Spread over an area of about 2.97 million square miles, Australia is the smallest of the seven continents – Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia. While it is commonly referred to as an island or more specifically as the island continent, geographers insist that Australia is not technically an island and may only be called a continent or a continental landmass. The most common definition of an island is any mass of land that is surrounded entirely by water but is smaller than a continent. Australia, then, being a continent, cannot be an island.
Now it becomes necessary to explain Australia’s status as a continent. The first criterion that allows us to call Australia a continent is having its own tectonic plate. Unlike Greenland, for example, which shares the North American continental plate, Australia sits on its own tectonic plate. This criterion, however, is not a very strict one since the continents of Europe and Asia share a tectonic plate.
The second criterion that is used to classify Australia as a continent is that the bio life found in Australia is indigenous. What we mean by this statement is, the diverse flora and fauna that can be found in Australia is specific to this country. It is unlike other plants and animals found in other parts of the world.
Apart from this, there is an anthropological distinction that seal’s Australia’s inclusion in the list of continents. The indigenous people of Australia, the Aborigines, belong to a race that is contained in the continent and its surrounding islands; this is similar to the indigenous people from other continents.
The distinction of what makes up an island may not be a very clear one but all these criteria together are adequate to qualify Australia as a continent rather than merely an island. Greenland is the largest island in the world which is not a continent. Even going by sheer size, Australia is far bigger than Greenland. Australia is far greater in population than Greenland, though this alone is not enough since Antarctica is the least populated region of the world but is designated a continent.