About Australia

The Land and Its People

History

Australia's Aboriginal people, the original inhabitants of the Australian continent, arrived at least 60,000 years ago.

Indigenous rock art, Arnhem Land
Indigenous rock art, Arnhem Land (James Fisher, Tourism Australia)

DID YOU KNOW?

Australian Indigenous art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world.

Parts of the continent were mapped by Dutch navigators in the 17th century and by French and British navigators the following century, but it was not until 1770 that Captain James Cook charted the east coast and claimed it for Great Britain.

From 1788, Britain established penal colonies in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. Free settlers followed in increasing numbers, gradually outnumbering convicts. A colony made up entirely of free settlers was established in South Australia in the 1830s.

Queensland and Victoria separated from New South Wales in the 1850s, by which time gold had been discovered in New South Wales and Victoria. The gold rush brought immigrants to Australia from all over the world.

In 1901, the six colonies united to form the federal Commonwealth of Australia.

From 1914 to 1918, more than 400,000 Australians volunteered in World War I. Although Australia's first major campaign in Gallipoli in 1915 was a failure, with almost 9,000 Australian soldiers losing their lives, its commemoration came to be an important element in the emergence of an Australian national identity.

The signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles by the Prime Minister was the first time Australia had signed an international treaty. In World War II (1939–45), Australian troops were deployed against the Axis powers in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and allied with the United States in the Pacific War against Japan. On 1 November 1945, Australia became a founding member of the United Nations. In 1951, Australia entered into the ANZUS Treaty with the United States and New Zealand, and in 1957 signed an agreement on commerce with Japan which underpinned Australia's increasing engagement with Asia.

Over the past 50 years, Australia has developed a highly diversified economy with considerable strengths, particularly in the mining and agricultural sectors as well as manufacturing and services, and it has become increasingly economically integrated with the countries of East Asia.

DID YOU KNOW?

There are more than 3,000 convict sites remaining in Australia. This is unique in the world today. In 2010, 11 Australian convict sites were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Australia in Brief publication

The cover image for the booklet. It depicts a painting, Jilji 2007, and has an area in the top right corner that contains the title: Australia in Brief.

Australia in Brief provides an authoritative overview of Australia's history, the land, its people and their way of life. It also looks at Australia's economic, scientific and cultural achievements and its foreign, trade and defence policies.

Australia in Brief

Convict era building, Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area, Norfolk Island
Convict era building, Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area, Norfolk Island (Mark Mohell, Department of the Environment)
 

Australia's National Symbols

The Australian Flag

The stars of the Southern Cross represent Australia's geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere. The large Commonwealth star symbolises the federation of the states and territories, and the Union Jack reflects Australia's early ties to Great Britain.

Our National Colours

Australia's national colours are green and gold, the colours of its national floral emblem, the Golden Wattle.

The Coat of Arms

The Australian coat of arms consists of a shield containing the badges of the six Australian states symbolising federation, and the national symbols of the Golden Wattle, the kangaroo and the emu. By popular tradition, the kangaroo is accepted as the national animal emblem. The Golden Wattle was proclaimed the national floral emblem in August 1988.

National Anthem

Advance Australia Fair has been Australia's official national anthem since 19 April 1984.

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.

National Day

Australia Day is celebrated each year on 26 January. The date is the anniversary of the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788.

National Holidays

Australia has 12 public holidays a year, including New Year's Day, Australia Day and Anzac Day.

An Australian soldier carries a wounded comrade near North Beach, Gallipoli
An Australian soldier carries a wounded comrade near North Beach, Gallipoli (AWM H10363)

DID YOU KNOW?

Anzac Day, 25 April, is a national day of commemoration for all Australians who have fought in wars. It is the day the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915 during World War I. To mark Anzac Day, Australians and New Zealanders attend ceremonies at home and around the world, including in Gallipoli. In 2015, Australia will mark the centenary of the Anzac landing with a ceremony at Gallipoli.

Australian Flag
Australian Flag
Acacia pycnantha Benth
Acacia pycnantha Benth
Australian Coat of Arms
Australian Coat of Arms
 

Population

Australians come from a rich variety of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the original inhabitants of the land, immigrants from about 200 countries also call Australia home.

DID YOU KNOW?

Australia has the highest median adult wealth in the world. In 2013, Australia's median wealth was US$220,000 followed by Luxembourg (US$183,000) and Belgium ($US148,000).

Until the 1970s, the majority of immigrants to Australia came from Europe. These days Australia receives many more immigrants from Asia, and since 1996 the number of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East has almost doubled.

Australia's immigration policy welcomes people from all over the world and does not discriminate on racial, cultural or religious grounds. Australians embrace the spectrum of religious beliefs and Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other places of worship are found in almost every major city.

Australia is modern, contemporary and multicultural and this is reflected in its buildings, fashion, recreation and foods.

DID YOU KNOW?

English is the national language but more than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes. The most common are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese and Greek.

Top 10 source countries for immigrants (2012–13): New Zealand (41,230), India (17,240), China (16,784), UK (11,039), Phillipines (6,160), Vietnam (3,427), Malaysia (3,337), South Africa (3,274), Sri Lanka (3,224), Iraq (3,132). 152,414 immigrants arrived in australia in 2012-13.
Top 10 source countries for immigrants (2012–13). Source: Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
New Australian citizens pose with the flag
New Australian citizens pose with the flag (Department of Immigration and Border Protection)
An Australian family at Bondi Beach, Sydney
An Australian family at Bondi Beach, Sydney (Camille Nuttall, Tourism Australia)
 

Indigenous Australia

Aboriginal people in Australia are the custodians of one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world. Archaeological evidence suggests that Australia has been continuously inhabited for more than 60,000 years.

DID YOU KNOW?

One in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak an Australian Indigenous language at home.

Another distinct group, of Melanesian origin, are the Torres Strait Islander peoples who first settled on islands north of the mainland, between the tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea, thousands of years ago.

Today, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in cities and towns. Many people still remain on their traditional lands and maintain aspects of their traditional lifestyles in a modern-day Australia.

Prior to European settlement it is estimated that around 250 different languages were spoken. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages remain strong in some communities, it is estimated that more than 100 languages have been lost and around 110 are endangered. Efforts are underway to keep language strong in communities and to revive vulnerable languages.

Children's hands with ochre paint
(James Fisher,Tourism Australia)

Indigenous culture is diverse and strong and makes a vital contribution to Australia's national identity.

Indigenous people contribute in many areas including the arts, media, academia, politics, sport and business. The 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, a professional Australian Rules football player, is an Adnyamathanha man from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

A national referendum, held on 27 May 1967, removed references from the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous people and excluded Aboriginal people from being counted in the census. The referendum saw the highest 'yes' vote ever recorded in a referendum in Australia, with just over 90 per cent of Australians voting for the change. The referendum and the High Court decision on 3 June 1992 which recognised native title and Indigenous peoples' entitlements to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of their traditional lands, are important milestones in Australian history.

In 2008, the Australian Parliament passed a motion of Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples for past mistreatment and injustices, especially the Stolen Generations, who were Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families.

Today, the Australian Government is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous people, families and communities to make sure children go to school every day, adults have jobs and communities are safe places to live. To achieve this, the Government is working closely with Indigenous Australians to ensure that better services and outcomes are delivered on the ground. The Australian Government is also committed to achieving recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia's Constitution.

2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, responds to the crowd at an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, responds to the crowd at an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Greg Ford, AFL Media)
Ambassador for Australian Indigenous Fashion Week, Samantha Harris, wearing a design by Torres Strait Islander, Grace Lillian Lee
Ambassador for Australian Indigenous Fashion Week, Samantha Harris, wearing a design by Torres Strait Islander, Grace Lillian Lee (Hamish Gregory Photography)
 

Government

Australia was one of the first countries to establish democracy in the modern world. In the mid-nineteenth century, Australian colonies set about writing constitutions which produced democratically elected parliaments.

Parliament House forecourt, Canberra
Parliament House forecourt, Canberra (Lincoln Fowler, Tourism Australia)

From the 1850s to the 1890s, when few other countries in the world were democratic, the Australian colonies progressively established universal male suffrage, and were also among the first to give women the vote.

Australian democracy has at its heart the following core defining values:

  • freedom of election and being elected
  • freedom of assembly and political participation
  • freedom of speech, expression and religious belief
  • rule of law
  • other basic human rights.

The Australian Government follows the British (Westminster) tradition. The Governor-General, representing the Crown, exercises the supreme executive power of the Commonwealth. In practice, the Governor-General acts on the advice of the head of the Government, the Prime Minister, and other ministers.

The Prime Minister leads a cabinet of ministers, each of whom has responsibility for a portfolio of government duties. Commonwealth ministers, including the Prime Minister, are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the leader of a political party or coalition which represents a majority of the House of Representatives in the federal parliament. Similar systems operate in the states and territories. There are also more than 560 local councils across the country.

The 1901 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia sets out the powers of the Commonwealth and states. Each state has its own written constitution. The High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia have the authority to interpret constitutional provisions. Under the Constitution, the legislative power of the Commonwealth is vested in the federal parliament. The parliament makes laws, authorises the Government to spend public money, scrutinises government activities, and is a forum for debate on national issues.

All Australians citizens over the age of 18 must vote in both federal and state elections.

DID YOU KNOW?

Australia is a constitutional monarchy—'constitutional' because the powers and procedures of the Australian Government are defined by a written constitution and 'monarchy' because Australia's head of state is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

 
 

Economy

Known as one of the great agricultural, mining and energy producers, Australia has one of the world's most open and varied economies, with a highly educated workforce and an extensive services sector.

Stock Exchange market board
Stock Exchange market board (Australian Securities Exchange)

DID YOU KNOW?

Australia is rated 'triple A' by all three global rating agencies and enjoys levels of net public debt that are among the lowest in the OECD.

Underpinning Australia's strong economy is its open and transparent trade and investment environment, business-friendly regulatory approach and its trade and economic links with emerging economies, particularly in Asia.

Australia's economy is considered one of the strongest, most stable and diverse in the world. In 2014, Australia entered its 23rd year of uninterrupted annual economic growth, averaging 3.4 per cent a year.

The services sector is the largest part of the Australian economy, accounting for around three-quarters of gross domestic product and four out of five jobs. Australia is an important and growing financial centre, with a sophisticated financial services sector and strong regulation.

A continuing process of reform to further open the economy and strengthen its competitiveness has been a key ingredient of Australia's success.

 
 

Environment

Australia has around 10 per cent of the world's biodiversity and is one of the 17 megadiverse countries that together account for almost 70 per cent of the world's species. It is a land like no other.

DID YOU KNOW?

Australia stretches about 4,000 kilometres (2,485 miles) across—about the same distance as New York to Los Angeles, London to Tehran, Bangkok to Tokyo, Singapore to New Delhi or Hong Kong to Mumbai.

Snow gums in Mount Buller
Snow gums in Mount Buller (Tourism Australia)

More than 80 per cent of Australia's mammals, reptiles, frogs and flowering plants are unique to Australia, along with many of its freshwater fish and almost half its birds. There are more than 140 species of marsupials (animals that carry their young in a pouch) such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats and the Tasmanian Devil. Australia is also home to two monotremes, the platypus and the echidna. These egg-laying mammals are so unusual that they are sometimes referred to as 'living fossils'.

Australia's national reserve system covers 16.5 per cent of Australia's land mass—more than 127 million hectares (313 million acres) across 10,000 properties—and includes a range of habitats from lush rainforests to savannas and deserts. The Commonwealth marine reserve estate, with 60 reserves, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, covers 3.1 million square kilometres, approximately one third of Commonwealth waters.

DID YOU KNOW?

Australia is about the size of the United States mainland.

Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Chris Kapa, Tourism Australia)

A Leading Antarctic Nation

Australia is a leading Antarctic nation, driving international efforts to preserve Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. About 80 scientists and support staff live and work on Australia's Antarctic stations during winter and as many as 200 in the summer months. Marine scientists also work on Australian research vessels in the Southern Ocean. Australia's world-class Antarctic research program contributes to understanding environmental systems in Antarctica and the effects of global climate change. It involves cooperation with hundreds of institutions in more than 25 countries.

Penguins in Antarctica
Penguins in Antarctica (Todor Iolovski, Australian Antarctic Division)
 

19 Australian sites are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Tasmanian Wilderness—one of the three largest temperate wilderness areas remaining in the Southern Hemisphere
Tasmanian Wilderness—one of the three largest temperate wilderness areas remaining in the Southern Hemisphere (Graham Freeman, Tourism Australia)
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland— the world's largest coral reef system
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland— the world's largest coral reef system (D. Bergmark, Tourism Australia)
Shark Bay, Western Australia—2.2 million hectares of unspoilt coastal landscape
Shark Bay, Western Australia—2.2 million hectares of unspoilt coastal landscape (Anson Smart, Tourism Australia)
Australian fossil mammal site, Naracoorte, South Australia—some of the richest fossil deposits in the world
Australian fossil mammal site, Naracoorte, South Australia—some of the richest fossil deposits in the world (SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources)
Fraser Island, Queensland— the world's largest sand island
Fraser Island, Queensland— the world's largest sand island (Maxime Coquard, Tourism Australia)
Royal Exhibition Building, Victoria— one of the last remaining world fair buildings which is still used for exhibitions
Royal Exhibition Building, Victoria— one of the last remaining world fair buildings which is still used for exhibitions (Tourism Victoria)
Sydney Opera House— an internationally significant building
Sydney Opera House— an internationally significant building (Camille Nuttall, Tourism Australia)
Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory— a culturally sacred landscape for Aboriginal people
Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory— a culturally sacred landscape for Aboriginal people (Masaru Kitano snaK Productions, Tourism Australia)