South Pacific region, not specifically to the Australian continent. In 1793 George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland."

The name Australia was popularised by the 1814 work "A Voyage to Terra Australia" by the navigator Matthew Flinders. Despite its title (which reflected the view of the Admiralty), he used the word "Australia" in the book, which was widely read and gave the term general currency. Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used it in his dispatches to England. In 1817 he recommended that it be officially adopted. In 1824 the British Admiralty finally accepted that the continent should be known officially as Australia.


The date of the first human habitation is estimated to be between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago when a period of massive ecological change, believed to be a result of human action, occurred. These first Australians were the remote ancestors of the current Australian Aborigines, and arrived via land bridges and navigation of short sea crossings from present-day south-east Asia.

The first European known to have seen the Australian continent was the Dutch navigator Willem Jansz, who sighted the coast of Cape York in 1606. During the 17th century the Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of what they called New Holland, but made no attempt at settlement. In 1770 James Cook was the first European to sail along the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Britain. His discoveries provided impetus for the establishment of a penal colony there following the loss of the American colonies.

The British Crown Colony of New South Wales began with establishment of a settlement (later to become Sydney) at Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on January 26, 1788. This date was later to become Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land (the present day Tasmania) was settled in 1803, becoming a separate colony in 1825. Britain formally claimed the rest of the continent (present-day Western Australia) in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded, as part of the Province of South Australia, in 1863.

Victoria and South Australia were founded as "free colonies" - that is, they were never penal colonies, although the former did receive some convicts from Tasmania. Western Australia was also founded "free" but later accepted transported convicts due to an acute labour shortage. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868. The Indigenous Australian population, estimated at about 350,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement due mainly to infectious disease, forced migration, and colonial government policies that by today's understanding constitute genocide.

Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies achieved responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping. On 1 January 1901, Federation of the Colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Australian Capital Territory was formed from New South Wales in 1911 to provide a neutral place for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (Melbourne was the temporary capital from 1901 to 1927). Australia willingly participated in World War I; the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli is often regarded as the birth of the nation: the first major military action that the Commonwealth of Australia participated in.

The Statute of Westminster of 1931 formally ended the constitutional links between Australia and Britain, other than the Crown, but Australia continued to regard itself an essentially British country until World War II. The shock of Britain's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector, and since 1951 Australia has been a formal military ally of the U.S. under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. After World War II, Australia encouraged mass migration from Europe, and since the 1970s also from Asia and other parts of the world, radically transforming its demography, culture and image of itself. Although Australian voters rejected a move to become a republic in 1999, which was rejected by a 55 per cent majority. Australia's links to its British past are increasingly tenuous, and all Australian governments since 1972 have stressed that Australia's destiny is as part of the Asia-Pacific region.


The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy: Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role distinct and separate from her position as Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The Queen is nominally represented by the Governor-General and although the Constitution gives extensive executive power to the Governor-General, these powers are generally used only on advice from the Prime Minister. The Governor-General's "reserve powers" are seldom exercised, the most notable example being to end the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975.
Government is undertaken by three arms of government:

  • Legislature: Commonwealth Parliament (and Governor-General)
  • Executive: the Federal Executive Council (Governor-General, Prime Minister and all other Ministers)
  • Judiciary: High Court of Australia and subsidiary Federal courts. The judiciary became officially independent from the United Kingdom when the Australia Act was passed in 1986.

Australia has a bicameral federal Parliament, comprising a Senate (the upper house) with 76 Senators, and a House of Representatives (the lower house) with 150 Members. Members of the lower house are elected on a population basis from single-member constituencies, known technically as 'divisions' but more commonly as 'electorates' or 'seats'. The more populous the state, the more members it will have in the House of Representatives. There is a minimum of 5 members for each state. In the Senate, each state, regardless of population, is represented by twelve Senators, and each mainland territory by two. Elections for both chambers are held every three years, usually with only one half of the Senate being eligible for re-election, as the Senators have overlapping terms of six years each. The government is formed in the lower house, and the leader of the majority party or coalition in the House of Representatives is the Prime Minister.

There are three major political parties in Australia, the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, and the National Party of Australia. The Liberal Party/National Party Coalition has been in power since the 1996 election; the Coalition also won control of the Senate in the 2004 election. At present, the Labor Party dominates politics at the state level, with the Party in Government in every state and also in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Foreign relations and military

In recent decades Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States, through the ANZUS pact, and developing relationships with Asia through regional bodies such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the South Pacific through the Pacific Islands Forum. It maintains ties to the Commonwealth of Nations by way of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. Much of Australia's diplomatic energy is focused on international trade liberalisation. Australia led the formation the Cairns Group and APEC, and is a member of the OECD and the WTO. Australia has also initiated many bilateral free trade agreements, the most recent being the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Australia is a founding member of the United Nations and maintains an international aid program, under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–6 budget provides $2.5 billion for development assistance, as a percentage of GDP this contribution is below that suggested as a UN Millennium Development Goal.

Australia's armed forces are known as the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The ADF includes the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). All branches of the ADF have been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping, most recently in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, disaster relief, and armed conflict including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Prime Minister appoints the Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services, the current chief is General Peter Cosgrove. In 2005–06 the Australian Defence budget is $17.5 billion.

States and Territories
Australia consists of six states and several territories. The states are New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA). The two major territories are the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT also incorporates a separate area within New South Wales known as Jervis Bay Territory, intended as a naval base and sea port for the national capital. Whilst the territories operate similarly to the states, they are constitutionally subject to the Commonwealth Government, and the Commonwealth Parliament can legislate directly in their affairs. By contrast, the powers of the states are protected by the Australian Constitution.

Each of these states, except Queensland, have their own bicameral parliaments. Queensland and the two territories have unicameral parliaments. The lower house is known as the Legislative Assembly (House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania) and the upper house the Legislative Council. The head of government in each state and territory is called the Premier and Chief Minister respectively. The states each have a Governor, the Northern Territory an Administrator and in the ACT the Governor-General acts equivalently. The state and territory parliaments have powers to raise revenue from taxes and to legislate on a wide variety of matters. Notably the states and territories of Australia have their own law enforcement agencies and courts and regulate education within their borders.

Australia also has several inhabited external territories: Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and several largely uninhabited external territories: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Geography and climate
The 7,686,850 km² Australian landmass is on the Indo-Australian Plate and is surrounded by the Indian, Southern and Pacific oceans, and separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas, with total of 25,760 km of coastline. Climate is highly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which causes periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.

By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid – 40 per cent of the land mass is covered by sand dunes. Australia is the driest inhabited continent, the flattest, and has the oldest and least fertile soils. The highest mountain in Australia is Mawson Peak on Heard Island at 2,745 m. At 2,228 m, Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. The northern part of the country has a tropical climate: part is tropical rainforest, part grasslands, and part desert. The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 1,200 km. Located in central Australia, Uluru (until 1986 officially known as Ayers Rock) is the second largest monolith in the world (the largest being Mount Augustus in Western Australia).

Flora and fauna

Although most of the continent is semi-arid or desert, Australia nevertheless includes a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Because of the great age and consequent low fertility of the continent, its extremely variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85 per cent of flowering plants, 84 per cent of mammals, more than 45 per cent of birds, and 89 per cent of inshore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Many of Australia's ecoregions and the species within those regions are threatened by human activities, introduced plant and animal species, land clearing and degradation. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is used at the National level for the identification and protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created to protect and preserve Australia's unique ecosystems, 64 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention and 16 World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia ranked 13th in the World on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index.

Most Australian plant species are evergreen and many are adapted to fire and drought, including the eucalypts and acacias. Australia has a rich variety of endemic legume species that thrive in nutrient-poor soils due to their symbiosis with Rhizobia bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Well-known Australian fauna include monotremes (the Platypus and an echidna) as well as a host of marsupials, including the Koala, kangaroos, wombats and the Emu. The Dingo was introduced by Austronesian people that traded with Indigenous Australians around 4000 BCE. Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after human settlement including the Australian megafauna; many more were wiped out after European settlement, among them the Thylacine.


Australia has a prosperous Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant Western European economies, and ranked third on the 2004 Human Development Index and sixth on The Economist world-wide quality-of-life index 2005. In recent years, the Australian economy has been resilient in the face of global economic downturn, with steady growth. Rising output in the domestic economy has been offsetting the global slump, and business and consumer confidence remains robust. Australia's emphasis on reform is another key factor behind the economy's strength. In the 1980s, the Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Treasurer Paul Keating, commenced the modernisation of the Australian economy by floating the Australian dollar in 1983, leading to full financial deregulation. Since 1996 the Howard government has implemented microeconomic reform policies on the labour market, and has privatised monopolies including the telecommunications industry.

Since the recession of the early 1990s, the Australian economy has not suffered a recession in over 13 years. In April 2005, unemployment had fallen to a level of 5.1 per cent, the lowest level since the late 1970s. The agriculture and natural resources sectors contribute 3 and 5 per cent of GDP and make up the bulk of Australia's exports. Australia's largest export markets include Japan, China, the United States, South Korea and New Zealand. The service sector of the economy including tourism, education, financial services makes up 69 per cent of GDP. One area of concern to some economists is a perpetually high current account deficit and associated high net foreign debt, usually attributed to a high level of household borrowing.

Most of the estimated 20.3 million Australians descend from 19th- and 20th-century immigrants, the majority initially from Britain and Ireland. Australia's population has more than doubled since the end of World War I, spurred by an ambitious post-war immigration program. In the 2001 census the five largest groups of Australians born overseas were from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam and China. The 2001 census states that the self-declared indigenous population (including Torres Strait Islanders, who are of Melanesian descent) is 410,003 (2.2 per cent of total), a significant increase from the 1977 census when the population was 115,953. Although Australia has a population density of two persons per square kilometre of total land area, it is one of the world's most urbanised countries, less than 15 per cent of the population live in rural areas.

In common with many other developed countries, Australia is currently experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more people retiring and fewer people of working age. A large number of Australian citizens (759,849 for the period 2002–2003) live outside of their home country. The phenomenon is often termed the Australian Diaspora. Australia maintains one of the most active immigration programs in the world in order to sustain population growth.

English is the main official and spoken language in Australia — 80 per cent of the population speak only English at home according to the 2001 census. The three most common languages other than English spoken at home are Chinese languages (2.1 per cent), Italian (1.9 per cent) and Greek (1.4 per cent). A considerable number of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. Australia is home to a number of indigenous languages. Estimates usually put the number of Australian Aboriginal languages at between 200 and 300 at the time of first European contact, with the number of surviving languages now around 70, with all but 20 considered endangered languages. The total number of Australians whose main language at home is an Aboriginal language is over 50,000 (0.02 per cent). Australia also has a deaf sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 6,500 Australians.

The Australian Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state; there is no state religion in Australia. The 2001 census shows that sixty-eight per cent of Australians call themselves Christian, 21 per cent and 27 per cent identifying themselves are Anglican and Catholic respectively. Like many Western countries, the level of active participation in church worship is much lower than this; a 2001 survey indicated that weekly attendance at church services was about 1.5 million, about 7.5 per cent of the population. Five per cent identify themselves as followers of non-Christian religions, and 26 per cent are not religious.

School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia between the ages of 6–15 years (16 years in South Australia and Tasmania), and for this reason Australia's adult literacy rate is assumed to be 99 per cent. Government grants have aided in the establishment of numerous universities, and although some private universities have been established, the majority receive government funding. There is a national system of vocational training colleges, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. ABS figures show that approximately 58 per cent of Australians between the age of 25 and 64 have a vocational or tertiary qualification.


Much of Australia's culture has developed from European and more recently American roots, but distinctive Australian features have evolved from the environment, Aboriginal culture, the multicultural population and the influence of Australia's neighbours. Australia has a long history of visual arts, starting with the cave and bark paintings of Aboriginal Australians. From the time of European settlement, a common theme in Australian art has been the Australian landscape, seen in the works of Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd and Albert Namatjira amongst others. Australian literature is also influenced by the landscape; the works of writers like Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson captured the iconic Australian bush. The character of the colonial Australians embodied in early literature resonates with Australia today, egalitarianism, mateship, and anti-authoritarism, are still perceived as a part of the national character.

The traditions of indigenous Australians are oral and closely tied to ceremony and the telling of the stories of the Dreamtime. Australian Aboriginal music, dance and art are a visible influence on and within contemporary Australian visual and performing arts. The performing arts are well developed in Australia, with a rich tradition in ballet and theatre; a strong national opera company, Opera Australia, made prominent by the world renowned diva Dame Joan Sutherland; and symphony orchestras in all capital cities. Australian music includes, classical, jazz and all popular music genres.

Australia's film industry has met with critical and commercial successes; most recently the animated short film Harvie Krumpet received an Academy Award. Australia also has strong local television production, particularly children's, lifestyle, soap and drama series, Australian television shows like The Saddle Club, Neighbours, Home and Away and McLeod's Daughters are currently broadcast internationally. Australia has three commercial and two public broadcast television networks, and two pay TV services; each major city has daily newspapers and there are two national daily newspapers, one of which is called The Australian. According to Reporters Without Borders in 2004, Australia is in 41st position on a list of countries ranked by Press Freedom; well behind New Zealand (9th) and United Kingdom (28th). This ranking is primarily due to limited diversity of media ownership.

Australian cuisine has been widely influenced by the immigrant population; European, Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern food items are prepared in the homes of many Australians. Indigenous Australian foods including kangaroo and a variety of plant foods, often called "bush tucker" remain specialty items. Uniquely Australian foods include the Tim Tam biscuit and the salty yeast spread Vegemite.

Sport is a part of the lifestyle of many Australians. An estimated 3.51 million Australians over the age of 15 (23.5 per cent) participate in organised sporting activities, and 62 per cent of children aged 5–14 participate in organised sport. At the national and international level Australia has strong teams in the following sports: Australian Rules football, cricket, netball, Rugby League, and Rugby Union. Australia is one of only two countries (the other being Greece) to have participated in every summer Olympic Games of the modern era; Australia hosted the 1956 and 2000 Summer Olympics; Australia has also participated in every Commonwealth Games. Corporate and government sponsorship of many sports and élite athletes is common in Australia. Televised sport is also popular; some of the highest rating television programming includes the summer Olympic Games and the grand finals of local and international football competitions.

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