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With a history of over fifty thousand years, Australia is an ancient land. Settled by the British in response to the loss of the American colonies, Australia has evolved into an independent nation that plays an incredibly important role in the politics and economy of the Pacific.
A diverse and growing nation that grapples both with its colonial past and its international future, Australia is a major tourist destination and a part of several major international alliances. Though from the same colonial tradition as Canada and the United States, the relative isolation of Australia from the rest of the West as well as its unique history has helped to shape it into a country like no other.
Quick Facts about Australia
- Australia's Highway 1 is the world's longest national highway.
- Australia is home to the world's deadliest fish, snake, and spider.
- Aboriginal Australians are considered to have the oldest extant culture on the planet.
- Australia is also home to the world's largest living structure, the Great Barrier Reef.
- The name Australia is derived from the Greek word Australis, or "south".
Australia's border situation is fairly unique. While it is a continental country and not an island, it shares no land borders with any other country. It does, however, share sea borders with several countries.
To the north are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor. To the south, the country borders the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. The country also borders New Zealand to the southeast.
At 2.97 million square miles, Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world and the largest country in the Oceania region. The country's borders not only includes the entire continent of Australia but also Tasmania and a number of other islands.
Australia stretches across three different time zones and is the only country to encompass the entirety of a continent.
While Australia does not technically have an official language, the vast majority of people in Australia speak English as a first language. In fact, over seventy-five percent of Australians speak only English. The next most-spoken language in the country is spoken is Mandarin.
Australia is also home to several indigenous languages. The most common of these languages is Kriol, one of twenty surviving languages. At the time of Australia's colonization, however, there were over two-hundred-fifty different indigenous languages spoke in the country.
The weather in Australia is quite varied due to the diverse landscapes encompassed by the country. The northern part of the country typically has a very tropical climate, while the southern part of the country has four distinct seasons.
The interior of the country tends to be very dry, though this can vary greatly by the specific location and its distance from the ocean. As a nation in the southern hemisphere, Australia's seasons are reversed from those in the northern hemisphere.
Type of Government
Australia's government has been significantly shaped not only by its colonial history, but also by the history of democracy in the Western world. A federal democracy, Australia's head of state is technically the Governor-General, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. However, the head of the government is the Prime Minister. Much like the United Kingdom and Canada, the bulk of the day-to-day power lies in the hands of Australia's Parliament.
Most of the local governance of Australia is done on a state or territorial level. There are currently six states and three self-governing territories. The remaining territories are governed directly by the national government.