AustraliaAustralia is both the name of the world's smallest continent, and the short form of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth largest country in the world (geographically), the only one to occupy an entire continent, and the largest in Australasia. New Zealand is to to the southeast; Papua New Guinea, and East Timor to its north, and Indonesia northwest. The name 'Australia' comes from the Latin phrase terra australis incognita ("unknown southern land", see Terra Australis).
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3 States and Territories
5 Flora and Fauna
9 Miscellaneous topics
10 External links
Australia has been inhabited for at least 50,000 years, since the remote ancestors of the current Australian Aborigines arrived from present-day Southeast Asia. The land was not discovered by Europeans until the 17th century, when it was sighted and visited by several expeditions. It was claimed for the United Kingdom in 1770, and first colonised in New South Wales in 1788 as an British penal colony. Most of the states that later federated to form Australia were not penal colonies.
In 1901, Australia adopted the Federal system of government and became a commonwealth, or dominion, within the British Empire, thereby becoming independent (though full formal independence took a considerable time after that). Australia is a Constitutional monarchy, with the 'Queen of Australia' reigning as head of state. Under Australian law, the monarch of the United Kingdom reigns also as Australian monarch. A referendum to introduce a republic, with a president replacing the Queen, in 1999 was defeated.
See also: Australian Constitutional History
The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy: the Queen of Australia is the official head of state and is represented by the Governor General. In practice the role of the Crown (and thus that of the Governor General) is largely ceremonial. The executive power theoretically vested in the Crown is exercised by an elected cabinet headed by a prime minister. The prime minister is almost always the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives (150 seats) is one of the two chambers of the federal parliament, the other being the Senate (76 seats). Elections for both chambers are held every three years.
See also: Republicanism in Australia
Australia is divided into six states and several territories. The states are Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania: the territories, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
Australia also has an additional minor internal territory, Jervis Bay Territory (a naval base in New South Wales), several inhabitated external territories (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and several largely uninhabited external territories: Coral Sea Islands Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-desert—40% of the landmass is covered by sand dunes—. Only the south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern part of the country has a tropical climate: part is tropical rainforests, part grasslands, and part desert. The Great Barrier Reef, by far the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast.
See also: Protected areas of Australia
Although most of the continent is desert or semi-desert, Australia nevertheless includes a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Because of the great age of the continent, its very variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique.
See also: Australian birds
Australia has a prosperous Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant Western European economies. In recent years, the Australian economy has been resilient in the face of global economic downturn, with steady growth.
See also: Australian dollar
Most of the Australian population descends from 19th and 20th century immigrants, most from the United Kingdom and Ireland to begin with, but from other sources in later years. Many inhabitants are of Greek, Italian or Asian descent. Descendants of the original population, the Australian Aborigines, make up 2.2% of the population, according to the 2001 Census. In common with many other developed countries, Australia is currently experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retired people and fewer of working age.
English is the spoken language in Australia, although some of the surviving Aboriginal communities maintain their native languages, and a considerable number of first and sometimes second-generation migrants are bi-lingual. Although the nation is broadly secular and few are church-goers, three-quarters of Australians are nominally Christian, mostly Catholic or Anglican. A diverse range of other religions is practised.
See also: List of cities in Australia
Related topics:Australian public holidays