Australia is a stable, democratic and culturally diverse society with a skilled workforce, modern market economy and a population of 23 million. In 2009 it was the 13th largest national economy in the world by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and ranked the largest importer and the 19th largest exporter.
The Australian dollar (AUD) is the currency of the Commonwealth of Australia and its territories and the Australian economy is dominated by its service sector, representing almost 70 per cent of Australian GDP. The agricultural and mining sectors account for 57 per cent of the nation's exports. Tourism is the nation’s largest services export industry.
Australian exports are a mix of minerals and energy, manufacturing, rural products and services.
Australia is the only continent to have a single government and the Australian federation consists of six States and two Territories with a multicultural society including Indigenous Australians – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – and migrants from some 200 countries.
The quality of life enjoyed by people in Australia is one of the highest in the world. Australia’s clean physical environment, health services, education and lifestyle combine to make it an attractive place to live. Australia’s ancient Indigenous traditions and multiculturalism are reflected in the diverse cultures and forms of artistic talent present in the country.
Australia has welcomed more than 6.6 million migrants since the end of World War II, including more than 690,000 refugees.
Migration has had a significant effect on Australia's population. At the end of World War II, Australia's population was just over 7 million, with around 90 per cent born in Australia. Since that time the population has more than tripled to 23 million.
While English is the common language in Australia, more than 3 million Australians speak a second language and Australia has a greater range of Asian language skills than any other country in Asia or the Pacific.
Despite the vast size of the continent, the majority of Australians live on the coast and in major cities - around 80 per cent of Australia's population lives in urban areas.
Cultural and linguistic diversity was a feature of Australian life before European settlement and it remains a feature of modern Australian society, and continues to give Australia distinct social, cultural and business advantages.
Australia is one of the world’s oldest landmasses and has been populated for an estimated 60,000 years. At the time of the arrival of European settlers in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples inhabited most areas of the Australian continent. They spoke one or more of hundreds of separate languages and dialects, and their lifestyles and cultural traditions differed from region to region. Their complex social systems and highly developed traditions reflect a deep connection with the land.
Until recently, historians have tended to focus on early European contact with the continent during the 16th and 17th centuries but it is widely recognised that Asian and Oceanic traders and explorers had contact with Indigenous Australians for a very long time before the arrival of the Europeans.
After the American War of Independence, Britain looked to establish new penal settlements to replace the North Atlantic colonies. The First Fleet of 11 ships with 1,500 aboard, half of them convicts, arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788. Sydney grew from that first British penal settlement.
Transportation of British convicts to New South Wales ceased in 1840, but continued to Western Australia until 1868. About 160,000 convicts arrived during 80 years. That compares with free settler arrivals as high as 50,000 a year.
During the 1850s, settlement was boosted by the gold rush era with new wealth based on mining and trade together with farming. Conditions in Australia including the vast distances and the small workforce contributed to the development of unique social institutions.
In 1901 the Australian colonies federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia. The British monarch remains the monarch of Australia, which is an independent, democratic nation with a tradition of religious tolerance and free speech.
In land area, Australia is the sixth largest nation after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil. Mainland Australia is the world’s largest island and the smallest and the flattest continent on Earth. It lies between 10° and 39° South latitude.
When the super-continent of Gondwanaland split up about 160 million years ago, Australia joined Antarctica and drifted towards the South Pole, where glaciers formed a barrier between it and other land masses.
As the world climate warmed and glaciers melted, oceans gradually rose to their current level and the land bridges to New Guinea and Tasmania were cut. Corals colonised a flooded coastal plain, forming the Great Barrier Reef of Queensland.
During the past 45 million years, Australia has moved away from Antarctica towards the equator and become warmer and more arid. About 35 million years ago, eucalypts began to displace the dense forests of the cool, damp Tertiary era.
Today Australian eucalypts account for more than half of all eucalypts found throughout the world. These ancient plants still grow in the wild including 'Antarctic' tree ferns in damp, shaded gullies, to Cycad palms and the rare Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), discovered in a rainforest gorge west of Sydney in the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains and now being cultivated for sale worldwide.
The marsupials native to Australia have a different chromosome structure to mammals in other parts of the world, typically suckling their young in a pouch. These include the koala, possum, wombat and kangaroo. The first kangaroo marsupials are thought to have appeared about 15 million years ago, varying in size and adaptation; some tropical species of kangaroo even live in trees.
A great number of Australia’s native plants, animals and birds exist nowhere else in the world and Australia is committed to conserving its unique environment and natural heritage. More than 58 million hectares of protected areas cover about 7.55 per cent of Australia.
Australians love watching and participating in sport. Despite the relatively small population, Australia has produced world champions in most sports. At the 2012 London Olympic Games Australians won 7 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze medals and ranked tenth overall in the medal tally. Australia’s Paralympic athletes ranked fifth in the world, with a total of 85 medals: 32 gold, 23 silver and 30 bronze medals. Australia even managed a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, not bad for a nation known for sunshine and sandy beaches.
Science, training and innovation contribute greatly to Australia’s sporting success and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), leads the development of Australia’s elite athletes with sports facilities and support services of the highest standards.
The AIS offers 36 sports programs in 26 different sports with numbers of annual scholarships offered to Australia’s sportsmen and sportswomen. Skilled coaches, world-class facilities and cutting-edge sports science sports medicine services have given the AIS its international reputation as a world’s best practice model for high performance athlete development.
Culture and the Arts
Australia has a rich and diverse arts scene reflecting the society, ancient landscape, cultural traditions and varied mix of migrant cultures.
The Australian film industry has a reputation for innovation and quality, and for producing unique films with an Australian flavour that have global appeal. Australia is increasingly the destination of choice for foreign film producers attracted by our diverse landscapes for location shooting, dozens of sound stages and studios, music scoring and post-production facilities, flexible and professional crews and world-renown actors.
All forms of the performing arts, including music, dance and theatre have strong followings in Australia.
all content courtesy of Tourism Australia