Fast facts about Australia:

Capital: Canberra
Surface Area: 7.74 million square kilometres
Population: 20.2 million
Language: English
Currency: Australian dollars (AUD$)
Gross Domestic Product: $835 billion (US$603 billion)
Workforce: Almost 10 million
Inflation Rate: 2.4 per cent
Exports: 143 billion (2003—04)
Australia's main export destinations: Japan, China, United States, South Korea, New Zealand
Australia's main import sources: United States, Japan, China, Germany, United Kingdom
National Colours: Green and gold
National Day: Australia Day – 26 January
Time: Australia has three time zones: East: GMT + 10 Central: GMT + 9.5 West: GMT + 8
Flight time Sydney-Perth (East to West): 5 hours
Flight time Adelaide-Darwin (North to South): 3 hours 40 minutes
Households with Internet Access: 37 per cent
Registered Motor Vehicles: 12.46 million
People with Mobile Phones: 12.7 million
Overseas Visitors (12 months to August 2004): 5.2 million
Highest Point: 2228 metres above sea level (Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales)
Lowest Point: 15 metres below sea level (dry bed of Lake Eyre, South Australia)

(Last update May 2006)

Australia is a stable, democratic society with a skilled workforce and a strong, competitive economy. With a population of over 20 million, Australia is the only nation to govern an entire continent and is the sixth-largest country in the world in land area. Australia's multicultural society includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and migrants from some 200 countries.

Australian exports are a mix of traditional commodities, services and advanced manufacturing. The economy is open and innovative, with a commitment from the Australian Government to maintain economic growth in a competitive environment. Over the past decade, strong growth has been accompanied by low inflation and interest rates, and solid productivity.

The Australian Government is firmly committed to supporting Australian innovation and excellence through an ongoing action plan called ‘Backing Australia's Ability—Building our Future through Science and Innovation'.

In a global economy, language skills are a great advantage for the national workforce. Although English is the official language in Australia, more than 4.1 million Australians speak a second language. As a result, Australia offers the familiarity of a Western business culture with a workforce capable of operating in both Asian and Western business environments. In fact, Australia has a greater range of Asian language skills than any other country in Asia or the Pacific. More than 840 companies have established their regional headquarters in Australia.

The language skills and other capabilities that attract foreign companies are, in part, a result of Australia's diverse multicultural society. In almost 60 years of planned post-war migration, Australia has welcomed over 6 million migrants, including more than 600 000 refugees. Over this time, the population has increased from about 7 million to 20 million.

Australia's spectacular natural environment, rich Indigenous history and culture, multicultural communities, and vibrant food and wine sector make it one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. More than 5 million people visit Australia every year, making the tourism industry the largest contributor to Australian services export earnings.

A great number of Australia's native plants, animals and birds exist nowhere else in the world. Australia is committed to conserving its unique environment and natural heritage and has a range of protection procedures in place, including World Heritage listings and many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Australians are a unique mix of people. Indigenous Australians have inhabited Australia for an estimated 60 000 years. The remainder of Australia's population are settlers, or descendants of settlers, who have arrived during the past two centuries.

There are few countries in the world in which migrants have achieved the economic, political, social and cultural participation that they have in Australia.

Cultural and linguistic diversity was a feature of Australian life before European settlement. It remains a feature of modern Australian society, and continues to give Australia distinct social, cultural and business advantages.

From the time European settlement began in 1788, migration continued at a steady pace—reaching 50 000 a year during the gold rush period of the 1850s—until the population reached over 7 million in the 1940s. Most settlers were from a British or Irish background.

After the Second World War, the Australian Government began a formal migration program that has brought more than six million migrants to Australia. Since then, people from some 200 different countries have made Australia their home.

During the last 40 years there has been a significant change in the source countries for people who choose to settle in Australia. In the 1960s, 46 per cent of all settler arrivals were born in the United Kingdom and Ireland. By the 1990s, only 13 per cent were born in these two countries, with the countries in Australia's region becoming an increasingly important source of settler and long-term visitor arrivals.

At 30 June 2002, 7.5 per cent of the Australian population had been born in north-west Europe, three-quarters of whom were born in the United Kingdom. People born in Asia comprised 5.7 per cent of Australia's population.

Australia is the world´s smallest continent and sixth-largest country. With proportionately more desert land than any other continent, Australia has a low population density. Lying completely in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is bounded by the Indian Ocean on the west and south and by the Pacific Ocean on the east. These oceans merge on the north in the Arafura Sea between Australia and Indonesia and New Guinea, and on the south in the Bass Strait. The coastline length, estimated at 19,200 km (11,930 mi), is remarkably short for so large an area, a result of the relative lack of indentation. Major inlets other than the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Australian Bight are few.

A self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Australia celebrated its bicentennial in 1988 (see Bicentennial, Australian). It is a federation of five mainland states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia) and one island state (Tasmania), as well as two territories (Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory). The country´s name derives from the Latin terra australis incognita, meaning "unknown southern land," which resulted from a confusion between Australia and Antarctica on early world maps.

In many ways Australia is unusual among continents. It lacks major relief features and has a high proportion of dry land. The continent´s isolation from other landmasses accounts for its unique varieties of vegetation and animal life, and for the existence of a Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) culture among the Aborigines. Except for Antarctica, Australia was probably the last continent to be inhabited by humans and the last to be explored and settled by Europeans. It is the only continent comprising a single nation-state.

Dutch explorers first sighted Australia in the early 17th century. Captain James Cook explored the east coast in 1770 and claimed the land for Great Britain. In 1778 the first settlement (Sydney) was founded at an excellent harbor on the southeast coast. British convicts played an important role in the territory´s early history. The discovery of gold and other ores attracted immigrants, but Australia remained a primarily agricultural country until World War II.

Subsequent industrialization has been rapid, and today Australia ranks as one of the world´s most economically developed countries, although vast areas of the interior, known as the Outback, remain all but uninhabited.

Most of the rich farmland and good ports are in the east and particularly the southeast, except for the area around Perth in Western Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide are the leading industrial and commercial cities. There has been considerable industrial development in the last two decades of the 20th cent., and the standard of living has remained generally high. While the Australian economy fell into a severe recession in the late 1980s and suffered from the Asian economic slump of the mid-1990s, it had largely recovered by the late 1990s, although unemployment remained high.

Australia is highly industrialized, and manufactured goods account for most of the gross domestic product. Its chief industries include mining (much of which is accomplished with the aid of Japanese capital), food processing, and the manufacture of industrial and transportation equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, machinery, and motor vehicles. Australia has valuable mineral resources, including coal, iron, bauxite, copper, tin, lead, zinc, and uranium. Some lumbering is done in the east and southeast.

The country is self-sufficient in food, and the raising of sheep and cattle and the production of grain have long been staple occupations. Tropical and subtropical produce—citrus fruits, sugarcane, and tropical fruits—are also important, and there are numerous vineyards and dairy and tobacco farms.

Australia maintains a favorable balance of trade. Its chief export commodities are metals, minerals, coal, wool (of which it is the world´s largest exporter), beef, mutton, cereals, and manufactured products. The leading imports are manufactured raw materials, capital equipment, and consumer goods. Australia´s economic ties with Asia and the Pacific Rim have become increasingly important.



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