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Kangaroos on a beach.
Kangaroos on a beach.
Flag of Australia (converted).svg

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, which all have over 1 million inhabitants.

For about 60,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who in documented times have spoken languages classifiable into roughly 250 groups. After the European discovery of the continent by Dutch explorers in 1606, who named it New Holland, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788, a date which became Australia's national day. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the 1850s most of the continent had been explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy comprising six states and several territories.

Being the oldest, flattest and driest inhabited continent, Australia has a landmass of 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,300 sq mi). A megadiverse country, its size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with deserts in the centre, tropical rainforests in the north-east and mountain ranges in the south-east. A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, which boosted the population of the country. Nevertheless, its population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, remains among the lowest in the world. Australia generates its income from various sources including mining-related exports, telecommunications, banking and manufacturing. Indigenous Australian rock art is the oldest and richest in the world, dating as far back as 60,000 years and spread across hundreds of thousands of sites.

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More usual red styles on orange colour, Erowal Bay, NSW.

Banksia ericifolia, the Heath-leaved Banksia (also known as the Lantern Banksia or Heath Banksia), is a species of woody shrub of the Proteaceae family native to Australia; it occurs in two separate regions of Central and Northern New South Wales east of the Great Dividing Range. Well known for its orange or red autumn inflorescences, which contrast with its green fine-leaved heath-like foliage, it is generally encountered as a medium to large shrub that can reach 6 m (20 ft) high and wide, though is usually half that size. In exposed heathlands and coastal areas it is more often 1-2 m (3-7 ft). Banksia ericifolia was one of the original Banksia species collected by Joseph Banks around Botany Bay in 1770 and was named by Carl Linnaeus the Younger, son of Carolus Linnaeus, in 1782. A distinctive plant, it has been split into two subspecies: Banksia ericifolia subspecies ericifolia of the Sydney region and Banksia ericifolia subspecies macrantha of the New South Wales Far North Coast which was recognised in 1996. Banksia ericifolia has been widely grown in Australian gardens on the east coast for many years as well as being used to a limited extent in the cut flower industry. Compact dwarf cultivars such as Banksia 'Little Eric' have become more popular in recent years with the trend toward smaller gardens.

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Sturt's Desert Pea, at Melbourne Zoo.

The 2000 Summer Olympics, or the Millennium Games, were the Summer Olympic Games held in 2000 in the New South Welsh capital of Sydney. Hailed as the "best Olympic Games ever", it was the first to be held in Australia since the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. The top five medal-takers of the Sydney Olympics were the United States, Russia, China, Australia and Germany.

Photo credit: Robert A. Whitehead

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For a topic outline on this subject, see Outline of Australia.

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