Geography of Australia
The Aboriginal people were the first inhabitants of the Australian continent. Most anthropologists believe they migrated to the continent at least 50,000 years ago, and occupied most of the continent by 30,000 years ago. Although Australia was not known to the Western world, it did exist in late medieval European logic and mythology: A great Southland, or Terra Australis, was thought necessary to balance the weight of the northern landmasses of Europe and Asia. In the 15th century, Portugal's navigation around Africa in pursuit of a trade route to India rekindled European interest in the region.
In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Spain, having established its empire in South and Central America, began a series of expeditions from Peru to the South Pacific. The most notable of these was by Luis Vaez de Torres in 1606, as he passed within sight of the Australian continent along the strait that now bears his name, between New Guinea and Australia. But Spanish interests were farther north in the Philippines, and the voyagers did not return.
It wasn’t until the invent of better ships and navigation, that Europeans were able to
overcome the challenges of sailing in the southern Pacific.
The 18th century in Western Europe ushered in the Age of Enlightenment, when philosophers and scientists stressed the value of global exploration. This led British explorers to voyage far and wide in search of new fauna and flora, a mission that well suited Britain's growing power as a maritime empire.
Although its general boundaries were becoming known, Australia appeared to be a remote and unattractive land for European settlement. But Britain's growing commercial and military ambitions in the Pacific, combined with its domestic social and political tensions, helped to draw Australia into the web of British strategic ambitions.
Australian soils and climate, with the recurrent droughts, were better suited for large-scale livestock grazing than for farming. During the 1830’s and 1840’s, the continent was rapidly transformed as squatters established huge sheep runs. Paying only a minimal license fee, squatters could claim virtually as much land as they wanted. From 1830 to 1850, wool exports rose from two million, to 41 million pounds, while the population of the colonies increased from 70,000 to 334,000. With new immigrants, and the growth of cities, the Australian colonies were poised to enter a new phase of development.
World War I (1914-1918), helped to create a sense of national identity in Australia. Responding to the allied call for troops, Australia sent more than 330,000 volunteers, who took part in some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Suffering a casualty rate higher than that of many other participants, Australia became increasingly conscious of its contribution to the war effort.
However, the Great Depression that hit in 1929, cut deeply into the health of the Australian economy. Tremendous unemployment and staggering public and private debts produced hard times for the young nation.
Upon assuming responsibility for its own foreign affairs, Australia was guided by its cultural and political ties with Britain. Emphasis was placed on following Britain's leadership in solving the problems of the depression.
The elections of 1941, returned the Labor Party to power for the first time since 1931, and John Curtin became prime minister. British Singapore, long regarded as one of the world's strongest fortresses, fell to Japanese forces in February 1942, and shortly thereafter Britain's Royal Navy suffered defeat in the Pacific. In March, Japanese forces occupied the Dutch East Indies, and landed on New Guinea. Japanese bombers raided Darwin several times, and Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbor. Soon, Britain was no longer able to supply naval protection to Australia. Although Australian casualties were lighter than in World War I, Australians were more psychologically affected by World War II because they feared Japanese invasion.
Australian industry was again transformed by the needs of war. The economy was redirected toward manufacturing, with heavy industries ringed the major cities.
After World War II, Australia remained active in the Western military alliances, contributing troops to the Korean Conflict (1950-1953), and the Vietnam War (1959-1975), as a staunch ally of the United States.
Beginning in the late 1960’s, Australia experienced the waves of cultural change that swept through many of the Western democracies: the coming of political age of the postwar baby boomers, movements for women's liberation, indigenous rights, and a growing awareness of environmental issues.
Among the larger cultural issues with which Australia grappled with in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, was the question of Aboriginal land rights. Like other colonial countries such as Canada, Australia was challenged to address the land claims of the indigenous inhabitants of the country, who had been largely ignored for centuries. In 1992, in the historic Mabo v. Queensland case, the High Court of Australia ruled that the people of the Murray Islands, in the Torres Strait, held title to their land, thereby acknowledging that Australia was occupied at the time of European settlement. In 1993, the government passed an act allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to file land claims.
By the early 1990’s, public opinion polls showed that most Australians favored the establishment of a federal republic, with an Australian president replacing the British monarch as head of state. Prime Minister Keating had placed himself at the head of the republican movement, but by 1996, many electors perceived him as arrogant, and his government as out of touch with the electorate.
Campaigning on a platform of economic reform, and directing its appeal to the ‘battlers,’ - the disenchanted working class electors of the ‘bush’ and outer suburbs - the Liberal-National coalition won solid majorities in both houses of parliament.
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 southeast.
The geographic coordinates of the country are 27 degrees 00 minutes south, and 133 degrees and 00 minutes east. On the mainland, the northernmost point of the country is Cape York in Queensland, while the southernmost point is South Point in Victoria, and the easternmost point is Cape Byron in New South Wales, while the westernmost point is Steep Point in Western Australia.
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. Standard Time returns 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 2.97 million square miles (7,692,024 sq km), and it is the sixth largest country in the world by area.
Australia is also the only continent without any glaciers. The low plateaus and the deserts are characteristic of the general flatness and dryness of the country. But fertile plains are found in the southeast. A very distinctive feature of the country is its vast coastline.
The highest point in the country is Mount Kosciuszko, in New South Wales, which is 7,309 feet, (2,228 m) high, while the lowest point is Lake Eyre in South Australia which lies -49 feet (15 m) below sea level.
The northern part of Australia is quite warm or hot throughout the year since it lies in the tropics; the central part is arid and dry; 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 just below freezing, to as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
The coastal parts of northeastern Australia experience the maximum rainfall in the country, with almost 80% of the country receiving less than 24 inches (600 mm) of rainfall per year. Thus, most of the country, except the coastal areas, are 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 is 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 most 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, with very few being 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, and Lake Mackay, Lake Wells in Western Australia; and Lake Amadeus in the Northern Territory.
Some other prominent lakes are; Rason Lake, Lake Gregory, Lake Disappointment, Lake Austin, and Lake Barlee.
The total official population of Australia for the year 2014, is 22,507,617.
For 2014, the estimated birthrate is 12.19 births per 1,000, and the death rate is 7.07 deaths per 1,000 of population, while the infant mortality rate is 4.43 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 1.09%.
The distribution of population in Australia is heavily slanted. The two coastal areas of the southeast and southwest, situated on opposite sides of the continent, are home to the majority of the population. The population densities are highest along these seaboards, particularly in the cities. However, the population density reduces drastically once you travel inland towards the center of the country. The central Australian estimated population density is 2 persons per square miles.
The 2016 figures for age structure in Australia show that 17.84% of the population consists of children between 0-14 years, 12.96% of the population is in the early working age between 15-24 years, 41.55% of the population is in the prime working age between 25-54 years, 11.82% of the population is in the mature working age between 55-64 years, and 15.82% of the population is elderly, age 65 years and over.
As per a 2015 estimate, 89.4% of the total population in Australia is classified as urban population, while the remaining 10.6% is classified as rural population.
The main religion in Australia is Christianity, comprising of Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian faiths, 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, and aboriginals.
Australian cuisine has been heavily influenced by the British and Irish, since 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. 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 the omnipresent fish & chips, are some of the country’s most popular meals.
Australian music finds its origin in both, 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.
Australian Art can 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 at 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 is visible in streets, parks, public squares, and buildings. Australia has several sculpture parks such as 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.
The most famous and easily recognizable building in Australia is the Sydney Opera House, 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 and terrain, and vast coastlines, beach houses and ‘wool sheds’ are popular in the country.
Historically Australia was a collection of British colonies, thus 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, in 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. Australia has produced many well-known actors in both their domestic market, and in Hollywood. Some notables are; The original Road Warrior, 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 an obsession. The most popular sports in Australia include Cricket, Football, Rugby, Horse Racing, Swimming, and Tennis. It has been said, that if beer drinking was a sport, Australians would be world champions.
- 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
- Music: Kylie Minogue, Olivia Newton John, AC/DC
- 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.
Several Australians have made their mark in the world, some notables:
The fiscal year in Australia is from July 1st, to June 30th, of each year.
In 2015, agriculture contributed 3.7%, industry contributed 28.9% and the services sector contributed 67.4% to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country, which is USD 1.241 trillion.
Per 2009 data, 3.6% of the labor force in Australia was engaged in agriculture; 21.1% in industry, and 75.3% in the services sector. Agricultural products of the country include Wheat, Barley, Sugarcane, Fruits, and Poultry.
Industries in Australia include mining, industrial, and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, and steel.
Total imports in Australia were estimated at $203.1 billion in the year 2016, while the total exports were $184.3 billion.
Natural resources found in the country include; Bauxite, Coal, Iron Ore, Copper, Tin, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Nickel, Tungsten, rare earth elements, mineral sands, Lead, Zinc, Diamond, natural gas and Petroleum.
Total exports for Australia were estimated at $184.3 billion in 2016. 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 $203.1 billion in 2016. The country mostly imports machinery, transport equipment, computers, office machines, telecommunication equipment, crude oil and petroleum products. Its main import partners are China, the US, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Thailand, and South Korea.
Transport and Communication
The Tourism Industry is worth over $118 billion per year in 2015 estimates, and employs over 543,000 people across the country. 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.
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.
Other prominent points of attraction are Kangaroo Island, Mungo National Park, Sydney Opera House, and Kakadu.
With its cities spread across the continent, approximately 511,400 miles of roads create 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 25,763 miles of 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 approximately 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 coastline touching two oceans, Australia has many ports. Some ports are dedicated for passengers, while others are for cargo. Important ports of 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.
For the year 2013, Australia had a total of six operating satellites. Of these, four are commercial satellites, one is a civil satellite, and one is a military satellite.
Telephone/ Mobile network
The international country code for Australia is 61. There were 10.57 million telephone lines used, and 24.49 million mobile cellular connections in the country, according to 2011 data.
The internet country code for Australia is ‘.au,’ and as per the 2015 data, there were 19.238 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 different species of plants and animals, and many are not found anywhere else in the world.
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.
State and Politics
Australia has more than 500 National Parks, spread over the 28 million hectares of land. Six National Parks 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.
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 July 9th, 1900, and came into effect on January 1st, 1901.
Everyone over the age of 18 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 September 14th, 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull has been the Head of the Government; while Queen Elizabeth II has been the Head of State since 6 February 6th, 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, and is held by Sir Peter Cosgrove since March 28th, 2014.
Human Development Index (HDI)
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 2012 was 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP).
As per the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Australia was ranked second in the world with a HDI of 0.935 in 2014.
The life expectancy at birth in Australia is 82.15 years. Estimated expenditure on health care for the year 2013 is 9.4% 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%. Estimated expenditure on education for the year 2011 was 5.1% of the GDP.
Per Capita National Income
The Gross Domestic Product per capita for the year 2016 was USD 48,800 as estimated by CIA Factbook.
Australian government official website
Last Updated on: July 26th, 2017
Tourism Australia website