AUSTRALIA

 

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BASIC INFORMATION

 

Official name

Commonwealth of Australia

Population

19.7 million

Total area

7,686,850 sq km

Capital

Canberra

Form of government

Federal parliamentary state

(formally a constitutional monarchy)

Head of state and government

Prime Minister

Official languages

English

Date of independence

January 1st, 1901

Monetary unit

Australian dollar

National anthem

Advance Australia Fair

 

 

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GEOGRAPHY

 

Australia is the Earth smallest continent, situated in the Southern Hemisphere between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Its nearest neighbour in the north is New Guinea from which Australia is separated by 85 km wide Torres Strait. Australia is the only country that occupies a whole continent and it is the sixth largest country of the world after Russia, Canada, China, the USA and Brazil - 7,682,300 sq km.

The oval shape of Australia is broken by the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north and by the Great Australian Bight in the south. Along the east coast we can see the Great Barrier Reef, which is the biggest coral reef on the Earth.

The nearest islands are - besides Tasmania which lies 240 km to the south - King Island and Flinders Island in the Bass Strait, Kangaroo Island in the Gulf of St. Vincent, Melville Island in the north and Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The surface of Australia is mostly flat, only one twentieth of the whole continent is higher than 600 m above the sea level. The Great Western Plateau occupies nearly half of the continent. In central Australia there are three deserts - the Great Sandy Desert, the Gibson Desert and the Great Victoria Desert. The highest parts of this area are just over 1,000 m (Mt. Meharry 1,251 m high).

The second part is the Central-Eastern Lowland - a flat area lower than 100 m above the sea level. It is mostly covered by tropic forest and savannah with occasional creeks and rivers, which flow into lakes such as Lake Eyre, Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner (large lakes which become dry in the dry seasons). The eastern part of the Central-Eastern Lowland is made up of lowland with the biggest river system (the Murray and the Darling rivers) in Australia.

The third basic Australian area are the Australian Cordilleras which are along the eastern coast of Australia (and continue to Tasmania). Their northern part - the Great Dividing Range - begins on the York Peninsula. The New England Range and the Blue Mountains continue to the Australian Alps with the highest mountain of the whole continent (Mt. Kosciusko 2,228 m high).

The biggest towns and cities are mostly along the coast of Australia, the two biggest - Sydney and Melbourne - on the south-east coast.

 

 

 

 

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 CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

 

Spending Christmas at the beach or skiing in August may seem strange but the fact is, Australia's seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere - summer starts in December, autumn in March, winter in June and spring in September. Due to its size, geographical location and the lack of high mountain ranges Australia has a wide range of climates but generally no extremes. The average temperature ranges from 23-26ºC above the Tropic of Capricorn with the southern areas more temperate.

Australia has more than 2,000 national parks and nature reserves, protected wilderness areas of natural and environmental importance - desert landscapes, high mountains, coastal dunes and rainforests. Beyond the big cities the air is so clean that it is rarely experienced elsewhere in the world. There are still areas of Australia that have not been explored. Australia has many national parks - Kakadu NP, Uluru, the Wet Tropics of north Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves, Willandra Lakes, Lord Howe Island, Tasmanian Wilderness, Shark Bay, Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Riversleigh (Queensland) and Naracoorte (South Australia), Macquarie Island and Heard and McDonald Islands.

 

  

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POPULATION

 

The population of Australia is some 18.5 million. 95 per cent of inhabitants are of British origin, 3 per cent are made by other European ethnic groups and 1.5 per cent are Aborigines.

The density is one of the lowest in the world - only 2 people to 1 sq. km. Around 85 per cent people live in urban areas mainly along the south-east coast. Deserts and the tropical northern part are practically uninhabited.

Until the late 20th century the population of Australia was remarkably homogeneous because of restrictions to non-European immigration. In fact, most Australians were of British and white Commonwealth origin. The principal religion was and remains Christianity (76%), with Roman Catholics and Anglicans predominating.

Australia's racist admission policy was officially terminated in 1973, and now there is a much more cosmopolitan mix, with many new immigrants from Asia. There are also small communities from Greece, Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Life expectancy is 75 for male and 80 for female.

  

LANGUAGE

 

Australian English  (called "Strine") and aboriginal languages are spoken here. In Australian English a lot of words are made by shortening everyday words because Australians prefer short words:

 

Oz - Australia

postie - postman

Aussie - Australian

surfie - person who loves surfing

footy - football

ta - thank you, etc.

barbie barbecue

  

 

 

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ABORIGINES

 

When the first white people from Europe came to Australia, about 300,000 Australian Aborigines (or Aboriginals) were living there. It is generally thought that Aborigines have been living on the continent for the last 50,000 years, originally migrating from Indonesia. The oldest skeleton found in Australia was at Lake Mungo in south-west New South Wales, believed to be 38,000 years old and bears traces of ceremonial ochre.

Aborigines did not develop a sense of land ownership, although Aboriginal children were taught from an early age that they belonged to the land and must respect tribal boundaries. Tribes returned to particular sites to bury their dead. Some areas were designated sacred sites because of their association with the Dreamtime, the time when the earth was formed and cycles of life and nature were initiated.

Aboriginal legends, songs and dances tell us about powerful spirits who created the land and people during the Dreamtime. There was no written Aboriginal language and, in fact, most of the 600 tribes spoke different dialects and rarely met except on ceremonial occasions. The tradition of the Dreamtime was a unifying force and rock paintings depicting this creation period can be found dotted throughout the country. Some of the most striking and best preserved of these can be seen at rock galleries in Kakadu National Park and other parts of northern Australia.

The Aborigines originally lived as hunters using boomerangs and other similar instruments for hunting. They understood and loved their land. But the Europeans wanted it, and to get it they persecuted the Aborigines. Many of them died. Now there are about 228,000 Aborigines. They live in government reserves or missions, but also in some cities and few continue their nomadic ways. They remain on the fringes of society: they are poor and often have the lowest paid job.

Since the 1980s they have been granted some areas, mostly in the centre of the country. In recent years, white Australians have become more sensitive to the difficult situation of Aborigines, resulting in increased health and educational services, greater recognition of Aboriginal land rights and a growing appreciation of Aboriginal culture. Specialised galleries display Aboriginal art, tools, musical instruments and artefacts. These are highly valued by collectors all over the world.

 

 

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HISTORY

 

Australia's native inhabitants, the Aborigines, arrived in Australia at least 40,000-50,000 years ago. The existence of this continent was believed long ago - in ancient times - and was supported by information from Marco Polo at the end of the 13th century (Terra Australis Incognita).

The first Europeans - the Dutch ship Duyfken ("little dove") under the command of Willem Jansz - sighted the western coast of Cape York in 1606. The Spanish ship of Luis Vaez de Torres sailed north of Cape York and through the Torres Strait. Later voyagers include Abel Tasman, William Dampier, and Dirk Hartog.

James CookThe wave of immigration began in 1788, after Captain James Cook had claimed New South Wales as a British colony in 1770. The continent was inhabited by a variety of different tribes.

The first immigration was a special one. On May 13, 1787, the "First Fleet" set out from England on the way to Australia, having on the board 1,030 people, of whom 700 were convicts. The commander of this fleet - Arthur Philip - landed in Botany Bay and became the first governor of this colony. For 40 years the region around Sydney and Tasmania Island were the only parts of Australia which were colonized. The convict system lasted till 1866, when it was officially abolished in the last colony in Australia - in Western Australia.

The creation of other separate colonies followed the first settlement in New South Wales at Sydney in 1788: Tasmania in 1825, Western Australia in 1829, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The convicts' contribution to the economic foundation of the country as well as to the language spoken in Australia was considerable.

The gold rushes of the 1850s (Bathurst near Sydney and Ballarat and Bendigo in the state of Victoria) and 1890s (Coolgardie in Western Australia and Kalgoorlie, where the gold mines are until now) contributed to the exploration as well as to the economic and constitutional growth of Australia.

The idea of independence appeared as early as in the first half of the 19th century. The proposition of a federal constitution was made in 1891. The British Parliament agreed with this constitutional law and on September 17, 1900, Queen Victoria proclaimed the Commonwealth of Australia to be founded from January 1, 1901. The first capital was Melbourne.

Australia played an important role in both World Wars. After WW I Australia had a strongly developed economy. The economic crisis in the 1930s lasted relatively shortly. In World War II Australian troops fought e.g. in the Near East.

About 3 million Europeans had entered Australia since 1945. Aborigines and part-aborigines are mostly detribalised but there are several preserves in the Northwest Territory. They remain economically disadvantaged.

 

 

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POLITICAL SYSTEM

 

The official title is the Commonwealth of Australia and it is an independent sovereign state within The British Commonwealth of Nations. It has a democratic, federal system and the head of state is the British King or Queen (Elizabeth II at present) represented by the Governor-General. The head of government is the Prime Minister. The constitution came into effect on January 1, 1901.

 

The Commonwealth of Australia consists of 6 states and 2 territories:

 

 

New South Wales (capital Sydney)

Victoria (capital Melbourne)

Queensland (capital Brisbane)

South Australia (capital Adelaide)

Western Australia (capital Perth)

Tasmania (capital Hobart)

Australian Capital Territory - it is a part of the country surrounding Australia's capital Canberra, which had been chosen and built up as the capital of the whole country.

Northern Territory is thinly populated, however there is a strong urge now to change it into the seventh state (about 140,000 people live here).

 

Each state has its own constitution, governor (the monarch's representative), executive, legislative and judicial system. Each territory has its own legislative assembly.

Legislative power
The Federal Parliament has its seat in Canberra and consists of two chambers: the elected Senate of 76 members (12 for each state and 2 for each territory); and the House of Representatives of 148 members. Senators serve for six years, and members of the House for three years. The main political parties are the Liberal Party, the National Party (normally in coalition), the Australian Labour Party, and the Australian Democrats.

National symbols
The Australian national flag consists of the British Flag symbol and a larger blue field in which 5 stars are arranged in the form of the Southern Cross constellation. The large white star under the British Union Jack symbolizes 6 Australian states and 1 territory.

 

 

 

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 WALTZING MATILDA

 

After coming to Australia, the first colonists usually bought some sheep, hired a few man, found a place in the bush they liked (bush is wild, uncultivated land), and built a house on "their" land. If there were any Aborigines there, they were frightened away, or shot. These early farmers were called "squatters". In the second half of the 19th century many of them became rich and their farms were patrolled by soldiers (troopers). They employed migrant workers to work for them. The following song, sometimes called and unofficial Australian anthem, tells the story of a poor swangman - a seasonal migrant worker. The story is sad, but the melody is very lively.

 

Once a jolly swangman camped by a billabong

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

 

Chorus:

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

(Each chorus repeats the last two lines of the preceding stanza.)

 

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,

Up jumped the swangman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

 

Chorus

 

Up rode the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred,

Up rode the troopers - one-two-three:

"Where's that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tucker bag?

You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

 

Chorus

 

Up jumped the swangman and sprang into the billabong,

"You'll never catch me alive", said he.

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the billabong,

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

 

Chorus

 

Waltzing Matilda means dancing with a sleeping blanket. (A "matilda" is a rolled-up blanket for sleeping in.) The expressions "matilda", "swangman", "billabong" (a pool in a dried-up river), "coolibah tree" (a gum tree, a sort of eucalyptus which is Australia's most typical tree), "billy" (a kettle), "jumbuck" (a sheep), "tucker" (food) and "squatter" are used only in Australian English called "Strine".

 

 

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EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM

 

The first school in Australia was set up in Sydney by a convict named Isabella Rosson in 1789 and the oldest university of Sydney, was established in 1850.

The system of education in Australia is not unified, because each state decides about its own education in its territory. The Federal Government decides only about the education of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The first system of compulsory education was introduced by Victoria in 1872 and other states followed soon. Basically we can say that school attendance is compulsory from the age of five or six until the age of fifteen (sixteen in Tasmania). About 72 per cent of school children attend free, government-funded schools, mostly coeducational. Australia also has private fee-paying schools, many of them run by religious bodies.

Pre-school education The pre-school centres are attended by children from the age of four and provide 2.5-3 hours of education a day. The children in isolated areas may use the services of mobile kindergartens. In bigger towns there are day nurseries and day-care centres providing whole-day care.

Primary education  Primary schools provide education for children up to the age of 12 (or 13).

Secondary schools The primary schools are followed by secondary schools which are mostly in the form of co-educational comprehensive high school. Some states have specialized secondary schools. Students have the choice of leaving school at 15 or continuing on to 17 or 18 to seek a certificate qualifying them for entry into university or a college of further education. Other possibilities are area and rural schools which last 3 years. After 3 or 4 years of attending the secondary school the children may either take a job or continue studying for two more years and pass a school-leaving exam, which gives them the right to enter university or other forms of tertiary education. Primary and secondary education is free of charge.

Tertiary education The tertiary education in financed by the Federal Government. In Australia there are 19 universities - the biggest one is the Australian National University in Canberra. The University of Sydney ranks among the oldest in Australia. Colleges of Advanced Education provide specialized education following the needs of industry, trade etc. In Australia there are about 180 Technical Colleges and 10 Colleges of Agriculture. As an alternative to higher education, technical and further education colleges offer nationally recognised vocational education and training to provide skills required by the work force.

The students are supported by the government in the form of various scholarships and grants but they also contribute to the cost of their education either by paying in advance or applying for a government loan that must be repaid when they enter the workforce.

A range of awards and exchanges are available to international students, teachers and university staff to study in Australia, and for Australians to study abroad.

Correspondence school Children living far from school or disabled children may be excused from school attendance, but they are educated through Correspondence School and School of the Air (mutual communication of the school children and teachers in the centres through radio and TV). Children listen, talk to their teachers and ask questions over the radio. They write exercises and do homework which is sent off by post to be corrected. They meet their teachers only once a year, at a summer camp.

The school year The school year starts at the end of January or the beginning of February and finishes in the middle of December, being interrupted by two shorter holidays which divide the school year into three parts.

 

 

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NATIONAL ECONOMY AND TRANSPORTATION

 

Australia belongs to the highly developed countries of the world. The living standard there is very high.

Main industries are iron, steel, textiles, electrical equipment, chemicals, car, aircraft, ship and machinery.

Australia belongs to the top exporters of beef, lamb, wool and wheat, although only 9 per cent of land is arable. Other agricultural items are barley, oats, hay, sugar, wine, fruit and vegetables.

Sheep and cattle farmers live on isolated farms called stations in Australia. The farmers do not often go to the towns or see their neighbours who live more than one hundred miles away. They contact their friends, business partners and shopkeepers by means of radio. Radio is very important for them.

Australia is well known for the mineral deposits there - bauxite (the first in the world, 32% of the world production), coal, copper, iron, lead, nickel, silver, tin, uranium and zinc ores.

Only 7 per cent of the population work in agriculture, 30 per cent in industry and trade and 32.6 per cent in services. The main trading partners are Japan, the USA, the UK and New Zealand. Currency used in Australia is Australian Dollar.

 

Also Australia is a vast country it is easily explored by plane, rail and coach. The need to overcome long distances contributed to the development of transport that has evolved rapidly and Australia has made many advances in this field. About 810,000 km of roads and 40,000 km rail networks span the continent.

The first passenger flight in Australia took place on November 2nd, 1922 operated by Quantas, the first airline to be registrated in the country. Other airlines formed in next years and today, Quantas, Ansett Australia and smaller, but significant regional airlines maintain a good reputation for safety, comfort and service. Domestic services carry more than 18 million passengers a year.

About 9 million vehicles use Australian roads. The wearing of seatbelts, safety helmets, strict drink-driving laws, random breath testing of motorists and constant improvement of roads have contributed to the reduction of road accidents.

Trains operate in all states except Tasmania and there are interstate lines offering exciting journeys into the Outback or along the east coast. On the Indian Pacific, a trans-continental railway journey, that bridges the distance between Sydney and Perth, you can experience the famous "Long Straight", 478.4 kilometres of unbending track between Ooldea and Nurina on the Nullarbor Plain. This is the world's longest straight stretch of railway.

National Rail, jointly owned by the federal government and the governments of New South Wales and Victoria, is providing a nation-wide service.

 

 

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FAUNA

 

One of the most attractive aspects of Australia is its fascinating assortment of peculiar animals. Some of them, like the kangaroo, koala bear, dingo, wallabies, platypus, Tasmanian devil (raccoon-like marsupial), wombat (bear-like marsupial), barking and frilled lizards cannot be found elsewhere. It is mainly due to the fact that for long prehistoric period (55 million years) this continent was quite isolated from the others. Marsupials are mammals (savce) which give birth to tiny, poorly developed offspring (potomstvo). In most species, the babies mature in a pouch (vak) on the mother's abdomen.

The kangaroo is a strange animal whose female has a pouch in which its young are carried. It is the same now as in prehistoric times. Kangaroos have strong back legs and fight well with their feet. There are red kangaroos and grey kangaroos. They are quite big animals - they grow up to 1.5 m and weigh up to 90 kg. Their tails are 90 cm long. Kangaroos live in groups. They can jump very well. Kangaroos are famous for their jumping or hopping. When hopping along, they reach a speed of 50 km/hour. They can jump three metres high and their jump is 7.5 metres long.

The female kangaroo gives birth to a baby kangaroo at any time of the year. The baby stays in its mother's pouch for six months. As it grows it leaves the pouch, but comes back for safety.

People hunt kangaroos for their meat and skin. Kangaroos eat green grass and other vegetation. Australians don't like kangaroos because these animals eat grass and then there is not enough grass for the sheep. People build fences to protect grazing land from kangaroos. But kangaroos are good jumpers. Fences do not keep them away from green grass.

The koala is a tree-climbing mammal that looks more like a children's toy than a real animal. It is a typical animal for Australia and New Zealand. It lives in trees. It eats the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Koala is a little cousin in the bear family, but very lovely. They have large, bushy ears, prominent wide eyes and short, woolly fur.

The platypus is probably the world's strangest animal. It is said to be made up of left-over parts of other animals. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck and a furry body resembling an otter and lays eggs like a hen, but it is a mammal suckling its young and has a hairy body.

The emu is a big bird - a relative of the ostrich which you can find in South Africa. The emu is about two metres tall. It cannot fly as its wings are rather short for its heavy body. Their long legs make emus good runners. Beautiful feathers cover their heads and necks.

Tasmania Island is the home of the large, fierce Tasmanian devils.

Australia is also home to many types of cockatoos, parakeets and other parrots, as well as two large flightless birds, the emu and the cassowary. The laughing Kookaburra is one of Australia's best-known birds.

Sheep and rabbits were brought from England. Rabbits increased and grew wild and mean a big danger for Australian farmers.

 

 

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