[ACT] - [NSW] - [NT] - [QLD] - [SA] - [TAS] - [VIC] - [WA]
Commonwealth of Australia
The Australian Flag:
Australia's name came from the Latin words australis incognita, meaning "unknown southern land". This was because there was confusion between Australia and Antarctica on early world maps!
Area: 7,682,300 sq km
STATES & TERRITORIES:
Largest City: Sydney
Offshore Island State:
Density: 2.3 persons per sq km
Annual Growth : 1.38%
Official Language: English
Major Religions: Protestantism, Roman Catholicism
NB: The above statistics are 1994 estimations.
EDUCATION & HEALTH:
Literacy: Virtually 100% of adult population (1994)
Universities: 45 (1990)
Hospital Beds: 86,036 (1990)
Physicians: 36,610 (1986)
Infant Mortality: 6.6 per 1,000 live births (1994)
GNP: $339.7 billion
Per Capita: $19,100
External Debt: $141.1 billion
NB: The above statistics are 1993 estimations.
Type: Federal parliamentary state
Political Subdivisions: 6 states, 2 territories
Railroads: 35,760 km total
Roads: 837,872 km total
Major Ports: 13
Major Airfields: 9
NB: The above statistics are 1992 estimations.
The climate of Australia varies from region to region. Up in the north, it is hot and tropical with monsoons in some places. The centre is mainly very hot and dry. In the south some parts are temperate with cool and wet winters, while other parts are sub-tropical. Hurricanes and cyclones are not uncommon on both coasts of Australia. Droughts are usually limited, although severe national droughts have occured.
Australian seasons are the opposite of those in Europe and North America: summer commences in December, autumn in March, winter in June and spring in September. Seasons do not change dramatically and it is rare for temperature to fall below zero on the mainland, except in the mountains.
Australia is the world's smallest continent but the largest island and sixth-largest country. It is bounded by the Indian Ocean on the west and south, the Pacific Ocean on the east, and Arafura Sea in the north between Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea. With proportionately more desert land than any other continent, Australia has a low population density. The coastline length, estimated at 19,200 km, is remarkably short for so large an area, a result of the relative lack of indentation. Major inlets other than the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Australian Bight are few.
Australia is basically an extensive low plateau. It is the world's flattest continent and also one of the oldest. The continent was not affected by recent geological mountain-building forces, and all its land forms are highly eroded. The world's average elevation is 700m, three-quarters of Australia's land mass lies between 180m and 400m above sea level, with the highest point - Mount Kosciusko - only 2228m high.
Australia can be divided into three major physical regions: the vast Western Plateau, the Eastern Highlands, and the Great Artesian Basin.
Western Plateau consists of about 60 percent of the continent, more than 4,500,000 sq km of central and western Australia. The Western Plateau contains some of the world's oldest rocks and substantial mineral deposits. The flat, treeless Nullarbor Plain of south central Australia is the southern edge of the plateau. Erosion of the plateau's thick sandstones has produced mesas and buttes in Arnhem Land in the north and in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of the northwest. In the centre of the continent rise the MacDonnell Ranges, carved out of ancient sediments and deformed by open folding. They culminate in Mount Zeil, at 1,150 m (4,955 ft), the highest point in the Western Plateau. Ayers Rock is to the south of this area.
The Western Plateau is marked by aridity, and its desert and semidesert lands are extensive. The soils are generally thin and of little or no value for agriculture or grazing. Much of this area is covered with sand ridges. Sand-ridge country accounts for nearly a quarter of Australia's total land area. Other large portions of the continent's desert and semidesert country consist of gibber (stony desert), formed by the breakup of surface rocks.
The Eastern Highlands serve as a continental rim. These highlands, also known as the Great Dividing Range, are mainly plateau country and are separated from the discontinuous coastal plain by steep, erosional slopes. Elevations exceed 1,500 m in parts of the northern rim, but half the ground here is below 300 m. The New England Range and Blue Mountains to the south vary in height from 900 to 1,500 m. The Australian Alps in the extreme southeast reach more than 1,800 m and conclude with Mount Kosciusko in the Snowy Mountains. A detached and heavily glaciated portion of the Australian Alps occurs in Tasmania, where it exceeds 1,000 m in elevation. The Eastern Highlands form a major drainage divide of Australia. Off the tropical northeastern coast lies the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef at 2,000 km long.
Great Artesian Basin lies between the Western Plateau and the Eastern Highlands. Most of the basin is less than 300 m in elevation and much of it less than 150 m. In the north is the Carpentaria Basin, which lies mostly beneath the sea (Gulf of Carpentaria). The vast Eyre Basin contains Lake Eyre, the shore of which is the continent's lowest point, 16 m below sea level. The Eyre Basin is almost separated from the Murray Basin on the south by the projection of high ground (actually worn mountains) in the Flinders, Mount Lofty, and Barrier Ranges. The overlap of the Simpson Desert from the Western Plateau to the interior basins somewhat blurs the physical distinction between the regions.
The original inhabitants of Australia were the Aboriginal People, probably descending from south-east Asia to reach the continent about 12,000 years ago. They were tribal, nomadic people who lived by hunting and gathering, a way of life many of their descendants still follow today in the Outback. Their population at the time the first European settlers arrived has been estimated at about 300,000 but numbers soon dwindled. The Tasmanian Aboriginal people have been extinct since about the 1880s and the Aboriginal population of the mainland is now estimated at approximately 160,000.
Dutch explorers first sighted Australia in 1606 but it wasn't until Dutch navigator Abel Tasman discovered Tasmania that anyone was interested in this apparently barren land.
In 1770, Captain James Cook explored the fertile eastern coast of Australia and claimed the land for Great Britain. In 1778 the first settlement was founded in Sydney at an excellent harbour on the southeast coast. This site was to be used as a penal colony. A prison settlement was established at Port Jackson, just north of Botany Bay. A second penal extension was made in Port Arthur,Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) the site now known for its massacre by a mad gunman. The early years were ones of great hardship and near starvation.
As more and more colonies were established the division between states was also decided upon.
Apart from the widely separated colonies around its coasts, little was known of Australia until its interior began to be explored, especially after 1840. From then to the end of the century, many intrepid explorers such as Robert O'Hara Burke, Edward John Eyre, John Forrest, John McDouall Stuart, Charles Sturt, Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, and Ludwig Leichhardt trekked inland, often with camels, only to discover its barren, inhospitable, even forbidding nature.
The discovery of gold in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s, led to new settlements, as mining towns sprang up across the states. With the discovery, it brought a flood of migrants all searching for that lucky break. For the progress of the nation it was great thing for it developed Australia as a country in the world. It also produced conflicts, sometimes erupting into violence as in the miners' rebellion at Eureka, Victoria, in 1854. Miners fought between the British police over unfair gold license fees. People were injured and killed and consequently, empowered by the Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850, all colonies, except Western Australia, adopted representative and responsible forms of government by 1860.
Subsequent industrialization has been rapid, and today Australia ranks as one of the world's most economically developed countries, although vast areas of the interior, known as the Outback, remain all but uninhabited.
Australia is a multicultural country. Australians were predominantly of British and Irish descent but that has changed dramatically after World War II. Australia became home to large amount of immigrants from Greece, Italy Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Turkey after the war, and more recently to immigrants from Asia. There are also the Torres Strait Islanders Aboriginal people who were thought to be the first people to arrive in Australia. Most Australians are English speaking. The Aussie's speech are quite distinctive in that shortened and indigenous slangs are used.
Australians have been accused of being 'sports-crazy', and that is indeed true. However, they are also enthusiastic supporters of the arts and the communication industries. Australia ranks among the highest in their expenditure on arts and products in developed countries. Research also shows that Australians read more newspapers per head of population than any other nation!
Australian cultural achievements are becoming well known internationally through the awards gained by films and literature. Strictly Ballroom, the movie starring Paul Mercurio, won the Prix de la Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992. The New Zealand-Australian production of The Piano won the Palme d'Or in 1993. In the United Kingdom, Thomas Kenneally and Peter Carey are making a name for themselves by each winning the prestigious Booker Prize for Literature. In 1994 the New York Times described the Australian Ballet as a 'world-class company' when it toured the United States.
Aussies are world beaters in cricket, rugby league, rugby union, swimming and cycling. Other popular sports are basketball, yatching, soccer and Aussie Rules - a special Australian sport, similar to Gaelic football. The Olympic Games will be held in Sydney in the year 2000.
Aboriginal art was little known and appreciated until recent years, partly due to the small number of people that knew of the Aboriginal people's art. The fact that it was only drawn in natural pigments and on natural surfaces like rocks, bark or the earth was also a longstanding inhibition. Now with the use of paint and canvas, the Aboriginal art has become more 'permanent and portable'. Where once it was restricted to the ethnographic sections of museums it now can be displayed in contemporary art galleries and has been shown internationally.
Flora and Fauna
Because of its geographical isolation Australia has many unique plants and animals that have evolved over the years.
Native trees include over 600 species of eucalyptus (gum trees) and over 800 species of acacia (wattles) found right across the continent. The hard leaves on these plants act as a protection against water evaporation, therefore allowing the plants to survive dry seasons and semi-aridity, in the scorching Australian heat.
Australia's major vegetation belts are influneced by the climate zones. Tropical rain forest in the north and northwest coastal fringes include palms, hoop pines, tree ferns, and mangroves in coastal swamps. On the east coast, south of 26 degrees south latitude, tropical rain forest is replaced by subtropical and temperate rain forest of palms, tree ferns, and eucalyptus, and eventually by beeches and conifers in Tasmania. Rain forests cover about 9 percent of the continent.
On the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range (which serves as a climatic divide by acting as a barrier to rainfall), the vegetation cover thins to subtropical or temperate woodlands of eucalyptus and scrub, accounting for 9 percent of Australia's land area.
The semiarid belt supports mainly grassland south of the tropic of Capricorn and savanna woodland to the north. Together they constitute 26 percent of the continent. In areas of greater dryness, low-growing saltbush and bluebush become common. The extremely dry regions of Australia are distinguished by the highly specialized mulga, a shrubby acacia important as a forage plant. Valuable hardwoods such as jarra and kauri grow in the summer-dry southwest. A belt of mallee, a small, salt-tolerant eucalyptus, grows on sodium-rich soils.
Tall dense forests originally covered most of the coastal fringe and highlands, while in the arid inland areas there may be only saltbush and spinifex, although grasses and wildflowers like Sturt's desert pea and kangaroo paw in arid regions.
Australia's mammals, and particularly its unique marsupials, have attracted world attention. Marsupials are animals that carry their young in a pouch and evolved about 50 million years ago. Peculiar to Australia are the egg-laying mammals, the platypus and the echidna. Bird life is highly varied and includes the mallee fowl, cockatoo, lyrebird, various parrots, the kookaburra (or laughing jackass), and the large, flightless emu. Numerous species of snakes exist, many of which are poisonous. Among insects, leaf eaters, locusts, termites, and blowflies (which attack livestock) are destructive.The introduction from Europe of cattle, sheep, rabbits, foxes, rats, and cats has altered the natural picture and in some cases has been disruptive. Also, some native species have been hunted intensively.
The best known Australian animals are...
Kangaroo: A kangaroo is a marsupial mammal with large hind legs, a strong, muscular tail, small forelegs, a relatively small head, and large ears. It usually moves in by hopping. Female kangaroos have an abdominal pouch for carrying their young, which (like young of other marsupials) are born in a rather undeveloped state. Although the period of gestation, or pregnancy, may be short, generally ranging from 27 to nearly 40 days, the young may spend a long period in the pouch. In the case of the red kangaroo, Macropus rufus, they remain nearly eight months.
The 50 or more species of kangaroos are distributed from Tasmania and Australia proper to New Guinea and adjacent islands, and some have been introduced into New Zealand.
Koala: The koala, is a marsupial mammal with large head, hairy ears fringed with white, and a large nose. It has dense, woolly, grayish white fur and a vestigial tail. It grows up to 84 cm long, and weighs up to 14 kg. Selective eaters of eucalyptus leaves and young bark, koalas are solitary or live in small harems led by a single male. The young are born after a gestation period of 25 to 30 days and weigh about 5.5 g at birth. They spend about 6 months in the mother's pouch. Nearly exterminated by epidemics around the turn of the century, by massive slaughter for their fur into the 1920s, and by human-caused fires, koalas are now found only in the eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia. Fully protected by law, koalas are threatened by the loss of eucalyptus trees, and by Chlamydia psittaci, which can make them sterile.
Wallaby: Wallabies are small- to medium-size members of the kangaroo family. They differ from the other small members of the family, the rat kangaroos, in a number of characteristics, including long, oval-shaped ears, rudimentary or no canine teeth, and relatively smaller upper front teeth. Wallabies are found in grassy, brushy, or rocky terrain in Australia and New Guinea and in the Bismarck Archipelago, an island group northeast of New Guinea. Hare wallabies, Lagorchestes, grow to about 500 mm long, plus a 450-mm tail, and weigh up to about 2.7 kg. The brush wallabies, Wallabia, are among the fastest in the kangaroo family. They grow to about 1 m long, plus a 750-mm tail, and weigh more than 23 kg. They have been hunted with greyhounds, and some of the more lightly built brush wallabies have been known to escape their pursuers.
Kookaburra: The kookaburra, or laughing jackass, Dacelo gigas, is a large and noisy bird of the Australian forests. Although a member of the kingfisher family, Alcedinidae, order Coraciiformes, the kookaburra does not eat fish but feeds mainly on large insects and small reptiles and amphibians. At a maximum of 47 cm (18.5 in) in length, and with a 10-cm (4-in) bill, the kookaburra is larger than most kingfishers, but its brown and tan plumage is drab by the standards of the family. Kookaburras nest during the spring and lay 2 to 4 white eggs in tree holes or termite nests. Their loud cries, which resemble human laughter and are typically chorused at dawn and dusk, are one of the characteristic sounds of the Australian forests.
Wombat: The wombat is a burrowing, herbivorous, marsupial mammal in the family Phascolomidae, including two living genera in Australia and Tasmania: Vombatus, coarse haired with a naked nose; and Lasiorhinus, with soft fur and a hairy muzzle. Wombats are grayish brown, thick-bodied animals ranging from 70 to 120 cm (27-47 in) and weighing up to 27 kg (60 lb). The ventral pouch opens posteriorly. Wombats' large and numerous burrows are a hazard to domestic range animals.
Platypus: The duck-billed platypus is an egg-laying mammal of eastern Australia. It is a semiaquatic animal with a flat, rubbery bill and a beaverlike tail. The platypus is about 61 cm long, weighs about 1.8 kg, and has a coat of dark brown to yellow fur. Webbed feet enable the platypus to swim well. Each hind foot of the male has a poison spur that can kill small animals and inflict painful wounds on larger ones. Crushing its food with the plates of the bill and mouth, the platypus each day eats about half its own weight in worms, insect larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and vegetation, all consumed underwater. When feeding, it shuts its eyes, ears and nose, but electrosensors in its bill signal the presence of prey.The life span is about 10 years. The enemies of the platypus include large fish. [Picture]
Echidna: Echidnas, are egg-laying mammals that have compact, muscular bodies and short legs with broad feet and large claws that they use for digging up food in the form of termites, ants, and worms. The echidna's body is covered with coarse hair and barbless spines, and it has small ears, a stubby tail, and a long, toothless snout. The female lays a single, leathery egg, which is placed in a temporary pouch formed on her abdomen. The egg hatches in 7 to 10 days, and the young feeds on thick, yellowish milk that flows from the mammary glands along several tufts of hair into the pouch. Life expectancy of echidnas is over 50 years. In mammals, only humans have a longer life expectancy. [Picture]
Emu: The flightless emu, is widespread over Australia's open country. The largest bird except for the ostrich, the adult emu stands about 1.5 m high and weighs about 55 kg. Emus run at speeds of up to 50 km/h, defend themselves by kicking, and swim well. The hairlike plumage of both sexes is brownish grey. The slightly smaller male incubates a clutch of 8 to 10 dark green eggs for about 60 days, each egg weighing about 0.7 kg. The emu has served as a source of food, and it appears on the Australian coat of arms. Farmers often consider it a pest, however, because it may break fences and feed on crops (while also eating many insects). Smaller species were exterminated by settlers on nearby islands, but Australian emus survived even a brief "emu war" in 1932--an attempt at their mass destruction by using machine guns.
Dingo: The dingo, or Australian wild dog, is one of the few Australian mammals that is not a marsupial. It stands about 60 cm tall at the shoulder and is 120 cm long, including a bushy 30-cm tail. The muzzle is broad and heavy, the legs long, and the paws large. The short coat is tawny brown with whitish underparts. The Aborigines are believed to have introduced the dingo when they came to Australia approximately 30,000 years ago. Dingoes hunt singly or in small packs, killing wallabies, rabbits, sheep, and poultry. A litter has six to eight pups in it.
Tasmanian Devil: The Tasmanian devil is a carnivorous marsupial, and now found only in Tasmania but once widely distributed throughout Australia. The squat, low-slung body with its squarish head may grow to 80 cm long and the tail to about 30 cm long. Males may weigh 9 kg or more. The coarse, brown black coat has white patches on the face, sides, and chest. The jaws and teeth are massive bone crushers. Tasmanian devils feed at night on small animals and carrion. Up to four young are carried in the pouch for about 31/2 months.
Australian frilled neck lizard: The Australian frilled lizard, Chlamydosaurus kingi, of the family Agamidae, occurs in northern Australia and New Guinea. It has a large frill that is normally folded back over the shoulders. When the lizard is threatened, it opens its mouth and brings the frill forward in umbrellalike fashion, which greatly increases the apparent size of its head. In a 20-cm (8-in) adult, for example, the frill may be 18 cm (7 in) across. This defensive action, coupled with the bright yellow, scarlet, and blue colors of the frill, intimidates enemies and allows the lizard to escape. It can run bipedally, with the forelegs and tail held off the ground.
Cockatoo: Cockatoos are tropical birds in the parrot family,and are native to an area extending from Malaysia and Australia to the Philippines, they have long been popular cage birds because of their ability to mimic human speech. Many common species belong to the genus Cacatua. One of the largest cockatoos is the great black, or palm, cockatoo, of Australia and New Guinea; it is about 63 cm long and has black feathers with exposed patches of bright red skin on its cheeks. The smallest cockatoo is the cockatiel, of central Australia; grey with a yellow head, it is only about 30 cm long. All cockatoos have feathered crests, which they can raise or flatten. They also have large, curved, sharply pointed bills that are used to crack nuts. Most cockatoos feed on fruits, vegetables, and roots. In some parts of the world they are considered agricultural pests.