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Australia(ôstrāl`yə), smallest continent, between the Indian and Pacific oceans. With the island state of TasmaniaTasmania
, island state (1991 pop. 359,286), 26,383 sq mi (68,332 sq km), SE Commonwealth of Australia. It is separated from Australia by the Bass Strait and lies 150 mi (240 km) south of the state of Victoria.
..... Click the link for more information. to the south, the continent makes up the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary state (2005 est. pop. 20,090,000), 2,967,877 sq mi (7,686,810 sq km). Australia's capital is CanberraCanberra
, city (1991 pop. 276,162), capital of Australia, in the Australian Capital Territory, SE Australia. The Canberra urban agglomeration includes a small area in New South Wales.
..... Click the link for more information. . Its largest city is SydneySydney,
city (1991 pop. 3,097,956), capital of New South Wales, SE Australia, surrounding Port Jackson inlet on the Pacific Ocean. Sydney is Australia's largest city, chief port, and main cultural and industrial center; roughly one fourth of Australia's population lives in the
..... Click the link for more information. , closely followed in population by MelbourneMelbourne,
city (1991 pop. 2,761,995), capital of Victoria, SE Australia, on Port Phillip Bay at the mouth of the Yarra River. Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, is a rail and air hub and financial and commercial center.
..... Click the link for more information. . There are five continental states (QueenslandQueensland,
state (1991 pop. 2,477,152), 667,000 sq mi (1,727,200 sq km), NE Australia. Brisbane is the capital; other important cities are Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Townsville, Rockhampton, Cairns, and Ipswich.
..... Click the link for more information. , New South WalesNew South Wales,
state (1991 pop. 5,164,549), 309,443 sq mi (801,457 sq km), SE Australia. It is bounded on the E by the Pacific Ocean. Sydney is the capital. The other principal urban centers are Newcastle, Wagga Wagga, Lismore, Wollongong, and Broken Hill.
..... Click the link for more information. , VictoriaVictoria
, state (1991 pop. 3,770,684), 87,884 sq mi (227,620 sq km), SE Australia. It is bounded on the S and E by the Indian Ocean, Bass Strait, and the Tasman Sea. Melbourne is the capital. Other important cities are Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo.
..... Click the link for more information. , South AustraliaSouth Australia,
state (1991 pop. 1,236,623), 380,070 sq mi (984,381 sq km), S central Australia. It is bounded on the S by the Indian Ocean. Kangaroo Island and many smaller islands off the south coast are included in the state.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Western AustraliaWestern Australia,
state (1991 pop. 1,409,965), 975,920 sq mi (2,527,633 sq km), Australia, comprising the entire western part of the continent. It is bounded on the N, W, and S by the Indian Ocean. Perth is the capital.
..... Click the link for more information. , in addition to the aforementioned Tasmania) as well as the Northern TerritoryNorthern Territory,
territory (1991 pop. 132,780), 520,280 sq mi (1,347,525 sq km), N central Australia. It is bounded on the N by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea, and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Darwin is the territorial capital.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Australian Capital TerritoryAustralian Capital Territory
(1991 pop. 276,468), 939 sq mi (2,432 sq km), SE Australia, an enclave within New South Wales, containing Canberra, capital of Australia. It was called the Federal Capital Territory until 1938.
..... Click the link for more information. (an enclave within New South Wales, containing Canberra). Australia's external territories include Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The Australian continent extends from east to west some 2,400 mi (3,860 km) and from north to south nearly 2,000 mi (3,220 km). It is on the whole exceedingly flat and dry. Less than 20 in. (50.8 cm) of precipitation falls annually over 70% of the land area. From the narrow coastal plain in the west the land rises abruptly in what, from the sea, appear to be mountain ranges but are actually the escarpments of a rough plateau that occupies the western half of the continent. It is generally from 1,000 to 2,000 ft (305–610 m) high but several mountain ranges rise to nearly 5,000 ft (1,520 m); there are no permanent rivers or lakes in the region. In the southwest corner of the continent there is a small moist and fertile area, but the rest of Western Australia is arid, with large desert areas.
The northern region fronts partly on the Timor Sea, separating Australia from Indonesia; it also belongs to the plateau, with tropical temperatures and a winter dry season. Its northernmost section, Arnhem Land (much of which is an aboriginal reserve), faces the Arafura Sea in the north and the huge Gulf of Carpentaria on the east. On the eastern side of the gulf is the Cape York Peninsula, which is largely covered by woodland. Off the coast of NE Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef.
In E Australia are the mountains of the Eastern Highlands, which run down the entire east and southeast coasts. The rivers on the eastern and southeastern slopes run to the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea through narrow but rich coastal plains; the rivers on the western slopes flow either N to the Gulf of Carpentaria or W and SW to the Indian Ocean. The longest of all Australian river systems, the Murray River and its tributaries, drains the southern part of the interior basin that lies between the mountains and the great plateau. The rivers of this area are used extensively for irrigation and hydroelectric power.
Australia, remote from any other continent, has many distinctive forms of plant life—notably species of giant eucalyptus—and of animal life, including the kangaroo, the koala, the flying opossum, the wallaby, the wombat, the platypus, and the spiny anteater; it also has many unusual birds. Foreign animals, when introduced, have frequently done well. Rabbits, brought over in 1788, have done entirely too well, multiplying until by the middle of the 19th cent. they became a distinct menace to sheep raising. In 1907 a fence (still maintained) 1,000 mi (1,610 km) long was built from the north coast to the south to prevent the rabbits from invading Western Australia. Introduced red foxes and feral house cats have reduced many native land mammals through predation.
Most Australians are of British and Irish ancestry and the majority of the country lives in urban areas. The population has more than doubled since the end of World War II, spurred by an ambitious postwar immigration program. In the postwar years, immigration from Greece, Turkey, Italy, and other countries began to increase Australia's cultural diversity. When Australia officially ended (1973) discriminatory policies dating to the 19th cent. that were designed to prevent immigration by nonwhites, substantial Asian immigration followed. By 1988 about 40% of immigration to Australia was from Asia, and by 2005 Asians constituted 7% of the population. Also by 2005 roughly one fourth of all Australians had been born outside the country.
The indigenous population, the Australian aboriginesAustralian aborigines,
native people of Australia who probably first came from somewhere in Asia more than 40,000 years ago. Genetic evidence also suggests that c.4,000 years there was an additional migration of people who were related to the inhabitants of modern India.
..... Click the link for more information. , estimated to number as little as 300,000 and as many as 800,000at the time of the Europeans' arrival, was numbered at 366,429 in 2001. Although still more rural than the general population, the aboriginal population has become more urbanized, with some two thirds living in cities. New South Wales and Queensland account for just over half of the Australian aboriginal population. In Tasmania the aboriginal population was virtually wiped out in the 19th cent.
There is no state religion in Australia. The largest religions are the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other Christian groups. Although education is not a federal concern, government grants have aided in the establishment of state universities including the Univ. of Sydney (1852), the Univ. of Melbourne (1854), the Univ. of Adelaide (1874), and the Univ. of Queensland (in Brisbane, 1909).
Most of the rich farmland and good ports are in the east and particularly the southeast, except for the area around PerthPerth,
city (1991 pop. 1,018,702), capital of Western Australia, SW Australia, on the Swan River estuary. Fremantle is Perth's port. Perth is a communications and transportation center and the state's financial, commercial, and cultural hub.
..... Click the link for more information. in Western Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, BrisbaneBrisbane
, city (1991 pop. 1,145,537), capital of Queensland, E Australia, on the Brisbane River above its mouth on Moreton Bay. Brisbane is Australia's third largest city and an administrative, commercial, industrial, and cultural center.
..... Click the link for more information. , and AdelaideAdelaide,
city (1991 pop. 957,480), capital and chief port of South Australia, S Australia, at the mouth of the Torrens River on Gulf St. Vincent. It has automotive, textile, and other industries. Grains, wool, dairy products, wine, and fruit are exported.
..... Click the link for more information. are the leading industrial and commercial cities. There was considerable industrial development in the last two decades of the 20th cent. While the Australian economy fell into a severe recession in the late 1980s, it experienced an extended period of growth beginning in the 1990s. It then suffered somewhat from the Asian economic slump of the 1990s and from the "Big Dry" drought of the early 21st cent., while also benefiting from increased mineral exports to China during the same period.
Australia is highly industrialized, and manufactured goods account for most of the gross domestic product. Its chief industries include mining, food processing, and the manufacture of industrial and transportation equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, machinery, and motor vehicles. Australia has valuable mineral resources, including coal, iron, bauxite, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, natural gas, and petroleum; the country is an important producer of opals and diamonds.
The country is self-sufficient in food, and the raising of sheep and cattle and the production of grain have long been staple occupations. Tropical and subtropical produce—citrus fruits, sugarcane, and tropical fruits—are also important, and there are numerous vineyards and dairy and tobacco farms.
Australia maintains a favorable balance of trade. Its chief export commodities are coal, iron ore, gold, meat, wool, alumina, cereals, and machinery and transport equipment. The leading imports are machinery, transportation and telecommunications equipment, computers and office machines, crude oil, and petroleum products. Australia's economic ties with Asia and the Pacific Rim have become increasingly important, with China, Japan, and the United States being its main trading partners.
The executive power of the commonwealth is vested in a governor-general (representing the British sovereign) and a cabinet, presided over by the prime minister, which represents the party or coalition holding a majority in the lower house of parliament. The parliament consists of two houses, the Senate, whose 76 members are elected to six- or three-year terms, depending on whether they represent a state or territory, and the House of Representatives, whose 150 members are elected to three-year terms. The distribution of federal and state powers is roughly like that in the United States. British intervention in Australian affairs was formally abolished in 1986. From its early years the federal government has been noted for its liberal legislation, such as woman suffrage (1902), old-age pensions (1909), and maternity allowances (1912). There are four main political parties: Liberal, Labor, National, and Democratic.
Early History and Colonization
The groups comprising the aborigines are thought to have migrated from Southeast Asia. Skeletal remains indicate that aborigines arrived in Australia more than 40,000 years ago, and some evidence suggests that they were active there about 100,000 years ago. The aborigines spread throughout Australia and remained relatively isolated until the arrival of the Europeans. Genetic evidence suggests that c.4,000 years ago there may have been an additional migration of people related to those now found in India.
Australia may have sighted by a Portuguese, Manuel Godhino de Eredia, in 1601 and by a Spaniard, Luis Vaez de Torres, around 1605–6, but Dutchman Willem JanszoonJanszoon, Willem
fl. late 16th–early 17th cent., Dutch navigator and colonial governor; his name also appears was Jansz or Janssen. Janszoon served (1603–11, 1612–16, 1618–28) in the Dutch East Indies.
..... Click the link for more information. is the first European confirmed to have seen (1606) and landed in Australia. Other Dutch navigators later visited the continent, and the Dutch named it New Holland. In 1688 the Englishman William DampierDampier, William
, 1651–1715, English explorer, buccaneer, hydrographer, and naturalist. He fought (1673) in the Dutch War, managed a plantation in Jamaica (1674), and then worked with logwood cutters in Honduras (1675–78).
..... Click the link for more information. landed at King Sound on the northwest coast. Little interest was aroused, however, until the fertile east coast was observed when Capt. James CookCook, James,
1728–79, English explorer and navigator. The son of a Yorkshire agricultural laborer, he had little formal education. After an apprenticeship to a firm of shipowners at Whitby, he joined (1755) the royal navy and surveyed the St.
..... Click the link for more information. reached Botany Bay in 1770 and sailed N to Cape York, claiming the coast for Great Britain.
In 1788 the first British settlement was made—a penal colony on the shores of Port Jackson, where Sydney now stands. By 1829 the whole continent was a British dependency. Exploration, begun before the first settlement was founded, was continued by such men as Matthew FlindersFlinders, Matthew,
1774–1814, English naval captain and hydrographer, noted for his charting and coast surveys of Australia and Tasmania. From 1795 to 1799 and again from 1801 to 1803 he made valuable maps and charts of the water and coasts, circumnavigating both Australia
..... Click the link for more information. (1798), Count Paul Strzelecki (1839), Ludwig LeichhardtLeichhardt, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig
, 1813–1848?, Prussian explorer of Australia. He led (1844–45) an expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington and in 1848 set out from Moreton Bay to cross the central part of the continent east to west.
..... Click the link for more information. (1848), and John McDouall StuartStuart, John McDouall,
1815–66, Scottish explorer in Australia. He emigrated (1838) to S Australia; there, as a draftsman, he joined Charles Sturt's expedition (1844–45) to central Australia.
..... Click the link for more information. (first to cross the continent, 1862). Australia was long used as a dumping ground for criminals, bankrupts, and other undesirables from the British Isles. Sheep raising was introduced early, and before the middle of the 19th cent. wheat was being exported in large quantities to England. A gold strike in Victoria in 1851 brought a rush to that region. Other strikes were made later in the century in Western Australia. With minerals, sheep, and grain forming the base of the economy, Australia developed rapidly. By the mid-19th cent. systematic, permanent colonization had completely replaced the old penal settlements.
Confederation of the separate Australian colonies did not come until a constitution, drafted in 1897–98, was approved by the British parliament in 1900. It was put into operation in 1901; under its terms, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, all of which had by then been granted self-government, were federated in the Commonwealth of Australia. The Northern Territory was added to the Commonwealth in 1911. The new federal government moved quickly to institute high protective tariffs (to restrain competition to Australian industry) and to initiate a strict anti-Asian "White Australia" immigration policy, which was not lifted until 1956.
Australia fought alongside Great Britain in both world wars. During World War I, the nation was part of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac), which fought bravely in many battles, notably in the Gallipoli campaignGallipoli campaign,
1915, Allied expedition in World War I for the purpose of gaining control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits, capturing Constantinople, and opening a Black Sea supply route to Russia.
..... Click the link for more information. of 1915. During World War II, Darwin, Port Jackson, and Newcastle were bombed or shelled by the Japanese. The Allied victory in the battle of the Coral Sea (1942) probably averted a full-scale attack on Australia. After the war Australia became increasingly active in world affairs, particularly in defense and development projects with its Asian neighbors; it furnished troops to aid the U.S. war effort in South Vietnam. At home, from 1949 to 1972 the government was controlled by a Liberal-Country party coalition with, until 1966, Robert MenziesMenzies, Sir Robert Gordon
, 1894–1978, Australian statesman. A barrister, Menzies was elected to the Australian House of Representatives in 1934 and was attorney general (1935–39) in Joseph A. Lyon's government.
..... Click the link for more information. as prime minister. Gough WhitlamWhitlam, Gough
, 1916–2014, Australian political leader. Edward Gough Whitlam studied law and entered practice near Sydney after serving in World War II. A member of the Labour party, he was elected to Parliament in 1952 and rose in party circles.
..... Click the link for more information. 's subsequent Labor government (1972–75), though controversial at the time, introduced social reforms, including increasing nonwhite immigration and improving access to health care and university education, that subsequently transformed Australian society. When a budget crisis with the opposition-controlled senate led to Whitlam's dismissal by the governor-general, the Liberal–National Country coalition, led by Malcolm FraserFraser, Malcolm
(John Malcolm Fraser), 1930–2015, Australian political leader and prime minister (1975–83). A graduate of Oxford (1952), he entered the Australian parliament as a Liberal member in 1955.
..... Click the link for more information. , returned to power.
In 1983, Bob HawkeHawke, Bob
(Robert James Lee Hawke), 1929–, Australian statesman. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he gained a reputation as a skillful labor mediator during his tenure at the Australian Council of Trade Unions, of which he eventually became president.
..... Click the link for more information. won his first of four terms as prime minister against a coalition of the Liberal and National parties. In 1991, as Australia foundered in a deep recession, Hawke lost the prime ministership to fellow Laborite Paul KeatingKeating, Paul,
1944–, Australian politician. A trade-union official and member of the Labor party, he was first elected to parliament in 1969. As federal treasurer (treasury minister) from 1983 to 1991 and deputy prime minister under Prime Minister Bob Hawke from 1990 to
..... Click the link for more information. . Keating led Labor to its fifth consecutive electoral victory in 1993. In the Mar., 1996, elections, however, 13 years of Labor rule were ended by a Liberal-National party coalition led by John HowardHoward, John,
1726–90, English prison reformer. He had great influence in improving sanitary conditions and securing humane treatment in prisons throughout Europe. He was responsible (1774) for persuading the House of Commons to enact a set of penal reform acts.
..... Click the link for more information. , who promised deregulation, smaller government, and other conservative economic reforms. Howard's coalition was reelected, although by a smaller margin, in 1998.
In a 1999 referendum, voters rejected a plan to replace the British monarch as head of state with a president elected by the parliament. In Nov., 2001, after a campaign dominated by issues of nonwhite immigration and national security, Howard's government was returned to office for a third term. In 2002–3, Australia experienced one of the worst droughts of the past 100 years, and wildfires scorched some 7.4 million acres (3 million hectares) of the bush. After Great Britain, Australia was the most prominent supporter militarily of the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, sending a force of about 2,000 to the Persian Gulf, and the country has taken an increasingly interventionist role in surrounding region, sending forces to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor to restore law and order.
Benefiting from a prosperous economy, Howard led his coalition to a fourth consecutive term, winning a strong mandate in the Oct., 2004, national elections. In Jan., 2005, the country again experienced deadly bush fires, in South Australia. The Sydney area was stunned by several days of ethnically-based mob violence (between Australians of European and Middle Eastern descent) in Dec., 2005. A scandal involving kickbacks paid under the oil-for-food program to Saddam Hussein's Iraq by AWB Ltd. (the private Australian wheat-exporting monopoly that formerly was the Australian Wheat Board) threatened in 2006 to entangle Howard's government. The government admitted in March that, despite previous denials, it was aware there were charges that AWB was paying kickbacks, but said officials had received assurances from AWB that no payments had been made. Late in 2006 the commission investigating AWB cleared government officials (but not AWB officials) of criminal activity.
Relations with the Solomon Islands became tense in 2006 when Australia criticized a Solomons investigation into the post-election unrest there in April as a potential whitewash. The appointment as Solomons attorney general of Julian Moti, an Australian of Fijian descent who was wanted in Australia on child sex charges, further strained relations. Australia sought Moti's extradition from Papua New Guinea, where he was arrested (Sept., 2006) but managed to flee with apparent help from the Solomons embassy; Australia continued to seek Moti's extradition after he illegally entered the Solomons and was held there. Moti was ultimately deported (2007) to Australia, but in 2009 the charges against him were permanently stayed.
By late 2006, Australia was experiencing its sixth dry year in a row, and many observers termed the worsening "Big Dry" as the worst in the nation's history; 2003 and 2006 were especially dry years. In 2007 and especially 2008 there was improved rainfall in parts of E Australia, but drought conditions continued in many areas. Parliamentary elections in Nov., 2007, brought the Labor party into office; party leader Kevin RuddRudd, Kevin Michael,
1957–, Australian political leader, b. Nambour, Queensland, grad. Australian National Univ. 1981. After working (1981–88) in the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, including stints in the Australian embassies in Sweden and China, he entered
..... Click the link for more information. , a former diplomat, became prime minister. The Rudd government embarked on significant reversals of Howard's policies, promising to withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq, moving to adopt the Kyoto Protocal on climate change, and apologizing to the aborigines for Australia's past mistreatment of them.
Australia experienced several severe natural disasters in early 2009. Queensland suffered from significant and widespread flooding due to cyclone rains in Jan. and Feb., 2009; additional significant coastal flooding occurred in Queensland and New South Wales in May. In Feb.–Mar., 2009, SE Australia suffered the worst outbreak of bushfires in the nation's history; more than 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) were burned and some 170 people died, with the worst devastation NE of Melbourne, Victoria. Rudd lost popularity in 2010 over his backdown on carbon trading and his support for increased mining taxes, and in June Julia GillardGillard, Julia Eileen
, 1961–, Australian political leader, b. Barry, Wales, B.A., LL.B. Univ. of Melbourne 1986. Gillard, who immigrated to Australia with her parents as a young child for health reasons, was active in Labor politics as a college student and worked in
..... Click the link for more information. , his deputy, mounted a leadership challenge, leading him to step aside. Gillard succeeded Rudd as Labor party leader and prime minister, becoming Australia's first woman prime minister.
In early elections that Gillard called for Aug., 2010, neither of the main parties won a majority. Although the Liberal-National coalition narrowly won a plurality of the seats, Gillard and Labor secured the support of enough independents in parliament to cling to power. In 2010 significant rains finally ended drought conditions in most areas of Australia (except SW Australia). Areas of E Australia were flooded in late 2010 and early 2011 due to heavy rains; the floods were especially devastating and extensive in E Queensland. In Feb., 2012, and again in Mar., 2013, Gillard survived leadership challenges from Rudd, but in June, 2013, she lost the party leadership to Rudd (who now was regarded as more popular than her) and he succeeded her as prime minister. In the Sept., 2013, general election the Liberal-National coalition soundly defeated Labor, and Liberal leader Tony Abbott became prime minister.
See Sir Archibald Price, Island Continent: Aspects of the Historical Geography of Australia and its Territories (1972); A. G. Shaw, The Story of Australia (4th ed. 1972); J. Bessett, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Australian History (1987); R. Hughes, The Fatal Shore (1987); B. Hofmeister, Australia and Its Urban Centres (1988); D. Money, Australia Today (1989); K. Hancock, ed., Australian Society (1989); S. L. Goldberg and F. B. Smith, Australian Cultural History (1989); K. Hancock, ed., Australian Society (1990); T. Keneally, Australia: Beyond the Dreamtime (1989) and A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia (2006).
Official name: Commonwealth of Australia
Capital city: Canberra
Internet country code: .au
Flag description: Blue with the flag of the United Kingdom in the upper hoist-side quadrant and a large seven-pointed star in the lower hoist-side quadrant known as the Commonwealth or Federation Star, representing the federation of the colonies of Australia in 1901; the star depicts one point for each of the six original states and one representing all of Australia’s internal and external territories; on the fly half is a representation of the Southern Cross constellation in white with one small five-pointed star and four larger, seven-pointed stars
National anthem: “Advance Australia Fair” by Peter Dodds McCormick
National flower: Golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha Benth.)
National gemstone: Opal
Geographical description: Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean
Total area: 3 million sq. mi. (7.7 million sq. km.)
Climate: Generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north
Nationality: noun: Australian(s); adjective: Australian
Population: 20,434,176 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: European 92%, Asian 7%, Aboriginal and other 1%
Languages spoken: English 79.1%, Chinese 2.1%, Italian 1.9%, other 11.1%, unspecified 5.8%
Religions: Roman Catholic 26.4%, Anglican 20.5%, other Christian 20.5%, Buddhist 1.9%, Muslim 1.5%, other 1.2%, unspecified 12.7%, none 15.3%