Australia ranks as one of the best countries to live in the world by international comparisons of wealth, education, health and quality of life. The sixth-largest country by land mass, its population is comparatively small with most people living around the eastern and south-eastern coastlines.
OFFICIAL NAME: Commonwealth of Australia
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal parliamentary democracy; Commonwealth realm
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: English
HEAD OF STATE: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
PRIME MINISTER: Malcolm Turnbull
MONEY: Australian dollar
AREA: 2,969,906 square miles (7,692,024 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Great Dividing Range, Macdonnell Ranges
MAJOR RIVERS: Murray-Darling, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan
Australia is the only country in the world that covers an entire continent. It is one of the largest countries on Earth. Although it is rich in natural resources and has a lot of fertile land, more than one-third of Australia is desert.
Most Australian cities and farms are located in the southwest and southeast, where the climate is more comfortable. There are dense rain forests in the northeast. The famous outback (remote rural areas) contains the country’s largest deserts, where there are scorching temperatures, little water, and almost no vegetation.
Running around the eastern and southeastern edge of Australia is the Great Dividing Range. This 2,300-mile (3,700-kilometer) stretch of mountain sends water down into Australia’s most important rivers and the Great Artesian Basin, the largest groundwater source in the world.
Australia’s ecosystem is an unusual one because of its remote location. As a result, there are many animal species that occur here and nowhere else in the world, such as the platypus,kangaroo, echidna, and koala. Australia has 516 national parks to protect its unique plants and animals.
One of Australia’s most amazing sites rises like an enormous whale’s back from a flat red-soil desert called the Red Center. This site is called Uluru, and it is a sacred natural formation at the heart of the country. Rising 1,100 feet (335 meters) tall, it is the largest rock in the world!
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of animals on the planet. There are 36 species of poisonous funnel-web spiders in eastern Australia. There are also 20 types of venomous snakes, including the taipan, which attacks without warning and bites repeatedly, killing its victim in minutes.
There are several types of rain forests in Australia. Tropical rain forests, mainly found in the northeast, are the richest in plant and animal species. Subtropical rain forests are found near the mid-eastern coast, and broadleaf rain forests grow in the southeast and on the island of Tasmania.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Australia is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nations. Nearly a quarter of the people who live in Australia were born in other countries. They come from the United Kingdom and other European countries, but also from China, Vietnam, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Australia’s warm, sunny climate and abundance of open spaces gives the population a love of the outdoors. The people are also passionate about sports, including swimming, surfing, sailing, tennis, soccer, cricket, rugby, and their own invention, Australian rules football.
Prime Minister: Malcolm Turnbull
A veteran politician in the conservative Liberal Party, Mr Turnbull ousted fellow Liberal Tony Abbott from the premiership through a party leadership challenge in September 2015, following a pattern that has seen Australia change leaders four times in two years.
Coming from the socially liberal wing of the party, he backs same-sex marriage and measures to counter climate change, and led the unsuccessful campaign for a republic in the 1999 referendum. This could spell problems with the Liberals’ right wing in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Some key dates in Australia’s history:
40,000 BC – The first Aborigines arrive from southeast Asia. By 20,000 BC they have spread throughout the mainland and Tasmania.
1770 – Captain James Cook charts the east coast in his ship HM Endeavour and claims it as a British possession, naming it “New South Wales”.
1901 – The Commonwealth of Australia comes into being.
1914 – Australia commits hundreds of thousands of troops to the British war effort during World War 1. Their participation in the Gallipoli campaign leads to heavy casualties.
1948 – Australia launches a scheme for mass immigration from Europe.
2002 – In Bali, 88 Australians are among 202 people killed when bombs go off in two nightclubs.
2008 – Government makes a formal apology for past wrongs committed against the indigenous Aboriginal population.
2013 – Tony Abbott wins a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.