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The name Australia (pronounced /əˈstreɪliə/ in Australian English) is derived from the LatinTerra Australis ("southern land"), a name used for a hypothetical continent in the Southern Hemisphere since ancient times. When Europeans first began visiting and mapping Australia in the 17th century, the name Terra Australis was naturally applied to the new territories.[N 4]
Until the early 19th century, Australia was best known as New Holland, a name first applied by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644 (as Nieuw-Holland) and subsequently anglicised. Terra Australis still saw occasional usage, such as in scientific texts.[N 5] The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders, who said it was "more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the Earth". Several famous early cartographers also made use of the word Australia on maps. Gerardus Mercator used the phrase climata australia on his double cordiform map of the world of 1538, as did Gemma Frisius, who was Mercator's teacher and collaborator, on his own cordiform wall map in 1540. Australia appears in a book on astronomy by Cyriaco Jacob zum Barth published in Frankfurt am Main in 1545. The first time that Australia appears to have been officially used was in April 1817, when Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledged the receipt of Flinders' charts of Australia from Lord Bathurst. In December 1817, Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially by that name. The first official published use of the new name came with the publication in 1830 of The Australia Directory by the Hydrographic Office.
Colloquial names for Australia include "Oz" and "the Land Down Under" (usually shortened to just "Down Under"). Other epithets include "the Great Southern Land", "the Lucky Country", "the Sunburnt Country", and "the Wide Brown Land". The latter two both derive from Dorothea Mackellar's 1908 poem "My Country".
Human habitation of the Australian continent is known to have begun about 65,000 years ago, with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea crossings from what is now Southeast Asia. The Madjedbebe rock shelter in Arnhem Land is recognised as the oldest site showing the presence of humans in Australia. The oldest human remains found are the Lake Mungo remains, which have been dated to around 41,000 years ago. These people were the ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians.Aboriginal Australian culture is one of the oldest continual cultures on Earth.
At the time of first European contact, Indigenous Australians were Stone Age hunter-gatherers with diverse economies and societies. Recent archaeological finds suggest that a population of 750,000 could have been sustained. Indigenous Australians have an oral culture with spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, obtained their livelihood from seasonal horticulture and the resources of their reefs and seas. The northern coasts and waters of Australia were visited sporadically for trade by Makassan fishermen from what is now Indonesia.
The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent, are attributed to the Dutch. The first ship and crew to chart the Australian coast and meet with Aboriginal people was the Duyfken captained by Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February 1606 at the Pennefather River near the modern town of Weipa on Cape York. Later that year, Spanish explorer Luís Vaz de Torres sailed through and navigated the Torres Strait Islands. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines and named the island continent "New Holland" during the 17th century, and although no attempt at settlement was made,a number of shipwrecks left men either stranded or, as in the case of the Batavia in 1629, marooned for mutiny and murder, thus becoming the first Europeans to permanently inhabit the continent. In 1770, Captain James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named "New South Wales" and claimed for Great Britain.
Following the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the Union Flag raised at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on 26 January 1788, a date which later became Australia's national day. Most early convicts were transported for petty crimes and assigned as labourers or servants to "free settlers" (non-convict immigrants). While the majority of convicts settled into colonial society once emancipated, convict rebellions and uprisings were also staged, but invariably suppressed under martial law. The 1808 Rum Rebellion, the only successful armed takeover of government in Australia, instigated a two-year period of military rule. The following decade, social and economic reforms initiated by Governor Lachlan Macquarie saw New South Wales transition from a penal colony to a civil society.
The indigenous population declined for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease. Thousands more died as a result of frontier conflict with settlers.
In 1823, a Legislative Council nominated by the governor of New South Wales was established, together with a new Supreme Court, thus limiting the powers of colonial governors. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, thus becoming elective democracies managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs and defence.
The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed. The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911. Australia became the colonial ruler of the Territory of Papua (which had initially been annexed by Queensland in 1883) in 1902 and of the Territory of New Guinea (formerly German New Guinea) in 1920. The two were unified as the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in 1949 and gained independence from Australia in 1975.
In the decades following World War II, Australia enjoyed significant increases in living standards, leisure time and suburban development. Using the slogan "populate or perish", the nation encouraged a large wave of immigration from across Europe, with such immigrants referred to as "New Australians".
As a result of a 1967 referendum, the Federal Government received a mandate to implement policies to benefit Aboriginal people, and all Indigenous Australians were included in the Census. Traditional ownership of land ("native title") was recognised in law for the first time when the High Court of Australia held in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) that the legal doctrine of terra nullius ("land belonging to no one") did not apply to Australia at the time of European settlement.
Following the final abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, Australia's demography and culture transformed as a result of a large and ongoing wave of non-European immigration, mostly from Asia. The late 20th century also saw an increasing focus on foreign policy ties with other Pacific Rim nations. While the Australia Act 1986 severed the remaining vestigial constitutional ties between Australia and the United Kingdom, a 1999 referendum resulted in 55% of voters rejecting a proposal to abolish the Monarchy of Australia and become a republic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic which commenced in Australia in 2020, several of Australia's largest cities were locked down for extended periods of time, and free movement across state borders was restricted in an attempt to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Mainland Australia lies between latitudes 9° and 44° South, and longitudes 112° and 154° East. Australia's size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with tropical rainforests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the south-east, south-west and east, and desert in the centre. The desert or semi-arid land commonly known as the outback makes up by far the largest portion of land. Australia is the driest inhabited continent; its annual rainfall averaged over continental area is less than 500 mm. The population density is 3.4 inhabitants per square kilometre, although a large proportion of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline.
Fitzroy Island, one of 600 islands within the main archipelago of the Great Barrier Reef
The Australian mainland's continental crust, excluding the thinned margins, has an average thickness of 38km, with a range in thickness from 24 km to 59 km. Australia's geology can be divided into several main sections, showcasing that the continent grew from west to east: the Archaean cratonic shields found mostly in the west, Proterozoicfold belts in the centre and Phanerozoicsedimentary basins, metamorphic and igneous rocks in the east.
Water restrictions are frequently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages due to urban population increases and localised drought. Throughout much of the continent, major flooding regularly follows extended periods of drought, flushing out inland river systems, overflowing dams and inundating large inland flood plains, as occurred throughout Eastern Australia in the early 2010s after the 2000s Australian drought.
Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, the continent includes a diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Fungi typify that diversity—an estimated 250,000 species—of which only 5% have been described—occur in Australia. Because of the continent's great age, extremely variable weather patterns, and long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Australia has at least 755 species of reptile, more than any other country in the world. Besides Antarctica, Australia is the only continent that developed without feline species. Feral cats may have been introduced in the 17th century by Dutch shipwrecks, and later in the 18th century by European settlers. They are now considered a major factor in the decline and extinction of many vulnerable and endangered native species. Australia is also one of 17 megadiverse countries.
Executive: the Federal Executive Council, which in practice gives legal effect to the decisions of the cabinet, comprising the prime minister and other ministers of state appointed by the governor-general on the advice of Parliament;
Charles III reigns as King of Australia and is represented in Australia by the governor-general at the federal level and by the governors at the state level, who by convention act on the advice of his ministers. Thus, in practice the governor-general acts as a legal figurehead for the actions of the prime minister and the Federal Executive Council. The governor-general, however, does have reserve powers which, in some situations, may be exercised outside the prime minister's request. These powers are held by convention and their scope is unclear. The most notable exercise of these powers was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.
In the Senate (the upper house), there are 76 senators: twelve each from the states and two each from the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory). The House of Representatives (the lower house) has 151 members elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, whose terms are not fixed but are tied to the electoral cycle for the lower house; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.
Australia's electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections with the exception of Tasmania and the ACT which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction, as is enrolment. The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. In cases where no party has majority support, the Governor-General has the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister and, if necessary, dismiss one that has lost the confidence of Parliament. Due to the relatively unique position of Australia operating as a Westminster parliamentary democracy with an elected upper house, the system has sometimes been referred to as having a "Washminster mutation", or as a semi-parliamentary system.
There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition, which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. The Liberal National Party and the Country Liberal Party are merged state branches in Queensland and the Northern Territory that function as separate parties at a federal level. Within Australian political culture, the Coalition is considered centre-right and the Labor Party is considered centre-left. Independent members and several minor parties have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. The Australian Greens are often considered the "third force" in politics, being the third largest party by both vote and membership.
Under the constitution, the states essentially have plenary legislative power to legislate on any subject, whereas the Commonwealth (federal) Parliament may legislate only within the subject areas enumerated under section 51. For example, state parliaments have the power to legislate with respect to education, criminal law and state police, health, transport, and local government, but the Commonwealth Parliament does not have any specific power to legislate in these areas. However, Commonwealth laws prevail over state laws to the extent of the inconsistency.
In 2003, Australia's energy sources were coal (58.4%), hydropower (19.1%), natural gas (13.5%), liquid/gas fossil fuel-switching plants (5.4%), oil (2.9%), and other renewable resources like wind power, solar energy, and bioenergy (0.7%). During the 21st century, Australia has been trending to generate more energy using renewable resources and less energy using fossil fuels. In 2020, Australia used coal for 62% of all energy (3.6% increase compared to 2013), wind power for 9.9% (9.5% increase), natural gas for 9.9% (3.6% decrease), solar power for 9.9% (9.8% increase), hydropower for 6.4% (12.7% decrease), bioenergy for 1.4% (1.2% increase), and other sources like oil and waste coal mine gas for 0.5%.
In August 2009, Australia's government set a goal to achieve 20% of all energy in the country from renewable sources by 2020. They achieved this goal, as renewable resources accounted for 27.7% of Australia's energy in 2020.
Science and technology
In 2019, Australia spent A$35.6 billion on research and development, allocating about 1.79% of GDP. A recent study by Accenture for the Tech Council shows that the Australian tech sector combined contributes $167 billion a year to the economy and employs 861,000 people. The country's most recognized and important sector of this type is mining, where Australia continues to have the highest penetration of technologies, especially drones, autonomous and remote-controlled vehicles and mine management software. In addition, the Australian recent startup ecosystem is growing annually at rates of 5.8%, and the Sydney and Melbourne ecosystems are already valued at $25 billion. Australia consistently has ranked high in the Global Innovation Index (GII). In 2021, Australia ranked 25th out of the 132 economies featured in the GII 2021, down from being 22nd in 2019.
With only 0.3% of the world's population, Australia contributed 4.1% of the world's published research in 2020, making it one of the top 10 research contributors in the world.CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, contributes 10% of all research in the country, while the rest is carried out by universities.
Australia is highly urbanised, with 67% of the population living in the Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (metropolitan areas of the state and mainland territorial capital cities) in 2018. Metropolitan areas with more than one million inhabitants are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2018 the average age of the Australian population was 38.8 years. In 2015, 2.15% of the Australian population lived overseas, one of the lowest proportions worldwide.
Today, Australia has the world's eighth-largest immigrant population, with immigrants accounting for 30% of the population, the highest proportion among major Western nations. 160,323 permanent immigrants were admitted to Australia in 2018–2019 (excluding refugees), whilst there was a net population gain of 239,600 people from all permanent and temporary immigration in that year. The majority of immigrants are skilled, but the immigration program includes categories for family members and refugees. In 2020, the largest foreign-born populations were those born in England (3.8%), India (2.8%), Mainland China (2.5%), New Zealand (2.2%), the Philippines (1.2%) and Vietnam (1.1%).
Percentage of population speaking an Australian indigenous language according to the 2011 census
Although Australia has no official language, English is the de facto national language.Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling.General Australian serves as the standard dialect.
At the 2021 census, English was the only language spoken in the home for 72% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Mandarin (2.7%), Arabic (1.4%), Vietnamese (1.3%), Cantonese (1.2%) and Punjabi (0.9%). Over 250 Australian Aboriginal languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which fewer than twenty are still in daily use by all age groups. About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people. At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 10,112 deaf people who reported that they use Auslan language at home in the 2016 census.
In 2021, just under 8,000 people declared an affiliation with traditional Aboriginal religions. In Australian Aboriginal mythology and the animist framework developed in Aboriginal Australia, the Dreaming is a sacred era in which ancestral totemic spirit beings formed The Creation. The Dreaming established the laws and structures of society and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.
Australia's life expectancy of 83 years (81 years for males and 85 years for females), is the fifth-highest in the world. It has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease, responsible for 7.8% of the total mortality and disease. Ranked second in preventable causes is hypertension at 7.6%, with obesity third at 7.5%. Australia ranked 35th in the world in 2012 for its proportion of obese women and near the top of developed nations for its proportion of obese adults; 63% of its adult population is either overweight or obese.
Australia spent around 9.91% of its total GDP to healthcare in 2021. It introduced universal health care in 1975. Known as Medicare, it is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently at 2%. The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the Commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (subsidising the costs of medicines) and general practice.
During the COVID-19 pandemic Australia had one of the most restrictive quarantine policies, resulting in one of the lowest death rates worldwide.
School attendance, or registration for home schooling, is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 until about 16. In some states (Western Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.
Australia has an adult literacy rate that was estimated to be 99% in 2003. However, a 2011–2012 report for the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Tasmania has a literacy and numeracy rate of only 50%.
Australia has 37 government-funded universities and three private universities, as well as a number of other specialist institutions that provide approved courses at the higher education level. The OECD places Australia among the most expensive nations to attend university. There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. About 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. 30.9% of Australia's population has attained a higher education qualification, which is among the highest percentages in the world.
Australia has the highest ratio of international students per head of population in the world by a large margin, with 812,000 international students enrolled in the nation's universities and vocational institutions in 2019. Accordingly, in 2019, international students represented on average 26.7% of the student bodies of Australian universities. International education therefore represents one of the country's largest exports and has a pronounced influence on the country's demographics, with a significant proportion of international students remaining in Australia after graduation on various skill and employment visas. Education is Australia's third-largest export, after iron ore and coal, and contributed over $28 billion to the economy in 2016–17.
Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, well known for its famous sopranoJoan Sutherland. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world's leading opera singers. Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.
^The earliest recorded use of the word Australia in English was in 1625 in "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Sir Richard Hakluyt", published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus, a corruption of the original Spanish name "Austrialia del Espíritu Santo" (Southern Land of the Holy Spirit) for an island in Vanuatu. The Dutch adjectival form australische was used in a Dutch book in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1638, to refer to the newly discovered lands to the south.
^Includes those who nominate "Australian" as their ancestry. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that most who nominate "Australian" as their ancestry have at least partial Anglo-CelticEuropean ancestry.
^The Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that most who nominate "Australian" as their ancestry have at least partial Anglo-CelticEuropean ancestry.
^Those who nominated their ancestry as "Australian Aboriginal". Does not include Torres Strait Islanders. This relates to nomination of ancestry and is distinct from persons who identify as Indigenous (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander) which is a separate question.
^Indigenous identification is separate to the ancestry question on the Australian Census and persons identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander may identify any ancestry.
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