Capital: Canberra (307,700)

Language: English 79.1%, Chinese 2.1%, Italian 1.9%, other 11.1%, unspecified 5.8%

Currency: dollar (A$)

Population: 20.26 million; population density of persons per sq. km.; growth rate: 0.85 %; Caucasian 92%, Asian 7%, aboriginal and other 1%

Religion: Catholic 26.4%, Anglican 20.5%, other Christian 20.5%, Buddhist 1.9%, Muslim 1.5%, other 1.2%, unspecified 12.7%, none 15.3%

Area: 7,617,930 sq km. – land; 68,920 sq km – water

Geography: Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean; mostly low plateau with deserts; fertile plain in southeast

Climate: generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north

Natural Resources: bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum

Infant Mortality Rate: 4.76; Life Expectancy at Birth – 80.5 years overall

Education: Literacy (total population): 99%; Average years of schooling: 10.9 years; Duration of compulsory education: 11 years

Chief of state (Prime Minister): John Howard

Executive branch – prime minister nominates, from among members of Parliament, candidates who are subsequently sworn in by the governor general to serve as government ministers

Type of Government: federal parliamentary democracy

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory

Independence: January 1,1901 (federation of UK colonies); Constitution effective same day

Economy: GDP: $31,421.40 per capita
Australia has a Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Rising output in the domestic economy has been offsetting the global slump, and business and consumer confidence remains strong. Australia’s emphasis on reforms, low inflation, and growing ties with China are other key factors behind the economy’s strength. Trade deficit was up to $20 billion in 2004 as a result of weak foreign demand and strong import demand.

Food: Meat, including kangaroo; vegemite (salty sandwich spread), famed for its wine; meat pies; pastries; pastys (dough filled with veggies or potatoes); crayfish; dips; pudding (cake); wine; fruit and vegetables similar to home

Condensed History:
“Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the OECD’s fastest growing economies during the 1990s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s. Long-term concerns include pollution, particularly depletion of the ozone layer, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.”

Extended History
Early history and European exploration
The history of Australia began when people first migrated to the Australian continent from the north, at least 40,000-45,000 years ago. The written history of Australia began when Dutch explorers first sighted the country in 1606. Prior to this time, there are no written records of human events in Australia.

Other 17th century European voyagers (predominantly Dutch, but also French and English) were to follow, and by the start of the 18th century the western and northern coastlines of what had become known as “New Holland” had been charted. No attempts to establish settlements were made, however.

In 1770, British Royal Navy Lieutenant James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia. Cook continued northwards, where he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook’s discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly considered its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by the Dutch navigator Janszoon by more than 160 years.

The favorable reports of these lands relayed by Cook’s expedition upon their return to England generated interest in that it offered a solution to the problem of penal overcrowding in Britain, which had been exacerbated by the loss of its American colonies. Accordingly, in May of 1787, the 11 ships of the First Fleet set sail from England, bound for Botany Bay.

Settlement and Colonization
The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement and penal colony at Port Jackson on January 26, 1788. This date was later to become Australia’s national day, Australia Day. Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland.

Victoria and South Australia were founded as “free colonies” — that is, they were never penal colonies. Western Australia was also founded “free”, but later accepted transported convicts due to an acute labor shortage. New Zealand was part of New South Wales until 1840, when it became a colony. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868.

Colonial Self-government and the Discovery of Gold
A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the gold rushes brought many immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, North America and China. The gold led to a period of great prosperity, but eventually, the economic expansion came to an end, and the 1890s were a period of economic depression.
Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies of Australia individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, most notably foreign affairs, defense, and international shipping.

Federation and World Wars
On January 1, 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born, as a Dominion of the British Empire. Australian troops took part in both world wars.

The Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and Britain, but Australia did not adopt the Statute until 1942. The shock of Britain’s defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector.

Post-war Prosperity
Following World War II the Australian government instigated a massive program of European immigration. After narrowly preventing a Japanese invasion, and suffering attacks on Australian soil for the first time, it was seen that the country must “populate or perish”. Immigration brought traditional migrants from the United Kingdom along with, for the first time, large numbers of Southern and Eastern Europeans. A booming Australian economy stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe and newly-arrived migrants found employment in government assisted programs. Two million were to arrive between 1948 and 1975.

Robert Menzies’ newly-founded Liberal Party of Australia dominated much of the immediate post war era, overseeing the post-war expansion and becoming the country’s longest-serving leader. Manufacturing industry, previously playing a minor part in an economy dominated by primary production, greatly expanded. Since World War II Australia has been transformed by a massive immigration program, and since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy from Asia and other parts of the world, radically transforming Australia’s demography, culture and self-image. Although the policy has been abolished, instances of racism continue.

Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. The final constitutional ties between Australia and Britain ended in 1986 with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council. Australia remains a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II the Queen of Australia; the 1999 referendum to establish a republic was marginally rejected. Australia’s links to its British past are increasingly tenuous. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the nation’s future as a part of the Asia-Pacific region.