Australia is a country of Oceania
with a surface area of 7,686,850 km² (density of 2.94 inhab./km²).
The population of Australia is 22,607,571 inhabitants in the last census.
The capital of Australia is the city of Canberra which has 323,056 inhabitants.
The queen of the parliamentary monarchy is Elizabeth II.
"Advance beautiful and fair Australia"
Australia or Commonwealth of Australia is the largest country in Oceania including the island itself, Tasmania and more than 8,000 small islands.
Australia has been independent since 1901 but remains a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy member of the Commonwealth of Nations leading a liberal democratic policy. A Governor General, a representative of Queen Elizabeth II, is appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Australian Prime Minister.
The country is surrounded by the Pacific, Indian and Australian Oceans (the areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans affected by the Antarctic Treaty stipulating that they will not become the subject of international conflicts and that the activities will remain peaceful).
Australia at a glance
Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy, member of the Commonwealth
Administrative divisions: 6 states and 3 continental territories
Population: more than 24 million inhabitants
Main languages: English, aboriginal languages pâma-nyungan
Main religion: Christianity (22% without religion)
Current monarch: Elizabeth II of England
Current Governor General: Peter Cosgrove
Current Prime Minister: Malcolm Turnbull
Currency: Australian Dollar (1 Australian Dollar = 100 cents)
Conversion into euro: 100 Australian dollars = 68 euro
Tourism: no restrictions
A country of excesses
Australia is an immense country covering 7,686,850 km² and separated from the Asian continent by the seas of Arafura and Timor. In addition, it has an almost equal area in the exclusive economic zone, a sea area of 200 nautical miles between the coast and international waters enabling a coastal state to have sovereignty over the exploitation of resources. Because of its size, Australia offers visitors a multitude of different landscapes and climates.
The vast majority of the inhabitants are settled on the coast and mainly in major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane or Canberra, the capital.
The coastline is bordered to the west by high plateaus topped by some summits and to the east by the Australian Cordillera, the only mountain range of the island whose highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, peaks at 2,288 meters altitude.
The center of the country is occupied by the vast desert areas of Western Australia, which cover 40% of the country and the green plains delimited by the plateaus on one side and the cordillera on the other. The large forests cover the north of the country.
The Australian climate is as varied as its landscape.
Most of Australia has a desert or semi-arid climate. The extreme north has a tropical or even equatorial climate while the south-east and south-west enjoy a temperate climate.
Precipitation is rare and may even be non-existent for several seasons in a row in more than 80% of the country. On the other hand, some regions, especially Queensland in the north-east, benefit from rain, which is sometimes abundant during the monsoon season.
During the austral summer (corresponding to winter in the northern hemisphere), temperatures can rise up to 50 °. On the other hand, temperatures remain mild during the austral winter and are rarely negative in much of Australia.
Some mountainous areas may experience snowy episodes, and winter sports resorts have been established in Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.
The southwestern forests and scrubland and the shrubs (mallees) of southern Australia form the Bush which is home to endemic fauna and flora. A clutter of carnivorous plants, orchids, eucalyptus and bushes serves as a refuge for many birds, reptiles and mammals. Koalas, Tasmanian devils, wombat, dugongs are some of the representative wildlife typical of Australia.
Unfortunately Australia and Tasmania have been the victims of deforestation in favor of agriculture and the import of animal and plant species that have led to the extinction of endemic species. This is how most species of kangaroo, the Tasmanian tiger and many marsupials have completely disappeared.
Australia is also known for its Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef spanning more than 2,500 kilometers and covering 344,000 square kilometers off the coast of Queensland.
The Great Barrier, threatened by pollution and global warming, is currently benefiting from a safeguarding program. The fishing is prohibited in a large area and the tourism is strictly controlled. It has been managed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority since 1975.
Tasmania separated from the southeast of the main island by the Bass Strait profits from an oceanic climate with four distinct seasons. The island has high mountains and glaciers but is one of the largest moist temperate forests in the southern hemisphere.
The majority of the 500,000 inhabitants of Tasmania are concentrated in urban areas and in particular in Hobart, a former penal colony in the south of the island.
Time of the dream
According to the oral tradition of the aboriginal peoples of Australia, the creation of the Earth was preceded by the "Time of the dream", an immaterial and spiritual world at the origin of all things inhabited by metaphysical beings that created the earth.
From this belief comes the sacredness given to certain places which would have a "power of dream". It also explains the bad omens and misfortunes that befall men. It would also be possible to communicate with the spirits.
The settlement of Australia began around 50,000 BC with a first wave of migrations that first hit Indonesia and Malaysia before continuing on to New Guinea and finally Melanesia, Australia and Tasmania, which formed a single bloc at that time. Indeed, New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania formed a vast plateau called the Sahul. The rise of the sea level towards 10,000 BC then submerged part of this continent, leaving only the highest parts, the present islands.
It is probable that the first hominids, a civilization of hunter-gatherers, who had arrived in New Guinea already mastered the navigation and came from Indonesia after crossing the Timor Sea. They then spread throughout the Sahul territory taking advantage of the low water levels that had left the straits of Torres and Bass dry. Tasmania was said to have been inhabited around 30,000 BC.
The country of the Aborigines
The first inhabitants of Australia were skillful artists as evidenced by the abundance of cave paintings but also bark or painted fabrics. The first musical instruments, the didgeridoo made in eucalyptus or bamboo, appeared in the Stone Age 20,000 years ago. They were probably intended to accompany singing and dancing during ceremonies.
The aborigines also used the boomerang for hunting and war. The oldest specimen found in Australia was dated 11,000 years ago.
The various tribes inhabiting Australia have profited from trade with New Guinea and Indonesia. When the water level isolated them, they continued these trade exchanges but also cultural by sailing from island to island to Indonesia which explains the ethnological mix.
The arrival of Europeans
Australia's strictly speaking history began in the 17th century with the arrival of Europeans on the continent, although some historians believe that a Portuguese explorer named Cristovao de Mendoça had already discovered the island in 1522.
Without the possibility of confirming these facts at present, it is generally agreed that it is the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon who landed first on the Cape York Peninsula in the extreme north of Queensland. It opens the way for Dutch, French and British adventurers and cartographers who will explore Australia, known as New Holland, throughout the 17th century and the beginning of the next century.
During all these years Australia was never colonized and it was not until 1770 and the arrival of James Cook Commander of the Endeavor at Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia to awaken the interest of the British. It was on this site that the first colony was founded a few years before the establishment of the colony of Sydney.
Cook then continued his exploration along the coast to the north and claimed the eastern coastal lands on behalf of the British Crown, thus melting New South Wales. A replica of the sailboat moored in Sydney Harbor, it hosts part of the collections of the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Great Britain sent convicts to New South Wales, which became a penal colony in 1788. It was estimated that more than 160,000 prisoners had been deported to Australia. Initially, the settler-aborigine cohabitation is going well, but very soon the alcohol used as currency and the reported diseases of Europe decimate the population. Aborigines dispossessed of their lands and resources are revolting regularly but are not of a size to oppose the British.
In Tasmania, the situation is even more catastrophic, with the aboriginal population increasing from 6,000 to 300 in the first decades of the 19th century.
A special commission was created in 1838 and it was on his recommendation that a "protector of the Aborigines" was appointed. He is responsible for learning the language and protecting the rights of local populations. The function was abolished in 1970.
Gradually the penal colony becomes a real community and convicts who have served their sentences regain their rank. The last convicts were sent to Australia in 1848.
The trade mainly of wool intensifies with Europe. New free settlements are founded in southern Australia, Queensland and the state of Victoria.
The discovery of the interior is difficult and many explorers lose their lives in hostile countries.
The Europeans eventually take control of almost all of Australia, benefiting from their breeding knowledge and aboriginal skills to boost their economy.
In the middle of the 19th century, the discovery of gold caused a rush and an incredible increase in population. The bushrangers, long-distance bandits living in the bush and shedding the travelers will enjoy to enrich themselves. They are joined by the poorest settlers who find a way to fight famine.
At the same time, the colonies became autonomous and subject to British law. The Crown also retains control over international trade and foreign affairs.
If the living conditions of the Aborigines slowly improved, it was not until the 1930s that a movement in favor of their civil rights was created, and 1992 that the Aborigines were granted their rights to the ownership of their lands. In 2010, an Aborigine became a member of the House of Representatives of the Australian Federal Parliament for the first time.
The Independence and the World Wars
In 1901, after more than 20 years of discussions, Australia obtained its independence. The six colonies are grouped into a single federal state and its constitution is approved by the British parliament.
The new Canberra capital is built.
Australia will pay a heavy price during the World Wars. It actively participates in the First World War by sending more than 300,000 volunteer soldiers who will play a decisive role in the outcome of the conflict. More than 60,000 of them will fall on the battlefields in Turkey, France and Belgium.
The Treaty of Versailles granted Australia control of the former German colony of New Guinea and a place in the League of Nations in compensation.
The economic crisis of 1930 is going to fully hit Australia ant its international trade collapses. It is in this difficult context that Europe is again affected by the war following the invasion of Poland by the German army. Australia enters the conflict and sends troops to Great Britain. The Second Australian Imperial Force is conducting operations in the Mediterranean basin. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Australia recalls its troops to face the Japanese threat that has already hit Singapore.
The Japanese navy particularly attacks Sydney and many Australians are made prisoners. American General Mac Arthur then took command of the troops of the South-West Pacific zone. US military bases are being built in the north of the country, thus avoiding the invasion of the country by Japan. General MacArthur can therefore organize the reconquest of the Pacific. Japan formally surrendered on September 2nd 1945 aboard the USS Missouri.
A massive immigration
The war has allowed Australia to play a leading role on the international stage. The country is also benefiting from its industrialization and its rapprochement with the United States.
A policy favoring immigration will be put in place to populate the country, attracting more than two million Europeans fleeing their countries impoverished by the war and attracted by the promise of work.
This abundant labor will allow the setting up of large projects and clearly the irrigation of the interior. At the same time, immigration policy was at the origin of the diversification of cultures within Australian society, which was then essentially British.
The golden age of the Australian economy, however, came to an end and in the 1980s unemployment rose sharply. An economic reform involving a reduction in public spending and the privatization of certain public services has allowed Australia to keep out of the water and develop its trade with new partners, notably China.
Australia is a Commonwealth parliamentary democracy. A Governor General represents the British sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The office is currently occupied by Sir Peter Cosgrove. He is appointed by the Queen to whom he makes an oath of allegiance for an indefinite period (generally 5 years).
The Governor General's role is honorary, but he also holds various capacities and is Chairman of the Executive Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The Federal Parliament is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Currently, the Prime Minister of Australia is Malcolm Turnbull, leader of the Liberal Party.
A mosaic of cultures
The population of Australia has exceeded 24 million but less than 500,000 of the inhabitants are Aborigines who group mainly in Queensland and New South Wales.
Non-Aborigines are either descendants of the first British settlers or the wave of immigration that followed the end of the Second World War.
Australian English, which differs slightly from English in spelling and vocabulary, is the most widely spoken language in the country. It is spoken daily by more than 80% of the inhabitants. Despite this high percentage, Australia does not have an official language.
There are now eight Aboriginal languages still used by more than 1,000 people, although it is estimated that there were several hundred aboriginal languages upon the arrival of British settlers. Different dialects are spoken only by the aged and are therefore endangered.
The Australian Constitution provides for the separation of church and state and no religion is considered official. Just over 60% of the population is Christian (Catholic or Anglican) and almost 25% say they are atheists. Other religions represented in Australia are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism.
As in all former British colonies, the sport is very popular, especially cricket, rugby union and Australian football (Australian rules).
The Australian football consists of two teams of 18 players who must place an oval ball with their hands or feet in the opposing goal. This typically Australian sport was invented in the 19th century by Tom Wills. For some, it is a derivative of rugby, for the others, it would have originated an aboriginal game, the marngrook. This version is often favored by Australians proud to have a national sport.
Marngrook is not the only aboriginal heritage and Australian culture is a mix of European and native influences. Aborigines continue to perpetuate their orally transmitted traditions for millennia. The dance, the singing, the painting, the boomerang practice, the beliefs and even a diet mainly based on berries are part of their daily lives.
If the Aborigines had only temporary habitats that served as simple shelters before colonization, Australian architecture quickly evolved with the foundation of cities including Sydney and Hobart in Tasmania. Some buildings dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries are still visible as the Port Arthur Penitentiary or Sydney's Hyde Park Barracks, which now houses a museum tracing the history of the convicts.
There are also some beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings as well as the Queenslander houses, vast mansions built on a basement, surrounded by verandas and largely open by a double outer door.
Contemporary Australian architecture is often avant-garde. The Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge or the National Museum of Australia on Canberra's Aboriginal culture are examples.
Australian cuisine is reminiscent of British gastronomy with meat, potatoes and vegetables. Australians are also great barbecue enthusiasts.
However, since the end of the Second World War, the immigrants from all over the world have imported their eating habits in the big cities of the country and food has become widely diversified.
The meals are usually accompanied by Australian or local beer. Australians also appreciate the rum produced in large quantities in New South Wales and the eucalyptus-flavored tea, Billy Tea.
To visit Australia, it is essential to get a tourist visa allowing to stay in the country for stays of a maximum duration of three months. To get a long-term visa (up to 12 months), a tourist must be able to justify sufficient financial resources and take out health insurance. Under no circumstances will he be able to work or be paid in any way on Australian soil.
Australia is a safe country for tourists and health care is high quality but expensive. Nevertheless, certain precautions must be taken to make the most of the stay:
- not to bathe or surf on unsupervised beaches and not equipped with shark nets
- beware of "rips", currents of great power and schools of jellyfish
- do not venture into the hinterland without notifying relatives or law enforcement agencies (long distances to be traveled in remote areas without a mobile phone network and without a garage or gas station)
- Beware of sudden changes of weather
- not to move alone in the bush and do favor the accompaniment of a guide
- do not light a fire
- protect against insect bites responsible for dengue
The country attracts a large number of tourists each year. It is important to properly prepare the trip and choose the sites to visit as it is almost impossible to visit Australia fully in one stay.
Idyllic beaches for surfing or scuba-diving enthusiasts, excursions to national parks, discovering fauna and flora, discovering the great cities or Tasmania, Australia offers infinite possibilities corresponding to the tastes of each visitor.