Australia is a developed liberal democracy. It is the largest and most populous country in Oceania, and one of the richest countries in the Southern Hemisphere.
For 40,000 years the continent of Australia was inhabited by indigenous people known as Aboriginals. It was colonised by the British Empire in the late 18th century but gained its independence in 1901.
Demographics of Australia
Australia is a rapidly growing country. Its growth is fuelled by immigration.
At the start of 2016, Australia’s population was estimated to be 23,984,200. Australia today is the 53rd most populous country in the world.
The population has grown by almost 2.5 million people in the five years since the last census, held in 2011, recorded an official population of 21,507,717.
Must of Australia’s population growth is the result of immigration. Around 3 in every 10 Australians was born outside of Australia. The United Kingdom is still the largest single country of origin for migrants to Australia, only just ahead of India and China.
English is the language most commonly spoken in Australia. There is no official language in Australia.
According to the 2011 census, 61% of people in Australia are christians. 2.5% are buddhists, 2.2% are muslims and 1.3% are hindus. 22.3% of people in Australia declared they had no religion. Australia has no official state religion.
Australia is one of the richest countries in the world. Its free market economy has seen sustained and steady growth over many decades, driven by its service sector and export of minerals and natural resources.
Australia’s nominal GDP in 2014 was $1.44 trillion. This figure, provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) makes Australia the 14th largest economy in the world.
Nominal GDP per capita in 2014 was, according to the IMF, $51,642, ranking Australia 7th in the world.
Australian GDP growth over the past few years has been in the 2-4% range – outperforming most European economies, but lagging slightly behind US growth.
Mining is a major industry in Australia, both for domestic consumption and export. Key exports include coal, uranium and natural gas.
The Australian dollar is the currency of Australia. It is also legal tender in Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu and, believe it or not, Zimbabwe.
Australia is a federal democracy and, like the United Kingdom, a constitutional monarchy.
Australia is a member of the British Commonwealth. Its head of state is Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. She is represented in Australia by a Governor General.
Australia’s parliament is comprised of a house of representatives (with 150 MPs) and a senate (with 76 senators).The Liberal party is the largest party in both Parliament and the Senate. It leads a coalition government. Malcolm Turnbull is leader of the Liberal party and the current Prime Minister of Australia.
Each of Australia’s states and territories also has its own parliament.
Australian cities and states
Capital City of Australia
Canberra is the capital city of Australia. It has a population of 381,488 and is the eighth largest city in Australia.
Canberra was chosen as capital city of Australia in 1908 because the two largest cities (Melbourne and Sydney) could not agree which should become the capital. It is located in the Australian Capital Territory – an area similar in function to Washington D.C. in America.
Largest Australian cities
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia.[table id=6 /]
For more detail, and a longer list, please click here to read our more detailed article about the largest cities in Australia.
Australian states and territories
There are six states, three federal territories and seven external territories in Australia.
They are:[table id=7 /]
All of the states and most of the territories are self-governing. The remaining territories are governed by federal government.
The zeal is blue with six white stars – five small and one large. It was adopted in 1901.
The stars represent the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross constellation. Because it is a member of the Commonwealth it also contains a union jack in the upper left corner.
Australian national anthem
Advance Australia Fair is the national anthem of Australia.
It was composed in 1878 by Peter McCormick and adopted as the national anthem in 1984. Before 1984 the national anthem was God Save the Queen.
Australia’s military is called the Australian Defence Force. It has 57,982 active personnel and 45,000 reserve personnel.
It has three main branches of service – the Australian Army, The Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy.
Australia’s deference budget in 2014 was US$22.5 billion (1.5% of GDP). This is the fourteenth largest military expenditure in the world.
History of Australia
Humans first arrived on the Australian continent nearly 50,000 years ago. In 1788, when the first colonists landed, their population was estimated at between 750,000 and 1 million. They had a predominantly hunter-gatherer lifestyle. No written records exist – their history and culture was passed down orally.
Willem Janszoon, a Dutch sailor, was the first European person to land in Australia, on 26 February 1606. Although the Dutch named this new territory New Holland, they did not settle here.
Instead, it was the English who colonised Australia. Captain James Cook mapped the East Cost of Australia in 1770 and claimed the territory for Great Britain. Captain Arthur Phillip led the first colony – a penal colony that landed near present day Sydney on 26 January 1788.
Britain gradually expanded its penal colonies over the next 50-75 years – driven partly by a need to exile its criminals somewhere far away and partly by a desire to secure a territory that could compensate for its loss of North America in 1783. Gradually, as the penal colonies became established, civilian colonists followed. Over the next fifty years they gradually took on responsibility for their own governance.
The Commonwealth of Australia, a dominion of the British Empire, was established on 1 January 1901. The Commonwealth brought together each of the separate colonies into a single, self-governing, federation.
Australia was rapidly industrialising and growing in economic strength. By the time of the first world war, it was able to send more than 400,000 men to join the fighting in Europe – more than 60,000 of whom were killed in the conflict. Gallipoli, in present day Turkey, is regarded as the Australian military’s first major battle. Australia’s army, navy and air force also played a major part in the Second World War, fighting against Nazi Germany in Europe and the Japanese Empire in Asia.
Growing in confidence, Australia gradually reduced its formal constitutional links with Britain – most were severed in the Statue of Westminster in 1931; the final ties were cut by the Australia Act of 1986.