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Australia (Template:IPAc-en Template:Respell or Template:IPAc-en Template:Respell,[1] or Template:IPAc-en Template:Respell), officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent (the world's smallest),[2][3] the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.Template:Ref Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast.

For at least 40,000 years before European settlement in the late 18th century, the Australian mainland and Tasmania were inhabited by indigenous Australians,[4] who spoke around 250 language groups[5][6] After sporadic visits by fishermen from the immediate north, and discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606,[7] the eastern half of Australia was claimed by the British in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales, founded on 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in the following years; the continent was explored, and another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established during the 19th century.

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies became a federation and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The population is 22 million, with approximately 60% concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. The nation's capital city is Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory.

Australia is a prosperous developed country with a multicultural society. It ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance such as human development, quality of life, health care, life expectancy, public education, economic freedom and the protection of civil liberties and political rights.[8] Australian cities rank among the world's highest in terms of cultural offerings and quality of life. It is a member of the United Nations, G20, Commonwealth of Nations, OECD, APEC, Pacific Islands Forum and the World Trade Organization.


Pronounced Template:IPA in Australian English,[9] the name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern". The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz since the early 20th century.Template:Ref Aussie is common colloquially, as an adjective and noun for "Australian".Template:Ref

Legends of an "unknown land of the south" (terra australis incognita) date back to Roman times and were commonplace in medieval geography, but were not based on any documented knowledge of the continent. The first recorded use of the word Australia in English was in 1625, in "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Master Hakluyt" and published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus.[10] The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used by Dutch East India Company officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south in 1638. Australia was used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny, under the pen-name Jacques Sadeur.[11] Alexander Dalrymple used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean (1771), referring to the entire South Pacific region. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland".[12] It also appeared on a 1799 chart by James Wilson.[13]

The name Australia was popularised by Matthew Flinders, who pushed for the name to be formally adopted as early as 1804. When preparing his manuscript and charts for his 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis, he was persuaded by his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, to use the term Terra Australis as this was the name most familiar to the public. Flinders did so, but allowed himself the footnote: Template:Quote This is the only occurrence of the word Australia in that text; but in Appendix III, Robert Brown's General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis, Brown makes use of the adjectival form Australian throughout,[14] this being the first known use of that form.[15] Despite popular conception, the book was not instrumental in the adoption of the name: the name came gradually to be accepted over the following ten years.[16] Lachlan Macquarie, a Governor of New South Wales, subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England, and on 12 December 1817 recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted.[17] In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.[18]


File:Endeavour replica in Cooktown harbour.jpg

A replica of Lieutenant Cook's ship HM Bark Endeavour in Cooktown Harbour

Human habitation of Australia is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago,[19] 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. At the time of European settlement in the 18th century, most Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, were originally horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.[20]

The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent were attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula on an unknown date in early 1606; he made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York, near the modern town of Weipa.[21] The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of "New Holland" during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement.[21] In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.[22] Cook's discoveries prepared the way for establishment of a new penal colony. The British Crown Colony of New South Wales was formed on 26 January 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet to Port Jackson.[23] This date became Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825.[24] The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1828.[25]

Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.[26] The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia.[27] South Australia was founded as a "free province"—it was never a penal colony.[28] Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts.[29][30] A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.[31]

File:Port Arthur Seeseite.jpg

Port Arthur, Tasmania was Australia's largest gaol for transported convicts.

The indigenous population, estimated at 350,000 at the time of European settlement,[32] declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease.[33] The "Stolen Generations" (removal of Aboriginal children from their families), which historians such as Henry Reynolds have argued could be considered genocide,[34] may have contributed to the decline in the Indigenous population.[35] Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by some conservative commentators, such as former Prime Minister John Howard, as exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons.[36] This debate is known within Australia as the History Wars.[37]The Federal government gained the power to make laws with respect to Aborigines following the 1967 referendum.[38] Traditional ownership of land—native title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius ("land belonging to no one") before European occupation.[39]

A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s,[40] and the Eureka Stockade rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience.[41] Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire.[42] The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs,[43] defence,[44] and international shipping.


The Last Post is played at an ANZAC Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Similar ceremonies are held in most suburbs and towns.

On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting.[45] The Commonwealth of Australia was established and it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1907. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed.[46] The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911.[47] In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, with support from both the outgoing Liberal Party and the incoming Labor Party.[48] The Australians took part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front.[49] Out of approximately 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded.[50] Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action.[51][52] The Kokoda Track campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.[53]

Britain's Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942,[54] but it was backdated to 1939 to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II.[55][56] The shock of the UK's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector.[57] Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty.[58] After World War II, Australia encouraged immigration from Europe. Since the 1970s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted.[59] As a result, Australia's demography, culture, and self-image were transformed.[60] The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council.[61] At the 1999 referendum, 54% of Australian voters rejected a proposal to become a republic, with a president appointed by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972,[62] 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.[63]


File:Parliament House, Canberra, Pano jjron 25.9.2008-edit1.jpg

Parliament House, Canberra was opened in 1988, replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.

The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy based on a federal division of powers. The form of government used in Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level.[64] Although the Constitution gives extensive executive powers to the Governor-General, these are normally exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister.[65] The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside the Prime Minister's direction was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.[66]

There are three branches of government, known as the separation of powers:

  • The legislature: the Commonwealth Parliament, comprising the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives; the Queen is represented by the Governor-General, who by convention acts on the advice of his or her Ministers.[67]
  • The executive: the Federal Executive Council (the Governor-General as advised by the Executive Councillors); in practice, the councillors are the Prime Minister and Ministers of State.[64]
  • The judiciary: the High Court of Australia and other federal courts. Appeals from Australian courts to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom ceased when the Australia Act of 1986 was passed.[68]
File:Government House Canberra.JPG

The official residence of the Governor-General of Australia.

The bicameral Commonwealth Parliament consists of the Queen, the Senate (the upper house) of 76 senators,[69] and a House of Representatives (the lower house) of 150 members.[70] Members of the lower house are elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population,[71] with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats.[72] In the Senate, each state is represented by twelve senators, and each of the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) by two.

Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years, simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, who only have three-year terms; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.[69] Although the Prime Minister is appointed by the Governor-General, in practice the party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.[73]

There are two major political groups that form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party.[74][75] Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and the Australian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. The Labor Party came to office with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister following the November 2007 election.[76]

Every Australian parliament (federal, state, and territory) then had a Labor government until September 2008 when the Liberal Party formed a minority government in association with the National Party in Western Australia.[77] From 2005 to 2008 (a result of the 2004 election), the governing coalition led by John Howard won control of the Senate—the first time in more than 20 years that a party (or a coalition) has done so while in government.[70] Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over, in each state and territory and at the federal level.[78] Enrolment to vote is compulsory in all jurisdictions except South Australia.[79]

States and territories[]

Template:Australia states imagemap

Australia has six statesNew South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia—and two major mainland territories—the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In most respects these two territories function as states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only in areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including those over schools, state police, the state judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government, since these do not fall under the provisions listed in Section 51.[80]

Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliamentunicameral 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.[81] In the Commonwealth, the Queen's representative is the Governor-General.[82]

The federal parliament directly administers the following territories:[64]

  • Jervis Bay Territory, a naval base and sea port for the national capital in land that was formerly part of New South Wales
  • Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  • Ashmore and Cartier Islands
  • Coral Sea Islands
  • Heard Island and McDonald Islands
  • Australian Antarctic Territory

Norfolk Island is also technically an external territory; however, under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 it has been granted more autonomy and is governed locally by its own legislative assembly. The Queen is represented by an Administrator, currently Owen Walsh.[83]

Foreign relations and military[]

File:War memorial 01.jpg

The Australian War Memorial.

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 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for cooperation.[84]

Australia has pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation.[85][86][87] It led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.[88][89] Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization,[90][91] and has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement[92] and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand.[93] As of 2010, Australia is negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan, with whom Australia has close economic ties as a trusted partner in the Asia-Pacific region.[94]

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,[95] and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance;[96] as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that recommended in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Australia ranks seventh overall in the Center for Global Development's 2008 Commitment to Development Index.[97]

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 73,000 personnel (including 53,000 regulars and 20,000 reservists).[98] Australia's military is the 68th largest in the world, but one of the world's smallest in per capita terms. All branches of the ADF have been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping (most recently in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Sudan), disaster relief, and armed conflict, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The government appoints the Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services; the current Chief of the Defence Force is Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. In the 2006–07 budget, defence spending was A$22 billion,[99] accounting for less than 1% of global military spending. Australia was placed 27th on the 2008 Global Peace Index, primarily due to its presence in Afghanistan.[100] While the Governor-General is the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force, he or she does not play an active part in the ADF's command structure, as the elected Australian Government controls the ADF.[101]

Geography and climate[]

File:Australia-climate-map MJC01.png

Climatic zones in Australia, based on the Köppen climate classification

Australia's landmass of Template:Convert[102] is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the IndianTemplate:Ref and Pacific oceans, it is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas. The world's smallest continent[3] and sixth largest country by total area,[2] Australia—owing to its size and isolation—is often dubbed the 'island continent'[103] and variably considered the world's largest island.[104] Australia has Template:Convert of coastline (excluding all offshore islands)[105] and claims an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of Template:Convert. This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.[106]

File:Australia satellite plane.jpg

Australia, as seen from space

The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef,[107] lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over Template:Convert. Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world's largest monolith,[108] is located in Western Australia. At Template:Convert, Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland, although Mawson Peak on the remote Australian territory of Heard Island is taller at Template:Convert.[109]

Australia is the flattest continent,[110] with the oldest and least fertile soils;[111][112] desert or semi-arid land commonly known as the outback makes up by far the largest portion of land. The driest inhabited continent, only its south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate.[113] The population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, is among the lowest in the world,[114] although a large proportion of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline.[115]

Eastern Australia is marked by the Great Dividing Range that runs parallel to the coast of Queensland, New South Wales and much of Victoria. The coastal uplands and a belt of Brigalow grasslands lie between the coast and the mountains while inland of the dividing range are large areas of grassland. These include the western plains of New South Wales and the Einasleigh Uplands, Barkly Tableland and the Mulga Lands of inland Queensland. The northern point of the east coast is the tropical rainforested Cape York Peninsula. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, the Top End and the Gulf Country behind the Gulf of Carpentaria, with their tropical climate, consist of woodland, grassland and desert. At the northwest corner of the continent is the sandstone cliffs and gorges of The Kimberley and below that the Pilbara while south and inland of these lie more areas of grassland, the Ord Victoria Plain and the Western Australian Mulga shrublands. The heart of the country is the uplands of central Australia while prominent features of the centre and south include the inland Simpson, Tirari and Sturt Stony, Gibson, Great Sandy, Tanami and Great Victoria Deserts with the famous Nullarbor Plain of desert on the southern coast.

The climate of Australia is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.[116][117]


File:Koala climbing tree.jpg

The koala and the eucalyptus form an iconic Australian pair

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. Because of the continent's great age, extremely variable weather patterns, and long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic.[118] Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country, with 755 species.[119]

Australian forests are mostly made up of evergreen species, particularly eucalyptus trees in the less arid regions, Wattles replace them in dryer regions and deserts as the most dominant species.[120] Among well-known Australian fauna are the monotremes (the platypus and echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, koala, and wombat, and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra.[120] Australia is home to many dangerous animals including some of the most venomous snakes in the world.[121] The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE.[122] Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after first human settlement,[123] including the Australian megafauna; others have disappeared since European settlement, among them the thylacine.[124][125]

Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species.[126] The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is the legal framework for the protection of threatened species.[127] Numerous protected areas have been created under the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity to protect and preserve unique ecosystems;[128][129] 65 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention,[130] and 15 natural World Heritage Sites have been established.[131] Australia was ranked 46th of 149 countries in the world on the 2008 Environmental Performance Index.[132]

Climate change has become an increasing concern in Australia in recent years,[133] with many Australians considering protection of the environment to be the most important issue facing the country.[134] The first Rudd Ministry has initiated several emission reduction activities;[135] Rudd's first official act, on his first day in office, was to sign the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, Australia's carbon dioxide emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, lower than those of only a few other industrialised nations.[136] Rainfall in Australia has slightly increased over the past century, both nationwide and for two quadrants of the nation,[137] while annual mean temperatures increased significantly over the past decades.[138] Water restrictions are currently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages due to urban population increases and localised drought.[139]


File:Kalgoorlie The Big Pit DSC04498.JPG

The Super Pit gold mine in Kalgoorlie, Australia's largest open cut mine.[140]

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. After the 2006 merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange is now the ninth largest in the world.[141]

Ranked third in the Index of Economic Freedom (2010),[142] Australia's per capita GDP is slightly higher than that of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France. The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2009 Human Development Index, first in Legatum's 2008 Prosperity Index, and sixth in The Economist worldwide Quality-of-Life Index for 2005.[143] All of Australia's major cities fare well in global comparative liveability surveys;[144] Melbourne reached second place on The Economist's 2008 World's Most Livable Cities list, followed by Perth, Adelaide, and Sydney in fourth, seventh and ninth place respectively.[145]

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 century, due to rising commodity prices. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7% of GDP negative, and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years.[146] Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6% for over 15 years, in comparison to the OECD annual average of 2.5%.[146] Australia was one of the few OECD nations to avoid falling into a technical recession during the late 2000s global financial downturn.[147]

File:2006Australian exports.svg

Destination and value of Australian exports in 2006[148]

The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system.[149] The Howard Government followed with a partial deregulation of the labour market and the further privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry.[150] The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST).[151] In Australia's tax system, personal and company income tax are the main sources of government revenue.[152]

In January 2007, there were 10,033,480 people employed, with an unemployment rate of 4.6%.[153] Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for 69% of GDP.[154] Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3% and 5% of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand.[155]


Historic population[156]
Year Indigenous population
pre 1788 350,000 approximate
Year Non Indigenous population Increase
1788 900  —
1800 5,200 477.8%
1850 405,400 7,696.2%
Year Total population Increase
1900 3,765,300  —
1910 4,525,100 20.2%
1920 5,411,000 19.6%
1930 6,501,000 20.1%
1940 7,078,000 8.9%
1950 8,307,000 17.4%
1960 10,392,000 25.1%
1970 12,663,000 21.9%
1980 14,726,000 16.3%
1990 17,169,000 16.6%
2000 19,169,100 11.6%
2009 21,828,704 13.6%

Most of the estimated 22 million Australians are descended from colonial-era settlers and post-Federation immigrants from Europe, with almost 90% of the population being of European descent. For generations, the vast majority of immigrants came from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still mainly of British or Irish ethnic origin. In the 2006 Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestry was Australian (37.13%),[157] followed by English (31.65%), Irish (9.08%), Scottish (7.56%), Italian (4.29%), German (4.09%), Chinese (3.37%), and Greek (1.84%).[158]

Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I,[159] spurred by an ambitious immigration program. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born overseas.[160] Most immigrants are skilled,[161] but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees.[161] The Federal Government estimates that cutting immigration from 280,000 to its target of 180,000 will result in a population of 36 million by 2050.[162]

In 2001, 23.1% of Australians were born overseas; the five largest immigrant groups were those from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam, and China.[155][163] Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism.[164] In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania.[165] The migration target for 2006–07 was 144,000.[166] The total immigration quota for 2008–09 is around 300,000—its highest level since the Immigration Department was created after World War II.[167][168]

The Indigenous population—mainland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 410,003 (2.2% of the total population) in 2001, a significant increase from 115,953 in the 1976 census.[169] A large number of Indigenous people are not identified in the Census due to undercount and cases where their Indigenous status is not recorded on the form; after adjusting for these factors, the ABS estimated the true figure for 2001 to be around 460,140 (2.4% of the total population).[170]

Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are 11–17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians.[155][171][172] Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having "failed state"-like conditions.[173][174][175][176][177]

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 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years.[178] A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03)[179] live outside their home country.

Template:Largest cities of Australia


File:Barossa Valley South Australia.jpg

The Barossa Valley is a wine-producing region in South Australia. Fewer than 15% of Australians live in rural areas.

File:Surfers Paradise Beach Queensland.jpg

Nearly three quarters of Australians live in metropolitan cities and coastal areas. The beach is an integral part of the Australian identity.[180]

English is the national language.[181] Australian English has a unique accent and a small number of unique terms, some of which have found their way into other dialects of the English-speaking world. It has less internal dialectal variation than either British or American English. Grammar and spelling are largely based on those of British English.[182] According to the 2006 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 79% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Italian (1.6%), Greek (1.3%) and Cantonese (1.2%).[183]

A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. Between 200 and 300 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which only about 70 have survived. Many of these are exclusively spoken by older people; only 18 Indigenous languages are still spoken by all age groups.[184] At the time of the 2006 Census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home.[185] Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 5,500 deaf people.[186]


Australia has no state religion. In the 2006 census, 64% of Australians listed themselves as Christian, including 26% as Roman Catholic and 19% as Anglican. About 19% of the population cited "No religion" (which includes humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and rationalism), which was the fastest-growing group from 2001 to 2006, and a further 12% did not answer (the question is optional) or did not give a response adequate for interpretation. The second-largest religion in Australia is Buddhism (2.1%), followed by Islam (1.7%), Hinduism (0.8%), and Judaism (0.5%). Overall, fewer than 6% of Australians identify with non-Christian religions.[187] Weekly attendance at church services in 2004 was about 1.5 million: about 7.5% of the population.[188] Religion does not play a central role in the lives of much of the population, although young adults are somewhat more religious than their elders.[189]


School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia. All children receive 11 years of compulsory education from the age of 6 to 16 (Year 1 to 10),[190] before they can undertake two more years (Years 11 and 12), contributing to an adult literacy rate that is assumed to be 99%. A preparatory year prior to Year 1, although not compulsory, is almost universally undertaken.[190] In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia regularly scores among the top five of thirty major developed countries (member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Government grants have supported the establishment of Australia's 38 universities; all but one is public. There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE Institutes, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople.[191] Approximately 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications,[155] and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries.[192]


Life expectancy in Australia is relatively high, with figures of 78.7 years for boys and 83.5 years for girls born in 2006.[193] Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world,[194] while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease.[195] Australia has one of the highest proportions of overweight citizens amongst developed nations;[196] it has also been one of the most successful in managing the spread of HIV/AIDS.[197][198]

Australia introduced universal health care, known as Medibank, in 1975.[199] Reworked by successive governments, its current incarnation, Medicare came into existence in 1984. It is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently set at 1.5%.[200] Traditionally, the management of public health has been split between the state and federal governments. The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (reducing the costs of medicines) and general practice.[199] Under the Rudd government, a health reform plan has emerged which will allow the federal government to take "full responsibility for primary health care", essentially taking control of hospitals and outpatient services from the states.[201][202][203] Total expenditure on health (including private sector spending) is around 9.8 per cent of GDP.[204]


File:Royal exhibition building tulips straight.jpg

The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne was the first building in Australia to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004[205]

Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture.[206][207] Distinctive cultural features have also arisen from Australia's natural environment and Indigenous cultures.[208][209] Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, particularly through television and cinema.[210] Other cultural influences come from neighbouring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.[210][211]


File:Sunlight Sweet Coogee Arthur Streeton.jpg

Sunlight Sweet by Australian landscape artist Arthur Streeton.

Australian visual arts are thought to have begun with the cave and bark paintings of its Indigenous peoples.[212] The traditions of Indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally and are tied to ceremony and the telling Dreamtime stories.[213] From the time of European settlement, a theme in Australian art has been the natural landscape,[208] seen for example in the works of Albert Namatjira,[214] Arthur Streeton and others associated with the Heidelberg School,[208] and Arthur Boyd.[215] The country's landscape remains a source of inspiration for Australian modernist artists; it has been depicted in acclaimed works by the likes of Sidney Nolan,[216] Fred Williams,[217] Sydney Long,[218] and Clifton Pugh.[219] Australian artists influenced by modern American and European art include cubist Grace Crowley,[220] surrealist James Gleeson,[221] abstract expressionist Brett Whiteley,[222] and pop artist Martin Sharp.[223] Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is the only art movement of international significance to emerge from Australia[224][225] and "the last great art movement of the 20th century";[226] its exponents have included Emily Kngwarreye.[227][228] Art critic Robert Hughes has written several influential books about Australian history and art, and was described as the "world's most famous art critic" by The New York Times.[229] The National Gallery of Australia and state galleries maintain Australian and overseas collections.[230]

Performing arts[]

Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council.[231] There is a symphony orchestra in each state,[232] and a national opera company, Opera Australia,[233] well-known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland.[234] At the start of the 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world's leading opera singers.[235] Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.[236][237][238]

File:Aboriginal song and dance.jpg

Performance of Aboriginal song and dance in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney


The Australian cinema industry began with the 1906 release of The Story of the Kelly Gang, which is regarded as being the world's first feature-length film,[239] but both Australian feature film production and the distribution of British-made features declined dramatically after World War I as American studios and distributors monopolised the industry[240] and by the 1930s around 95% of the feature films screened in Australia were produced in Hollywood. By the late 1950s feature film production in Australia had effectively ceased and there were no all-Australian feature films made in the decade between 1959 and 1969.[241] Thanks to initiatives by the Gorton and Whitlam federal governments, the New Wave of Australian cinema of the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, some exploring the nation's colonial past, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Breaker Morant,[242] while the so-called "Ocker" genre produced several highly successful urban-based comedy features including The Adventures of Barry MacKenzie and Alvin Purple.[243][244][245] Later hits included Mad Max and Gallipoli.[246][247] More recent successes included Shine and Rabbit-Proof Fence.[248][249] Notable Australian actors include Judith Anderson,[250] Errol Flynn,[251] Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, and current joint director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett.[252][253]

Australian literature has also been influenced by the landscape; the works of writers such as Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, and Dorothea Mackellar captured the experience of the Australian bush.[254] The character of the nation's colonial past, as represented in early literature, is popular with modern Australians.[208] In 1973, Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature,[255] the first Australian to have achieved this.[256] Australian winners of the Man Booker Prize have included Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally and Iris Murdoch;[257] David Williamson, and David Malouf are also renowned writers,[258] and Les Murray is regarded as "one of the leading poets of his generation".[259]

Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services,[260] and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has at least one daily newspaper,[260] and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review.[260] In 2008, Reporters Without Borders placed Australia 25th on a list of 173 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (7th) and the United Kingdom (23rd) but ahead of the United States (48th). This low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia;[261] most print media are under the control of News Corporation and Fairfax Media.[262]


Australia's food traditions have been largely shaped by its inhabitants. For most of Australian history, the cuisine was based on traditional Indigenous bushfood using native berries, fruit, fish, kangaroo and even insects such as the witchetty grub.[263] Later, British food was introduced by the first European settlers;[263] the Sunday roast has become an enduring tradition for many Australians.[264] In the 19th and especially the 20th century, food was increasingly influenced by Mediterranean and Asian cultures of immigrants of the period.[263][264]


File:4th Test Woodfull.jpg

Cricket has been an important part of Australia's sporting culture since the 19th century.[265]

Around 24% Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities in Australia.[155] Australia has strong international teams in cricket, field hockey, netball, rugby league and rugby union, having been Olympic or world champions at least twice in each sport in the last 25 years for both men and women where applicable.[266][267][268][269][270][271][272][273] Australia is also powerful in track cycling, rowing, and swimming, having consistently been in the top-five medal-winners at Olympic or World Championship level since 2000.[274][275][276] Swimming is the strongest of these sports; Australia is the second-most prolific medal winner in the sport in Olympic history.[277][278][279] Some of Australia's most successful sportspersons are swimmers Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Shane Gould and Ian Thorpe; sprinter Betty Cuthbert;[280] tennis players Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Evonne Goolagong, and Margaret Court; cricketer Donald Bradman; three-time Formula One world champion Jack Brabham; five-times motorcycle grand prix world champion Mick Doohan; and prodigious billiards player Wally Lindrum.[281] Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rules football, horse racing, surfing, football (soccer), and motor racing. Australia has participated in every summer Olympics of the modern era,[282] and every Commonwealth Games.[283] Australia hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney,[284] and has ranked among the top six medal-takers since 2000.[285] Australia has also hosted the 1938, 1962, 1982, and 2006 Commonwealth Games.[286] Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament, international cricket matches, and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The highest-rating television programs include sports telecasts such as the summer Olympics, State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League.[287]

International rankings[]

Template:International rankings of Australia

See also[]


  • Continental union



  1. Template:Note Australia also has a royal anthem, "God Save the Queen (or King)", which is played in the presence of a member of the Royal family when they are in Australia. In all other appropriate contexts, the national anthem of Australia, "Advance Australia Fair", is played.[288]
  2. Template:Note English does not have de jure status.[181]
  3. Template:NoteThere are minor variations from these three time zones, see Time in Australia.
  4. Template:Note Australia describes the body of water south of its mainland as the Southern Ocean, rather than the Indian Ocean as defined by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). In 2000, a vote of IHO member nations defined the term "Southern Ocean" as applying only to the waters between Antarctica and 60 degrees south latitude.[289]
  5. Template:Note The Oxford English Dictionary records a first occurrence in 1908, in the form Oss.
  6. Template:Note Oz is often taken as an oblique reference to the fictional Land of Oz in the film The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).[290] Australians' "image of Australia as a 'Land of Oz' is not new, and dedication to it runs deep".[291] The spelling Oz is likely to have been influenced by the 1939 film, though the pronunciation was probably always with a /z/, as it is also for Aussie, sometimes spelt Ozzie.[292] The Baz Luhrmann film Australia (2008) makes repeated reference to The Wizard of Oz, which appeared just before the wartime action of Australia. One reviewer writes: "You even nod with approval at Luhrmann's audacity for cribbing from 'The Wizard of Oz' in his depiction of his Land of Oz, Australia, as a magical place over the rainbow."[293] Some critics have even speculated that Baum was inspired by Australia, in naming the Land of Oz: "In Ozma of Oz (1907) Dorothy gets back to Oz as the result of a storm at sea while she and Uncle Henry are traveling by ship to Australia. So, like Australia, Oz is somewhere to the west of California. Like Australia, Oz is an island continent. Like Australia, Oz has inhabited regions bordering on a great desert. One might almost imagine that Baum intended Oz to be Australia, or perhaps a magical land in the center of the great Australian desert."[294]


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  • Denoon, Donald, et al. (2000). A History of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631179623.
  • Hughes, Robert (1986). The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding. Knopf. ISBN 0394506685.
  • Davison, Graeme; Hirst, John; Macintyre, Stuart (1999). The Oxford Companion to Australian History. Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195535979. 
  • Emily Kngwarreye – Paintings (no editor given) (1996). North Ryde NSW: Craftsman House / G + B Arts International. ISBN 90-5703-681-9.
  • Germaine, Max (1990). Artists & Galleries of Australia. Roseville, Vic.: Craftsman House. ISBN 976-8097-02-7. 
  • Johnson, Vivien (2007). Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert. Canberra: National Museum of Australia. ISBN 978-1-876944-58-2. 
  • Jupp, James (2001). The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people, and their origins. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521807891. 
  • Macintyre, Stuart (2000). A Concise History of Australia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521623596.
  • McCulloch, Alan; Susan McCulloch, Emily McCulloch Childs (2006). The new McCulloch's encyclopedia of Australian art. Fitzroy, VIC: Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press. ISBN 0-522-85317-X.
  • Powell JM (1988). An Historical Geography of Modern Australia: The Restive Fringe. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521256194.
  • Robinson GM, Loughran RJ, and Tranter PJ (2000) Australia and New Zealand: economy, society and environment. London: Arnold; NY: OUP; 0340720336 paper 0-340720328 hard).
  • Smith, Bernard; Smith, Terry (1991). Australian painting 1788–1990. Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195549015. 
  • Teo, Hsu-Ming; White, Richard (2003). Cultural history in Australia. UNSW Press. ISBN 0-86840-589-2. 


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