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About Australia

Quick facts

Human population 21 million
Favourite sport Aussie rules football, rugby league, cricket (differs from state to state)
National symbols Kangaroo and emu (both native to Australia and originally chosen to symbolise a country going forward, as it is said that neither the kangaroo nor emu can move backwards easily)
Capital Canberra
Official language English
Leader Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
National parks 550 national parks plus 15 World Heritage-listed wonders


Australian geography

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world compromising a land area of almost 7.7 million square kilometres and is about the same size as the states of mainland USA. However, with the vast land it has the lowest population density in the world, with only two people per square kilometre.  More than 85 percent of Australia’s population live within 50 kilometres of the coast making the 10,000 beaches an integral part of Australian life.

Australia is divided into eight regions, comprising six states and two territories. They are all vastly different from the remote Outback to the incredible Great Barrier Reef and its coral islands, the vibrancy of the cosmopolitan cities, the sun and surf at some of the best beaches in the world, and the tropical rainforests of far north Queensland. The list of wonderful attractions is endless in this diverse land of adventure, which boasts 550 national parks and 15 World Heritage-listed areas.

Highest mountain Mt Kosciuszko (2,228 m)
Largest lake Lake Eyre (9500 sq km, salt-water lake)
Longest river River Murray (2375 km)
Longest beach Ninety Mile Beach in Victoria (151 km)
Largest desert The Great Victoria Desert (424,400 sq km)


Australian history

The land of Australia has a very long history, with the indigenous Australian Aboriginal people thought to have arrived by boat from South East Asia approximately 50,000 years ago during the last Ice Age. A number of European explorers sailed the coast of what was then known as New Holland, in the 17th century. However it wasn’t until 1770 when Captain James Cook chartered the east coast and claimed it for Britain. The new outpost was put to use as a harsh penal colony and on 26 January 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships carrying 1,500 people – half of them convicts – arrived in Sydney Harbour. Until penal transportation ended in 1868, 160,000 men and women came to Australia as convicts.

In the mid-1800s, the discovery of gold in parts of New South Wales and Victoria brought many men and women to Australia, in the hope of finding their fortunes. The large population of settlers searching for gold contributed to the growth of Sydney and Melbourne into large cosmopolitan cities, as is still the case today. Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution in 1901. After involvement by Australia in both World Wars, 1945 saw Australia enter a boom-period with hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants settling into Australia, keen for a chance at the bright future the country offered.  The ethnic diversity created during this period continues to have a great effect on the culture and values of present-day Australia.


Australian people and culture

Since 1945 more than six million people from across the world have come to Australia to live. Today, more than 20 percent of Australians are foreign born and more than 40 percent are of mixed cultural origin. In our homes we speak 226 languages. After English, the most popular are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic. Our rich cultural diversity is reflected in our food, which embraces most of the world’s cuisines and artfully fuses many of them.

Regardless of the original cultural heritage of Australia’s people, values of a ‘fair go’ for all, the importance of looking after your mates and having a good sense of humour permeate Australian life. A laid-back lifestyle involving barbeques, time at the beach and sports (both playing and watching sports) makes Australia a wonderful place to visit and to live.

The ancient culture of the Aboriginal people of Australia is an important part of the culture.  Many stories being passed down through art, craft, songs and dance tell of the Dreamtime, the sacred ‘time before time’ of creation.  According to Aboriginal belief, totemic spirit ancestors emerged from the earth and descended from the sky to awaken a dark and silent world. They created the sun, moon and stars, forged mountains, rivers, trees and waterholes and changed into human and animal forms. Spirit ancestors connect this ancient past with the present and future through every aspect of Aboriginal culture.


Australian language

Australians have a unique accent when speaking English and this can vary from state to state, with most people using quite a nasal pronunciation when speaking, flattening their  vowels and ending sentences with a slightly upward inflection. Australians also often use many colloquial terms, combining many long lost cockney and Irish sayings of the early convicts with words from Aboriginal languages. It is also common to abbreviate words and then add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end as in ‘bring your cossie to the barbie this arvo’, translating to ‘bring your swimsuit to the barbeque this afternoon’.  Reverse nicknames are also common, calling people with red hair ‘bluey’, saying ‘snowy’ to someone with dark hair, and tagging ‘lofty’ to someone who is small in stature.


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