Australia is the only country that is also a continent. Australia lies between the South Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. The name Australia comes from the Latin word australis, meaning southern. The country’s official name is the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia is a dry, thinly populated land. The South eastern coastal region has the most people by far. Australia is famous for its vast open spaces, bright sunshine, enormous numbers of sheep and cattle, and unusual wildlife.
Kangaroos, koalas, wombats and platypuses are some of the animals that live in Australia. The country was once a British colony, and most of the Australian people are of British ancestry.
English is the official language of Australia. But they have a weird accent and some of their words are not found in the English of either Britain or America. Australian English differs from British English in certain ways The British who settled in Australia had to develop a vocabulary to describe the many unfamiliar animals and plants in their new environment.
Australia has a population of about 17, 000, 000. Most Australians are European immigrants or descendants of European immigrants. Aborigines make about 1 per cent of the population. Australia has about 206,000 Aborigines.
Each Australian State and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have their own laws concerning education. About three-fourths of students attend state schools. Australia has 33 universities.
Australia is surrounded by water, like an island. But geographers class it as a continent rather than as an island because of its great size. Tasmania was part of the mainland until about 12,000 years ago. Most of Australia is low and flat. The highest and most mountainous land lies along the East Coast.
Australia can be divided into three major land regions. They are, from east to west: the Eastern Highlands, the central lowlands, and western plateau.
Australian highest mountains rise in the Australian Alps in the extreme southern part of the Eastern Highlands. The Australian Alps consists of several ranges. The Snowy Mountains are the best known. Australian highest peak rises 2, 228 metres above sea level in the Snowy Mountains.
Deserts cover about a third of Australia. The country has four major deserts. All the deserts except the Gibson consist of swirling sands, which often drift into giant dunes.
Rivers are on of Australia’s most vital resources. Rivers provide the towns and cities with drinking water and they supply farmers with much-needed water for irrigation. The Murray River is Australia’s longest permanently flowing river.
Australia’s only large permanent lakes have been artificially created. Most of Australia’s natural lakes are dry for months or years at a time. Most of the time, a dry lake is simply a dry bed of salt or clay. It fills with water only after heavy rains.
Australia has fairly plentiful underground water. But most of it is too salty for people to drink or for use as irrigation.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef and one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions. The waters around the Great Barrier Reef are warm all year round.
The northern third of Australia lies in the tropics and so is warm or hot the year round. The rest of the country lies south of the tropics and has warm summers and mild or cool winters. Tasmania is the only area of the country where temperatures remain below freezing for more than a day or so at a time. Australia receives most of its moisture as rain. Snow falls only in Tasmania and the Australian Alps. About a third of the country is desert and receives less than 25 centimetres of rain a year.
Australia lies south of the equator, and so its seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter, the wettest and coolest season in Australia, lasts from June through August. Summer, which is the hottest and driest season, lasts from December through February. Tropical northern Australia has only two seasons - a wet season and a dry one.
Two main kinds of native plants, acacias and eucalyptuses, dominate Australia’s landscape. Australia has about 500 species of eucalyptuses. Palms and trees that resemble palms grow in many parts of Australia. Australia has thousands of wildflowers.
Australia is one of the world’s rich, developed countries. The processing of farm and mineral products makes up a major part of Australia’s manufacturing industry.
Only about 5 per cent of the country’s workers are farmers. Australia’s leading farm products by far are cattle and calves, wheat, and wool, followed by dairy products, fruit, and sugar cane.
Unlike most other developed countries, Australia imports more manufactured goods than it exports. Australia’s iron and steel industry produces enough of the metals to meet the needs of other industries. The leading manufactured products are processed foods; metals, including cars; paper, chemicals, textiles and household appliances.
Forests cover about 6 per cent of Australia. The northeast coast has tropical rain forests.
Although Australia is surrounded by water, its fishing resources are limited. Thousands of species of fishes live in the coastal waters, but only a few are both plentiful and good too eat.
Service industries are the economic activities that produce services, not goods. Service industries provide about two-thirds of Australia’s jobs and make up nearly two-thirds of Australia’s gross domestic product – the total value of goods and services produced annually.
Australia has a variety of tourist attractions. They include wildlife sanctuaries, sandy beaches, the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Alps, and numerous points of historical interest.
Except in the outback, nearly every Australian household has a telephone. In the remotest parts of the outback, many people use two-way radios in place of telephones.
Commercial broadcasters own and operate about half the radio stations and about a third of the TV stations.
Australia has about 60 daily newspapers, all of which are privately owned.
Cars are the chief means of passenger transportation in Australia. Nearly every family owns a car and uses it for most local travel.
Australia has two major domestic airlines. Air transportation is particularly important in the outback. Australia is a beautiful country and one day I would like to visit it myself.
National Geographic 1988/ 02
National Geographic 1987/ 03