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A Brief Introduction to Australia

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This section aims to provide you with some general information about Australia.

Some Information in this section taken from: NICHOLSON, Margaret. The Pocket Aussie Fact Book. Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood (Victoria), Australia, 1999.

  • General Facts

    Australia is a land of contrasts and diversity. Its landscape ranges from desert and bushland in the central areas, to rainforest in the North, to snowfields in the South East. Australia's nearest neighbour is Papua New Guinea, 200km north. Australia lies 1920km west of New Zealand, and 2000km to the north of Antarctica.

    (The following information is based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics)

    Some facts on Australians you may not be aware of:

    • About one in four Australians were born in another country
    • Roughly one in four Australians have one or both parents born overseas
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately 2% of the population
    • Approximately 17% of Australians speak a language other than English at home
    • There are 170 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages
    • There are more than 100 different ethnic groups
    • Approximately 70% of 'Aussies' live in one of the eight major cities.

    Some facts on South Australia you may not know:

    • Most South Australians (around 75 per cent) live in and around Adelaide
    • The indigenous people of the Adelaide region are the Kaurna people
  • Icons

    Coat of Arms: Australia's coat of arms was granted in 1912 by King George V. It consists of a shield composed of six parts, each containing one of the state badges. The shield is supported by two Australian animals, the kangaroo and the emu. These animals were chosen because they are found only in Australia, and because it was commonly believed that they could not move backwards - thereby symbolising Australia as a forward-moving country.

    Flag: Australia's flag was proclaimed the national flag in 1951. It features: the Union Jack in the upper corner, reflecting Australia's historic links to the British commonwealth; the five-starred Southern Cross, a constellation visible in Australia's night skies; and the seven-pointed Commonwealth star, representing Australia's states and territories.

    Floral Emblem: Australia's floral emblem is the golden wattle.

    National Gemstone Australia's gemstone is the opal.

  • History

    The Aboriginal people of Australia have lived on this land for over 60 000 years. They do not have one culture or history; before colonisation, more than 600 tribes inhabited, travelled, fought and traded here. Dreamtime stories, cave paintings and etchings reveal cultures remarkable in their complexity and richness. Subsistence was based on hunting, fishing and seed gathering.

    The colonisation of Australia by Anglo-Saxon settlers officially began in 1788. Anglo settlers included a mix of British and Irish convicts, British military guards, and free settlers.

    The presence of Anglo settlers in Australia from this date has impacted greatly on the lives of the Aboriginal population. The University of Adelaide has a webpage presenting the official statement on reconciliation.

    Australia's identity and population makeup has developed throughout the twentieth century, influenced by two world wars, the British Commonwealth, and its emerging Asia-Pacific and global partnerships and responsibilities. Non-indigenous Australian culture was originally British-influenced, but is now one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in the world.

    Adelaide was settled in 1836, and South Australia was a free settler colony. Today, Australia continues to operate as an independent democratic country under a British head-of-state, but its future lies increasingly in its geographical location, and its links with the nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

  • Government

    Head of State: H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II (British monarch and Queen of Australia), represented in Australia by the Governor General.

    Head of Government: Prime Minister, as leader of the party or coalition of parties holding a majority in federal parliament.

    Composition: Australia is a federation of six states with two internal federal territories (Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory).

    Australia uses a three-tier system of government:

    Federal Government: Australia's federal parliament is based on the British Westminster system with a prime minister and cabinet (inner council). It is responsible for matters of national interest, including: defence, external affairs foreign trade, treasury, communications, immigration, etc. Federal government comprises two houses - the House of Representatives (lower house) and the Senate (upper house, or house of review).

    State Government: Administration areas including education, health, law enforcement etc. Each state has a Premier who leads the party majority in state parliament.

    Local Government: Responsible for their local areas (for town planning, parks etc). The mayor or president is the leader of a local government.

    Voting: Voting is compulsory for all registered Australian citizens over 18 years. Voting is by secret ballot, and Australians commonly have a number of different individuals and political parties to vote for. Voting systems vary between states, and between houses of parliament.

  • Further Information

    If you would like to know more about Australia and South Australia, you might like to follow these links:


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