Australia, officially known as the Commonwealth of Australia, is a federal parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm. One of the most unique features about Australia is that it is the only country in the world to cover an entire continent. With an area of approximately 2.9 million square miles, and comprising of the island continent of Australia, the island of Tasmania and over 8,000 other small islands, it is the sixth largest country in the world. The capital is Canberra, and English is the official language. As of 2017, Australia had an estimated population of 24.6 million, of which 26% were immigrants, making it the ninth largest immigrant population in the world. Australia boasts an extremely high quality of life, and in 2016, it had a Human Development Index (HDI) ranking of 2 across the globe.
Prior to the British colonization and gold rush that brought in a lot of immigrants during the 18th and 19th centuries, the country was mainly inhabited by Aboriginals who arrived from Africa about 50,000 years ago. They adapted to life in the extremely harsh conditions of the Australian outback, one of the most remote and rural areas with scorching temperatures, little water and scarce vegetation, that lies spread across a vast portion of central Australia. Aboriginal art sites reflecting the rich history, heritage and culture of Australia, and dating back to thousands of years, can be found all over the country.
Although one-third of the country is desert, Australia has plenty of natural resources and fertile land, in addition to one of the most extraordinary ecosystems, due its remote location and isolation from the rest of the world. It is home to some of the rarest species of animals, many of which are considered the deadliest as well. Australia has 516 national parks dedicated to protecting the flora and fauna across the country.
The Great Dividing Range is a 2,300-mile stretch of mountains lining the eastern and southeastern side of Australia. Formed over 300 million years ago, it is the third longest land-based range in the world. It also happens to be the biggest source of water supply for eastern Australia through the Great Artesian Basin, the biggest groundwater source in the world.
Two of the most breathtaking landmarks in Australia are Mount Augustus and Uluru, both of which have their roots in Aboriginal culture. Uluru is the world’s largest rock monolith, whereas Mount Augustus, more than twice the size of Uluru, is the world’s largest monocline. Uluru is a natural formation that lies in the Red Center, a flat red-earth desert, practically located right in the heart of the country. Considered to be sacred in Aboriginal culture, it is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, and one of the most photographed natural landforms of the world.
Australia is also home to the world’s largest structure made by living organisms, the Great Barrier Reef. Visible even from outer space, it is a coral reef system comprising of over 2,900 reefs and 900 islands over an approximate area of 133,000 square miles. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and was also selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Apart from these natural landmarks and historical sites, Australia also has several modern attractions. Sydney and Melbourne are two of the most beautiful Australian cities, and the top favorites among tourists. Both cities offer an array of interesting activities and sightseeing spots. They have numerous museums, galleries, theatres and parks, in addition to some of the best markets for high street and vintage shopping. The Sydney Opera House, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered to be one the world’s greatest architectural marvels since 1973 when it first opened. The Sydney Harbor Bridge, yet another popular icon, is the world’s largest steel arch bridge.
From the sacred Aboriginal sites to the majestic natural wonders, from the awe-inspiring landscapes to the magnificent modern cities, the world’s smallest continent and largest island offers an unparalleled experience to visitors. The Land Down Under has often been rightfully described as a land of dreams.