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It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea , Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. Australia's capital is Canberra , and its largest urban area is Sydney. For about 50, years  before the first British settlement in the late 18th century,   Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians ,  who spoke languages classifiable into roughly groups.
The population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the s most of the continent had been explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies established. On 1 January , the six colonies federated , forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy comprising six states and several territories. Australia has the world's 13th-largest economy and ninth-highest per capita income IMF.
The population of 25 million  is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Until the early 19th century, Australia was best known as " New Holland ", a name first applied by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in as Nieuw-Holland and subsequently anglicised.
Terra Australis still saw occasional usage, such as in scientific texts. Colloquial names for Australia include " Oz " and "the Land Down Under" usually shortened to just " Down Under ". Other epithets include "the Great Southern Land", " the Lucky Country ", "the Sunburnt Country", and "the Wide Brown Land". The latter two both derive from Dorothea Mackellar 's poem " My Country ".
Human habitation of the Australian continent is estimated to have begun around 65, to 70, years ago,   possibly with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now Southeast Asia.
These first inhabitants may have been ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians. The Torres Strait Islanders , ethnically Melanesian , were originally horticulturists and hunter-gatherers.
The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent in , are attributed to the Dutch. The first ship and crew to chart the Australian coast and meet with Aboriginal people was the Duyfken captained by Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon. With the loss of its American colonies in , the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the " First Fleet ", under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip , to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales.
A camp was set up and the flag raised at Sydney Cove , Port Jackson , on 26 January ,  a date which became Australia's national day, Australia Day , although the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was not formally promulgated until 7 February The first settlement led to the foundation of Sydney , and the exploration and settlement of other regions.
A British settlement was established in Van Diemen's Land , now known as Tasmania, in , and it became a separate colony in South Australia in , Victoria in , and Queensland in The indigenous population, estimated to have been between , and 1,, in ,  declined for years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease.
A gold rush began in Australia in the early s  and the Eureka Rebellion against mining licence fees in was an early expression of civil disobedience. On 1 January , federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting.
Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from to while Canberra was being constructed. Britain's Statute of Westminster formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK.
Australia adopted it in ,  but it was backdated to to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II.
Since the s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy , immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in ,  there has been an increasing focus in foreign policy on ties with other Pacific Rim nations, while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners. Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, [N 6] it is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas, with the Coral Sea lying off the Queensland coast, and the Tasman Sea lying between Australia and New Zealand.
The world's smallest continent  and sixth largest country by total area ,  Australia—owing to its size and isolation—is often dubbed the "island continent",  and is sometimes considered the world's largest island. This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory. Mount Augustus , claimed to be the world's largest monolith,  is located in Western Australia.
Australia's size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with tropical rainforests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the south-east, south-west and east, and dry desert in the centre. Eastern Australia is marked by the Great Dividing Range , which runs parallel to the coast of Queensland, New South Wales and much of Victoria.
The northernmost point of the east coast is the tropical-rainforested Cape York Peninsula. The landscapes of the Top End and the Gulf Country —with their tropical climate—include forest, woodland , wetland, grassland , rainforest and desert.
To the south of these and inland, lie more areas of grassland: Prominent features of the centre and south include Uluru also known as Ayers Rock , the famous sandstone monolith, and the inland Simpson , Tirari and Sturt Stony , Gibson , Great Sandy, Tanami , and Great Victoria deserts, with the famous Nullarbor Plain on the southern coast.
Much of the northern part of the country has a tropical, predominantly summer-rainfall monsoon. The interior is arid to semi-arid. Australia's carbon dioxide emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, lower than those of only a few other industrialised nations. Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it includes a diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests , and is recognised as a megadiverse country. Feral cats may have been introduced in the 17th century by Dutch shipwrecks, and later in the 18th century by European settlers.
They are now considered a major factor in the decline and extinction of many vulnerable and endangered native species. Australian forests are mostly made up of evergreen species, particularly eucalyptus trees in the less arid regions; wattles replace them as the dominant species in drier regions and deserts.
Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced animal, chromistan , fungal and plant species. Australia is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy  with Elizabeth II at its apex as the Queen of Australia , a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen is represented in Australia by the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level, who by convention act on the advice of her ministers.
The Governor-General does have extraordinary reserve powers which may be exercised outside the Prime Minister's request in rare and limited circumstances, the most notable exercise of which was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of The federal government is separated into three branches:. In the Senate the upper house , there are 76 senators: Australia's electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections with the exception of Tasmania and the ACT which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable vote.
Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction,  as is enrolment with the exception of South Australia. In cases where no party has majority support, the Governor-General has the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister and, if necessary, dismiss one that has lost the confidence of Parliament. There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: In September , Malcolm Turnbull successfully challenged Abbott for leadership of the Coalition, and was sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia.
Australia has six states— New South Wales NSW , Queensland QLD , South Australia SA , Tasmania TAS , Victoria VIC and Western Australia WA —and two major mainland territories—the Australian Capital Territory ACT and the Northern Territory NT. In most respects these two territories function as states, except that the Commonwealth Parliament has the power to modify or repeal any legislation passed by the territory parliaments.
Under the constitution, the States essentially have plenary legislative power to legislate on any subject, whereas the Commonwealth federal Parliament may legislate only within the subject areas enumerated under section For example, State parliaments have the power to legislate with respect to education, criminal law and state police, health, transport, and local government, but the Commonwealth Parliament does not have any specific power to legislate in these areas.
Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliament — unicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT and Queensland, and bicameral in the other states. The states are sovereign entities, although subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution.
The lower houses are known as the Legislative Assembly the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania ; the upper houses are known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor ; and in the Northern Territory, the Administrator. The Commonwealth Parliament also directly administers the following external territories: Ashmore and Cartier Islands ; Australian Antarctic Territory ; Christmas Island ; Cocos Keeling Islands ; Coral Sea Islands ; Heard Island and McDonald Islands ; and Jervis Bay Territory , a naval base and sea port for the national capital in land that was formerly part of New South Wales.
Over recent decades, Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States through the ANZUS pact , and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum.
In Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia , and in attended the Sixth East Asia Summit in Indonesia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations , in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for co-operation.
Australia has pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation. Along with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore, Australia is party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements , a regional defence agreement. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia is strongly committed to multilateralism  and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance.
Australia's armed forces—the Australian Defence Force ADF —comprise the Royal Australian Navy RAN , the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force RAAF , in total numbering 81, personnel including 57, regulars and 23, reservists as of November The titular role of Commander-in-Chief is vested in the Governor-General , who appoints a Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services on the advice of the government.
Australia is a wealthy country; it generates its income from various sources including mining-related exports, telecommunications, banking and manufacturing. In terms of average wealth, Australia ranked second in the world after Switzerland in , although the nation's poverty rate increased from The Australian dollar is the currency for the nation, including Christmas Island, Cocos Keeling Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati , Nauru , and Tuvalu.
With the merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange became the ninth largest in the world. An emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactured goods has underpinned a significant increase in Australia's terms of trade since the start of the 21st century, due to rising commodity prices.
Australia was the only advanced economy not to experience a recession due to the global financial downturn in — The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in and partially deregulated the financial system. In May , there were 11,, people employed either full- or part-time , with an unemployment rate of 5.
In , Newstart unemployment allowance recipients were registered, a total that increased to , in March Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand. Until the Second World War , the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from the British Isles , and a majority of Australians have some British or Irish ancestry.
These Australians form an ethnic group known as Anglo-Celtic Australians. In the Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestries were English Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I,  much of this increase from immigration. Following World War II and through to , almost 5. The Indigenous population— Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders —was counted at , 2. Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are, respectively, 11 and 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians.
In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In , the average age of the civilian population was Although Australia has no official language, English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language.Archived from the original on 13 December The Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum section. Activities Explore things you can do in Australia Aquatic and coastal Nature and wildlife Food and wine The Outback Top 10 things to do in Australia's cities. Caravan, Camping and Holiday Parks. Following World War II and through toalmost 5. Outline Index Book Sydney sydney dating australian partners Portal.