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Geography of Australia
The Commonwealth of Australia or Australia is the only country in the world which is also a continent by itself. The island nation is bound by the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Across the water its neighbors are Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste to the North, and New Zealand to the South east.
Australia is divided into three time zones. These are AEST-Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC +10), ACST-Australian Central Standard Time (UTC +9.5) and AWST- Australian Western Standard Time (UTC +8).
Daylight Saving Time is practiced in Australia during the warmer months of the year and begins on the first Sunday of October, and reverts back to Standard Time on the first Sunday of April each year. With the clock set forward by one hour, the names of the time zones also change to AEDT-Australian Eastern Daylight Time (UTC +11) and ACDT-Australian Central Daylight Time (UTC +10.5). In the third time zone covering Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, daylight saving time is not observed.
The total area of Australia is 7,692,024 sq km and it is the sixth largest country in the world, area-wise.
Australia is also the only continent on earth without any glaciers. The low plateaus and the deserts are characteristic of the general flatness and dryness of the country, however fertile plains are found in the southeast. Another distinctive feature of the country is its vast coastline.
The highest point in the country is Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales which is 2,228 m high, while the lowest point is Lake Eyre in South Australia which lies 15 m below sea level.
The northern part of Australia is warm or hot throughout the year since it lies in the tropics; the central part is more or less arid; while the southern part of the country has warm summers and cool winters.
Since the country is a very large island, its climate is influenced by various factors, especially the surrounding oceans. The annual temperature ranges from as low as below zero degrees centigrade, to as high as above 50 degrees centigrade.
The coastal parts of northeastern Australia experience maximum rainfall in the country. Almost 80% of the country receives less than 600 mm of rainfall a year. Thus, most of the country except the coastal areas is relatively arid.
In general terms, four seasons can be distinguished in Australia, however since the continent lies in the southern hemisphere, the timings of the seasons are different from that in the northern hemisphere. Thus, spring is from September to November, summer is from December to February, autumn is from March to May, and winter is from June to August.
The rivers in Australia are different from those in other countries on two accounts; most of them are located near the coast, and others are seasonal due to the lack of high mountains in the country. The major rivers of the country are the Murray River, Murrumbidgee River, Darling River, Lachlan River, Warrego River, Cooper Creek, and Paroo River.
Most lakes in Australia are quite shallow and dry up during the summer months; very few are permanent lakes. Some of the largest lakes in the country are Lake Gairdner, Lake Torrens, Lake Eyre and Lake Frome in South Australia; Lake Carnegie, Lake Macleod, Lake Moore Western and Lake Wells in Western Australia; Lake Mackay in Western Australia and the Northern Territory; and Lake Amadeus in the Northern Territory.
The total estimated population of Australia for the year 2013 is about 23.5 million.
For the year 2013, the estimated birthrate is 12.23 births per 1,000, and the death rate is 7.01 deaths per 1,000 of population, while the infant mortality rate is 4.49 deaths per 1,000 live births. The sex ratio is estimated to be 1.06 males per female, and the growth rate of the population is estimated at 1.11%.
The distribution of population in Australia is quite uneven. The two coastal areas of the south east and south west, situated on opposite sides of the continent are home to majority of the population. The population densities are highest along these seaboards particularly in the urban centers and cities. However, the population density reduces drastically as one travels inland towards the center of the country. The estimated population density for the year 2013 was 2.8 persons per sq km.
The estimated figures for the year 2013 for age structure in Australia show that 18.1% of the population consists of children between 0-14 years, 13.4% of the population is in the early working age between 15-24 years, 42% of the population is in the prime working age between 25-54 years, 11.8% of the population is in the mature working age between 55-64 years, and 14.7% of the population is in the elderly age of 65 years and over.
As per the 2010 census, 89% of the total population in Australia is classified as urban population, while the remaining 11% is classified as rural population.
The main religion in Australia is Christianity, comprising of Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and other Christian sects, however the country also has Buddhists, Muslims and followers of other unspecified religions.
The languages spoken in Australia are English, Chinese, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese, and other unspecified languages. The country has no official national language, but English is considered to be the de facto national language since it is used by majority of the people.
Ethnic groups living in Australia include whites, Asians, aboriginals and others.
Australian cuisine has been heavily influenced by that of the British and Irish given that the island was a British Colony. However, derived from its aboriginal hunter gatherer traditions, indigenous Australian cuisine based on Kangaroo, Emu, and crocodile meat is also popular in the country. On the other hand, the nation’s multi-cultural immigration population has ensured a wide range of multi-ethnic foods as well as fusion cuisine. Roast dinners, meat pies, and fish and chips, are some of the country’s most popular meals.
Australian music finds its origin in both, its indigenous aboriginal as well as its colonial culture and today it is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Indigenous Australian music has produced the iconic sound instrument - the didgeridoo. Australian folk music and bush ballads are also well known, the most famous being Waltzing Matilda. Modern Australian music is however quite similar to that of the UK and the USA.
Art and Painting
Australian Art can basically be divided into the Aboriginal, Colonial, Landscape, Modernist and Contemporary periods. Aboriginal Art includes rock, body and bark paintings; rock engravings and cave paintings. When the first European settlers came to Australia they realized that the classical European style of painting could not capture the vast incredible landscapes of the Australian countryside; the Australian painters thus came up with their own style of landscape painting. Artists like the convict John Eyre, who produced paintings and engravings; and the landscape painter Conrad Martens (1801-1878) were the prominent painters in the early years of settlement.
The Heidelberg School is considered to be one of the most important art movements in Australia. It took place in the latter half of the 19th century and was centered on Heidelberg, where artists like Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917), Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) and Charles Condor (1868-1909) painted ‘en plein air’ (in the open air) in the style of the European impressionists. This is the movement that gave Australian art a sense of identity rooted in the love of landscape and the Bush.
Sculpture is a part of everyday public life in Australia and finds place in streets, parks, public squares and buildings, so much so that Australia has several sculpture parks - the McLelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, near Melbourne; Herring Island Environmental Sculpture Park, Yarra River; Macquarie University Sculpture Park, Sydney; and the National Gallery of Australia Sculpture Garden, Canberra. Australian sculpture followed classical European traditions in the 18th and 19th century; in the 20th century war memorials and the influence of Art Deco became important, and in the 1970s American influences of minimalism and abstraction made their impact.
Design and Architecture
The most famous and easily recognizable building in Australia is the Sydney Opera House, Sydney designed by Jorn Utzon (1918-2008). The New Parliament House in the Australian capital of Canberra by Romaldo Giurgola (born on 2 Sept 1920) is also one of the country’s most noted buildings. Since Australia was originally a penal colony, some of Australia’s most prominent landmarks have been designed by convict architects; like the Port Arthur penal settlement and Point Puer Boys Prison by Henry Laing (1802-1842). Responding to the climate, terrain and occupation of the Australians, beach houses and wool sheds are popular in the country.
Historically Australia was a collection of British colonies; hence its literature is predictably rooted in English literature. The most notable Australian writers include novelists Marcus Clarke (1846-1881), Miles Franklin (1879-1954), Christina Stead (1902-1983), Patrick White (1912-1990), Morris West (1916-1999), David Malouf (born in 1934), Thomas Keneally (born in 1935), and Colleen McCullough. Patrick White (1912-1990) is the only Australian to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Other well-known names in Australian literature include, Bush poets Banjo Paterson (1864-1941) and Henry Lawson (1867-1922); historians Manning Clark (1915-1991) and Geoffrey Blainey; playwright David Williamson and expatriate writers Barry Humphries, Robert Hughes (1938-2012), Clive James and Germaine Greer.
Although the seasons in the northern and southern hemisphere are different, the Australian fashion industry has emulated the trends of the northern hemisphere; albeit using local Australian textiles such as cotton and wool. Natural fibers emanating from Australia which have become popular in the international market include Cashmere, Mohair, and Alpaca fibers. The showcase of Australian fashion is presented annually in the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week, Sydney. Some well-known Australian designers are Carla Zampatti, Charlie Brown, Nicole and Simone Zimmermann, Lisa Ho, Saba, and Marcs and Collette Dinnigan.
The first public screening of films in Australia took place in October 1896, and the first-ever feature film produced in Australia was the Story of the Kelly Gang in 1906. The Australian film industry has remained robust producing internationally renowned films; however some well-known Australian film personalities have shifted to Hollywood to gain international recognition. These include Mel Gibson, Guy Pearce, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collete, Russel Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Eric Bana and Sam Worthington.
Sport is not only considered an integral part of Australian culture but also an obsession. The most popular sports in Australia include Cricket, Football, Rugby, Horse Racing, Swimming and Tennis.
Several Australians have made their mark in the world, which include: Academy Award winning actors Geoffrey Rush, Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett; film personalities Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger, Guy Pearce, Eric Bana, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths and Paul Hogan; pop princesses Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton John; film directors Bruce Beresford, Baz Lurhmann, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Phillip Noyce, Fred Schepsi and Peter Weir; cricketing legends Sir Donald Bradman, Ritchie Benaud, Allan Border, the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath; swimmers Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould, Kieren Perkins and Ian Thorpe; runner Cathy Freeman; tennis stars Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Pat Cash, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley; Nobel Prize winning pharmacologist and pathologist Howard Florey; Nobel Prize winning scientists William Bragg, John Warcup Cornforth, John Eccles, Bernard Katz, Peter Doherty and Elizabeth Blackburn; cardiac surgeon Victor Chang; ophthalmologist Fred Hollows and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The fiscal year in Australia is from 1 July to 30 June of each year.
As per the year 2012 estimates, agriculture contributed 4%, industry contributed 27.3% and the services sector contributed 68.8% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.
As per the year 2009 data, 3.6% of the labor force in Australia was engaged in agriculture; 21.1% in industry and 75% in the services sector services.
Agricultural products of the country include Wheat, Barley, Sugarcane, Fruits and Cattle, Sheep and Poultry.
Industries in Australia include mining, industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals and steel.
Natural resources found in the country include Bauxite, Coal, Iron Ore, Copper, Tin, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Nickel, Tungsten, rare earth elements and mineral sands, Lead, Zinc, Diamond, natural gas and Petroleum.
Total exports for Australia were estimated at USD 258.8 billion in the year 2012. The country mostly exports Coal, Iron Ore, Gold, Meat, Wool, Alumina, Wheat, machinery and transport equipment. Its main export partners are China, Japan, South Korea and India.
Total imports into Australia were estimated at USD 239.7 billion in the year 2012. The country mostly imports machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment and parts; crude oil and petroleum products. Its main import partners are China, USA, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Thailand and South Korea.
Travel and Tourism
The Tourism Industry is known to have contributed around $42 billion to the Australian economy in 2012-13. Australia has a variety of tourist destinations. Based on the number of travelers the most visited cities in the country are: Sydney, New South Wales; Melbourne, Victoria; Gold Coast, Queensland; Cairns, Queensland; Perth, Western Australia; Brisbane, Queensland; Adelaide, South Australia; Byron Bay, New South Wales; Noosa, Queensland and Darwin, Northern Territory.
While the most visited tourist spots in Australia are: The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians National Park in Victoria; Frazer Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest in Queensland; Kakadu National Park and the Uluru/ Ayers Rock in the Northern Territory, and the Freycinet National Park in Tasmania.
Transport and Communication
With its cities spread across the continent, approximately 823,217 km of roads is a vital network link in Australia. The country has many National Highways and State/ Territory Routes. The route numbering is a mix of the American and British System, which is still not followed uniformly in all the states.
Australia has the seventh largest railway network in the world, with 38,445 km of railway tracks. Some of the busiest passenger train stations in the country are Adelaide station, Adelaide; Central station and Roma Street station, Brisbane; Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station, Melbourne; Perth railway station, Perth; and Central station, Sydney.
Australia has about 467 airports of which the 10 largest ones are: Sydney, New South Wales; Melbourne, Victoria; Brisbane, Queensland; Perth, Western Australia; Adelaide, South Australia; Gold Coast, Queensland; Cairns, Queensland; Canberra, Australian Capital Territory; Hobart, Tasmania; and Darwin, Northern Territory.
With a vast coast line touching two major oceans, Australia has many ports some of which are dedicated for passengers while others for cargo. Important ports of the country are Brisbane, Cairns, Gladstone, Hay Point and Newcastle in Queensland; Dampier, Fremantle, Port Hedland and Port Walcott in Western Australia; Darwin in Northern Territory; Hobart and Port Dalrymple in Tasmania; Geelong and Melbourne in Victoria; Port Adelaide and Port Lincoln in South Australia; and Jervis Bay, Port Kembla and Sydney in New South Wales.
As of current data for the year 2013, Australia has a total of six operating satellites. Of these four are commercial satellites, one is a civil satellite and one is a military and commercial satellite.
Telephone/ Mobile network
The international country code for Australia is 61. There were 10.57 million telephone main lines in use and 24.49 million mobile cellular connections in the country, as per the year 2011 data.
The internet country code for Australia is ‘.au’ and as per the year 2009 data there were 15.81 million internet users in the country.
Based on the 2011 census, the 10 most populated cities of Australia are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Canberra, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Logan City.
Australia is believed to be home to over a million species of plants and animals of which many are not found anywhere else in the world. This uniqueness of its biodiversity is emphasized by the claim that about 85% of its flowering plants, mammals and freshwater fish are found only in the country.
Iconic flora of Australia includes the hummock grasslands as well as trees belonging to the genera of Acacia, Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, Grevillea and Allocasuarina; while iconic fauna are the Kangaroo, Koala, Echidna, Dingo, Platypus, Wallaby, and Wombat.
Australia has more than 500 National Parks spread over the 28 million hectares of land. Of these six are managed by the Australian Government while the rest are looked after by the respective states and territories. These six Commonwealth National Parks are: Booderee National Park, New South Wales; Christmas Island National Park, Christmas Island; Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory; Norfolk Island National Park, Norfolk Island; Pulu Keeling National Park, Cocos (Keeling) Islands; and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory.
The first inhabitants of Australia are believed to have arrived 50,000 years ago from South East Asia, and were a nomadic population called the Aborigines who settled in the well watered coastal areas of the vast island. Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish ships first sighted Australia in the 17th century.
It was the Dutch who first landed in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606. By 1616, this territory came to be known as New Holland. In 1788, the British set up a penal colony at Port Jackson, now known as Sydney, after the loss of its 13 American colonies in 1783. The penal system was suspended only in 1839.
Free settlers as well as the convicts eventually set up colonies across the country. In the early 19th century enterprising colonists brought the Merino Sheep to the country, to cater to the ever-growing demand for woolen garments in the United Kingdom. Breeding of sheep and production of wool subsequently become one of Australia’s biggest industries, and thus sheep became the basis of new wealth in Australia.
The discovery of Gold came in 1851, first in New South Wales and then in Victoria. This led to another influx of newcomers to the country. In the 1850s, Victoria produced more than one third of the world’s Gold. It was the discovery of Gold and the increasing population and wealth that influenced the British Government to hand over political responsibility to the colonies. The Commonwealth Federation of Australia was thus established on 1 January 1901.
After the two world wars, Australia saw a fresh wave of immigrants arriving from Europe and the Middle East. Present day Australia is perceived as a modern and developed nation and is home to immigrants from over 200 countries.
State and Polity
Administratively the country is divided into six states and two territories. Besides the states and the territories Australia has six dependent areas – Ashmore and Cartier Islands; Christmas Island; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Coral Sea Islands; Heard Island and McDonald Islands; and Norfolk Island, all of which are territories of Australia.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy based on the federal parliamentary democratic system, and a Commonwealth realm. The Constitution was adopted on 9 July 1900 and came into effect on 1 January 1901.
Everyone over 18 years of age is eligible to vote. The leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition becomes the Prime Minister following legislative elections; however the monarchy is hereditary. Since 18 September 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbot has been the Head of the Government; while Queen Elizabeth II has been the Head of State since 6 February 1952. However, the power vested in the queen is exercised by the Governor General who is appointed by her on the advice of the Prime Minister; which is held by Quentin Bryce since 5 September 2008.
The main branches of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) are the Australian Army (including the Special Operations Command), the Royal Australian Navy (including the Naval Aviation Force), the Royal Australian Air Force and the Joint Operations Command (JOC). Estimated expenditure on defense for the year 2012 was 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Human Development Index (HDI)
As per the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Australia was ranked second in the world with a HDI of 0.938 in 2013.
The life expectancy at birth in Australia is 81.98 years. Estimated expenditure on health care for the year 2011 is 9% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Any person above the age of 15 who can read and write is considered literate. The literacy rate in Australia is 99% (2003 estimate). Estimated expenditure on education for the year 2009 is 5.1% of the GDP.
Per Capita National Income
The Gross Domestic Product per capita is USD 67,468 as estimated for the year 2013 by World Bank.
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Last Updated : Feb 05, 2015
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