Australia AUSTRALIA Australia is an island continent located southeast of Asia and forming, with the nearby island of Tasmania, the Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The continent is bounded on the north by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea, and the Torres Strait; on the east by the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea; on the south by the Bass Strait and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Indian Ocean. The commonwealth extends for about about 2500 miles from east to west and for about 2300 miles from north to south. Its coastline measures some 22,826 miles. The area of the commonwealth is 2,966,150 square miles, and the area of the continent alone is 2,939,974 square miles, making Australia the smallest continent in the world, but the sixth largest country.
The Commonwealth of Australia is made up of six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia; and two territories: the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The external dependencies of Australia are the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, the Territory of Cocos Islands, the Coral Sea Islands Territory, the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and Norfolk Island. The first Australians were the Aborigines. Aboriginal folklore claims that the Aborigines were always in Australia. However, most anthropologists believe that the Aborigines migrated from Southeast Asia at least 40,000 years ago, probably during a period when low sea levels permitted the simplest forms of land and water travel.
A rise in sea level subsequently made Tasmania an island and caused some cultural separation between its peoples and those on the mainland. These original Australians were essentially hunter-gatherers without domesticated animals, other than the dingo, which was introduced by the Aborigines between 3000 and 4000 years ago. The Aborigines employed a type of “firestick farming” in which fire was used to clear areas so that fresh grazing grasses could grow, thereby attracting kangaroos and other game animals. Aborigines also may have harvested and dispersed selected seeds. Those widespread operations may have been responsible for extensive tracts of grassland.
There is evidence of careful damming and redirection of streams and of swamp and lake outlets, possibly for fish farming. By the time of the first notable European settlement in 1788, Aboriginal people had developed cultural traits and ecological knowledge that showed an impressive adaptation to Australia’s challenging environments. They also had developed many complex variations between regional and even local communities. The total Aboriginal population at that time was about 300,000. More than 200 distinct languages existed at the beginning of the 19th century.
Bilingualism and multilingualism were common characteristics in several hundred Aboriginal groups. These groups, sometimes called tribes, were linguistically defined and territorially based. During the first century of white settlement, there were dramatic declines in the Aboriginal population in all parts of the country. The declines resulted from the introduction of diseases for which the Aborigines had little immunity; social and cultural disruptions; and brutal mistreatment. By the 1920s, the Aboriginal population had declined to 60,000.
Until the 1960s the Aboriginal population was mainly rural. Over the next two decades Aborigines began moving in greater numbers to urban areas. In many country towns, Aboriginal families were viewed negatively as fringe dwellers. In the larger cities, small, but highly volatile, ghetto like concentrations caused the Aborigines to begin demanding greater political rights. The Aborigines’ social and political status was so low that they were omitted from the official national censuses until 1971, following the overwhelming passage of a 1967 referendum that granted the government power to legislate for the Aborigines and to include them in the census count.
At the 1991 census, 238,590 Australian residents were counted as Aborigines. More than 70 percent of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders live in urban areas. Traditional ways of life are still maintained in small enclaves in the more remote locations, especially in the north and center of the continent. Every region of the country is represented by its own Aboriginal land council, and most regions run cultural centers and festivals. A shared desire to reassert their claim to land rights has united the widely separated communities, and Aboriginality is now widely expressed in art, popular music, law, literature, and sport.
Unique forms of animal life exist in Australia. Seven families of mammals and four families of birds are classified as native to the country. About 70 percent of the birds, 88 percent of the reptiles, and 94 percent of the frogs are unique to Australia. Seven of the more than 700 known species of birds have become extinct since the beginning of European settlement, and another 36 are endangered. Of mammals, 19 are extinct and 49 are threatened.
One striking aspect of mammal life in Australia is the absence of representatives of most of the orders found on other continents. However, the primitive, egg-laying mammals known as monotremes are found mostly in Australia. One of them, the platypus, is an aquatic, furred mammal with a bill like that of a duck and with poisonous spurs. It lives in the streams of southeastern Australia. Another monotreme of Australia is the spiny anteater.
Most native mammals are marsupials, the young of which are nourished in an abdominal pouch. The best-known marsupials of Australia are the kangaroos, which include about 50 species. The phalangers are marsupials that live in trees; they include the possum and the koala, a popular fur-bearing animal that is protected throughout Australia. Other well-known marsupials are the burrowing wombat, bandicoot, and pouched mouse. The carnivorous Tasmanian devil, principally a scavenger, is found only on the island of Tasmania Rodents, bats, and the dingo, belong to a different order of mammals. The dingo is a doglike night hunter that also preys on sheep; it does not bark, but howls.
When Europeans settled in Australia, they brought in many species of animals. But none of them will ever quite adapt to the seriously dangerous enviroment that the native animals mentioned above are used to. About 94 percent of Australia’s people are of European descent. The majority have a British or Irish heritage, but about 18 percent of the total population have other European origins. Asians, including Middle Easterners, account for about 5 percent of the population.
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up about 1.5 percent of the population. In 1991 the largest overseas-born groups were from Great Britain and Ireland, other European countries, and Asia and the Middle East. Before World War II (1939-1945) more than 90 percent of the people were of British or Irish origin. Since then, more than 2 million Europeans from other countries have migrated to Australia. Since 1975, about 125,000 Southeast Asians have been admitted to the country, most as refugees. When World War II came in Europe in 1939, Australia dispatched its small armed forces to assist in Britain’s defense. After the Pacific war between Japan and the United States broke out in 1941 and Britain was unable to provide sufficient support for Australia’s defense, the new Labor government of John Curtin sought alliance with the United States. Until the liberation of the Philippines, U.S.
General Douglas MacArthur and his staff used Australia for their base of operations. Australians were psychologically affected because of their fears of a Japanese invasion. Again Australian industry was transformed by the needs of war. The economy was redirected toward manufacturing, and heavy industries ringed the capital cities. Postwar development built further on the foundations established during the war.
Australia is an outstanding producer of primary products. The country is self-sufficient in almost all foodstuffs and is a major exporter of wheat, meat, dairy products, and wool. Australia usually produces more than 25 percent of the world’s yearly output of wool. The volume of manufacturing grew rapidly between the 1940s and 1970s, and mining became a leading sector in the economy during the 1960s. The value of exports from the mining and manufacturing sectors now exceeds that of the agricultural sector.
Manufacturing is highly developed and concentrated mainly in the coastal regions of Victoria and New South Wales. Those two states are most popular. Australia is a federal parliamentary democracy, which has an independent self-governing state and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The constitution of Australia, which became effective in 1901, is based on British parliamentary traditions, and includes elements of the United States system. The head of state is the British sovereign, and the head of government is the Australian prime minister, who is responsible to the Australian Parliament. All powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. Australia is a founding member of the United Nations.
Most Australians enjoy or aspire to middle-class suburban lifestyles in their homes. Australian fashion generally follows Western styles of dress, but is distinctive for the lightweight, colorful casual wear that reflects the absence of harsh winters. Food and drink preferences are influenced by global fashions. Great pleasure is taken in traditional backyard barbecues, bush picnics, and a wide range of organized sports, including soccer, Australian Rules football, cricket, tennis, baseball, basketball, volleyball, netball (a game similar to basketball, played by women), athletics, cycling, boating, swimming, horseback riding, and horse racing. Fishing and gardening are popular activities. As you can see, Australia is an old, historical country with a lot of backround. Other than the facts mentioned in this paper, there are a lot of other facts to be learned about Australia.