The name of Australia comes from the Latin word Australis, which means southern. Since it lies entirely in the southern hemisphere, Australia is most commonly referred to as “down under”. Australia, being a country, is also a continent. In land area it’s the sixth largest for a country and the smallest continent.
Australia is a very dry, thinly populated country. Very few coastal areas receive enough rainfall to support a large population. The largest group of Australian people live in two large cities, Sydney and Melbourne. The vast interior is mainly desert or grassland and there are very few settlements. As a whole, the country has a density of six people per square mile.
The down under is famous for vast wide-open spaces, bright sunshine, bikini-clad beauties, enormous numbers of sheep and cattle, and unusual wildlife. Kangaroos, Koalas, platypuses, and wombats are a few of the erotic animals that live here.
Australia was originally settled by Great Britain as a prison colony in the late 1700’s, so now most Australian people are of British ancestry. The immigrants brought all the customs too, such as driving on the left side of the road and their favorite warm drink, tea. They also speak English as the official language with their own Australian terms.
The northern third of the Australian continent lies in the tropics and is warm or hot year round. The rest of the country lies south of the tropics and has warm summers and mild cool winters. The rainfall is seasonal in Australia.
In the wet season, heavy downpours and violent storms cause floods. But the droughts that plague the nation are far more serious than any flood. Just about every section of Australia has a drought in the dry season. These droughts cause severe water shortages and cause the need for dramatic conservation laws as well as droughts there is also brush fires.
Rivers in Australia are one of its most vital resources. They supply the cities and towns with the much-needed water. They also supply the farms with irrigation water. Though the rivers are dry most of the year, dams and reservoirs keep water during the dry season.
The highlands consist mainly of high plateaus and broken-in places by hills, low mountain ridges, and gorges. Grasses or forest cover most of the plateaus, but some have fertile lands for crops. The southern part is most likely the most heavily populated part in all Australia, from Brisbane to Melbourne. In the southern region lie the Australian Alps. The Murray River, Australia’s only river that constantly flows from the Alps, is the longest river.
Australia’s second major region, the central lowlands, is generally a flat area with infrequent rainfall along the north and south coasts and near the eastern highlands. Farmers in the southern region grow wheat but most of the region is to hot or to dry for crops. However the course grass or shrubs that cover the land make it suitable for livestock. The two large towns in the region have fewer than 30,000 people.
Australia’s third major region, the western plateau, covers the western two thirds of Australia. A vast, dry, treeless plateau extends about 400 miles along the regions southern edge; while the central part is mostly desert. A lot of the desert area consists of swirling sands that often drift into giant dunes. In places the desert gives way to land covered by grass and shrubs. Grazing livestock can then use the land. The north and south has the regions heaviest rainfall. The regions two largest cities are Adelaide and Perth.
The bush, as the Australians call it, refers to the countryside. The term outback refers specifically to the interior of the country, with is mainly open countryside including vast expanses of grazing land. About 13 percent of Australia’s people live in these rural areas. Many people live extremely isolated lives on sheep and cattle ranches called stations. Some of the largest stations cover more than 1,000 square miles from the nearest town.
The outback has few paved roads so travel by car is difficult or impossible. Floods sometimes close roads for weeks at a time. Most wealthy farm families own a light airplane, which they use to travel to town. Other families get to town only a few times a year making it difficult to maintain necessities.
The largest settlements in rural Australia are widely spread towns that have developed to support mining towns. For example, Kalgoorie, a town in western Australia, is the center of Australia’s major gold and nickel fields. The town is in the arid region about 375 miles away from Perth and water must be pumped there.
All rural areas in the outback are subject to floods, droughts, and brush fires. Because they share the constant threat of disaster, the Australian communities have developed strong ties with each other. Many towns have their own traditional fairs, festivals, and sport competitions.
Outback animal life is varied and includes native species such as kagaroos, wallabies, and emus, and introduced species, such as rabbits. The large size of agricultural stations makes it prohibited to fence off crops from wildlife. Some animals have caused extensive damage to crops and grazing lands. Wild rabbits especially have been destructive. Recently rabbits have been targeted in a drive to wipe them out with a deliberately introduced disease.
The great majority of Australians belong to the middle class. Most all Australians have similar educational backgrounds and hold similar values and attitudes. The way of life throughout the country is unusually similar. Even differences from rural to cities are very minimal.
Most Australians are of European descent from immigrants. Aborigines make up only one percent of the population. Australia relies heavily on immigrants to build up the work force. So many immigrants come to Australia by promise of high paying jobs.
Australia has admitted about 4 million immigrants since World War II (1939-1945). About half of the newcomers come from Great Britain. Most of the others come from mainland Europe, especially Italy, Greece, Germany, and the Netherlands. Since the 1970’s the number of immigrants from New Zealand and southwest Asia has increased rapidly.
About 70 percent of Australia’s people live in cities of more that 100,000 people. Most city dwellers live in suburbs, the residential areas that extend outward from a central business district. Most families live in single story houses with their own yard and garden. Australian cities have few apartments.
The official language of Australia is English. The Australian English includes many British terms but is different from British English in certain ways. The British settlers developed a new vocabulary to describe the many new plants and animals. In some cases they borrowed words from the Aborigines. For example Kangaroo and Koala are Aborigine words. Pioneer settlers in the Australian interior also invented a large and different vocabulary. Ranches became know as stations, wild horses as brundies, and bucking broncos as buckjumpers. Understanding Australia’s most famous song, “Waltzing Matilda,” requires translation of many local terms. A matilda is a bedroll and to waltz is “to tramp the roads.”
Australian children attend elementary school for six to eight years, in some cases including a year of kindergarten, depending on which state or territory. The secondary schools of Australia offer five to six years of education. Half of the students leave school when they reach the age requirement, they may only complete three or four years of secondary education. Most students when graduated from a secondary school go attend a college or university.
The Australian Constitution forbids a state religion and guarantees religious freedom. The great majority are Christians, but many do not attend church regularly. Roman Catholics make up 30 percent and Protestant 23 percent.
Outdoor sports in Australia are extremely popular. Many people enjoy skin diving, surfing, swimming, and boating, as well as golf and tennis. Team sports are a national pastime. Australians started to play team sports in elementary school and many continue through high school and even after school. Best players work their way up through local and state competitions to spots on the national teams. Australia’s professional sports have large enthusiastic followings.
The ancestors of the first people in Australia are called Aborigines, and are of the mongoloid race. The name comes from the Latin phrase ab origine, meaning from the beginning. Most scientists believe today’s Aborigine descendents came to Australia about 40,000 years ago from southwest Asia. By the time Europeans arrived, 500 tribes each with their own language had formed.
Aborigines traditionally lived by hunting and gathering. They did not settle but were nomadic people over limited areas of the countryside and made tools and utensils from local resources. The men’s most important weapon was their spear. Women gathered vegetables and small animals.
Australia’s first people live close to nature and knew the habits of all plants and animals around them. All adult Aborigines knew they would find water in their territory. Little girls went out and gathered with their mothers and other women and young boys started practicing throwing toy spears quite early as little boys.
The tribe size depended partly how much food and water they had on their territory. A tribe had no political chief or formal government, but older respected men made important decisions. Every tribe consisted of various subgroups. Based on their ties to a common ancestor, the family groups conducted certain rituals and owned certain land.
The Aborigines religion linked them to nature through ancestral beings that created the world in a time called Dreamtime long ago. The beings never died but merged with nature to live in sacred beliefs and rituals. Aborigines could renew ties with the Dreaming through rituals.
1700’s and on
At first, Aborigines believed that the Europeans that came in the 1700’s were spirits of their dead relatives because of their pale skin. Soon their image of the Europeans changed as they forced them from their homes and killed some of them. Other Aborigines died from diseases such as smallpox and measles.
Now Australia has only around 206,000 Aborigines, which is about one percent of the countries population. Some Aborigines still live partly as their ancestors did with their own customs, beliefs, and language. Others lost most or all of their traditions but were excluded from society until 1967 when the Australian Constitution was changed so Aborigines got to vote and to have service benefits.
GREAT BARRIER REEF
Along the northwest coast of Australia lies the Great Barrier Reef, the largest group of reefs in the world. This chain consists of about 2,500 reefs. In all, the reefs are also many small islands that extend for about 1,200 miles. It lies around 10 to 100 miles from the Australian coasts.
Coral reefs are limestone formations that lie under the sea or just above the surface. The Great Barrier Reef is made up of a coral of dead hardened animals call polyps, which are attached to the reef. The diameter of the polyps is about 1 to 12 inches. The polyps are extremely colorful, just as all the sea animals that live there.
The Great Barrier Reef supports about 400 species of polyps, about 1,500 species of fish and several kinds of birds. Giant clams, sea turtles, and crabs also live in the reef. The warm waters around the reef and the sheer beauty attract swimmers, skin divers and tourists from all over the world.
Australia is truly a magnificently beautiful place with many different climates and cultures.