The Australian flag

Australia is both a continent and a country. The Indigenous people of Australia have the oldest living cultural history in the world, going back at least 50,000 to 65,000 years, with some of the longest surviving artistic, musical, and spiritual traditions known on Earth. The first uncontested landing in Australia by Europeans was by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606, and European settlers (primarily from Great Britain) began to populate the continent beginning in 1788. Australia became a unified country in 1901.

Australia is comprised of six states (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania) and two major mainland territories (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory). In most respects, the two territories function as states.

Australian states and territories

With the world’s thirteenth-largest economy and fifth-highest per capita income, Australia is a highly developed country. It also ranks high in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. The country has the second-highest human development index globally.

The name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning “southern.” The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz since the early twentieth century. Aussie is a common colloquial term for “Australian.”

  • Official Name: Commonwealth of Australia
  • Population: 22,620,600 (as of June 2011)
  • Capital: Canberra (population 365,400 as of June 2011)
  • Area: 3 million square miles (7.7 million square kilometers); about the size of the 48 contiguous United States
  • Nationality: Australian
  • Annual population growth rate: 1.4% (June 2011)
  • Life expectancy: 79.3 years (males), 83.9 years (females)
  • Ethnic groups: primarily Australian plus a large number of diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups
  • Literacy: over 99%
  • Major languages: English (plus around 150-200 Indigenous languages, only 20 of which are not considered to be endangered)
  • Major religions: Catholic 26%, Anglican 19%, other Christian 19%, other non-Christian 1%, Buddhist 2.1%, Islam 1.7%, no religion 19%, and not stated 12% (per 2006 census)
  • Major agricultural products: cattle, wheat, milk, fruit and nuts, vegetables, wool, barley, poultry, lamb, sugar cane
  • Major industries: mining, industrial, education and transport equipment, food processing, chemicals, steel
  • Main exports: coal, iron ore, education, gold, meat, wool, alumina, wheat, machinery and transport equipment
  • Main imports: machinery and transport equipment, computers and office machines, telecommunication equipment and parts, crude oil and petroleum products
  • Monetary unit: Australian Dollar (AUD)
  • GDP per capita: $69,007 (2010 est.)
  • Government: Constitutional monarchy: democratic, federal-state system
    • Prime Minister: Julia Gillard
    • Monarch: Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain
  • Terrain: varied, but generally low-lying
  • Climate: generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north
  • Natural resources: bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, rare earth elements, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum
  • Number of Internet subscribers: 10.9 million (as of the end of 2011, about 79% of all households had access to the Internet at home, and about 73% of all households had broadband connections)
  • Number of mobile handset subscribers: 9.7 million