Australia in brief

Overview

Australia is a stable, culturally diverse and democratic society with one of the strongest performing economies in the world. With an estimated population of more than 22.5 million, Australia is the only nation to govern an entire continent. It is the earth's biggest island and sixth-largest country in the world in land area, about the size of mainland United States and one and a half times the size of Europe.

Australia is home to one of the world's oldest living cultures. Aboriginal peoples arrived at least 50,000 years, and Torres Strait Islander people 10,000 years, before European settlement. Today, Australia is one of the world's most multicultural countries, a nation rich in Indigenous and immigrant cultures. Over a quarter of Australia's population was born overseas. Australia is a friendly country, and our reputation as a successful and prosperous society has seen us ranked second in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2011.

Australia has 10 per cent of the world's biodiversity, and a great number of its native plants, animals and birds exist nowhere else in the world. From tropical rainforests in the north, to the deserts of the Red Centre, to the snowfields in its south-east, to the Australian Antarctic Territory, Australia is a vast and varied country. It has many internationally recognised World Heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park and the Sydney Opera House.

Australia's economy is consistently among the strongest of advanced economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). As at 2013, it is the world's 12th-largest economy, with a strong commitment to ongoing economic reform and global engagement that emphasises free trade and investment.

With low unemployment, low inflation and a highly skilled workforce produced by a world-class education system, and strong links with the fastest growing region in the world, the Indo–Pacific, Australia's economy is set to prosper into the future.

Australia's foreign and trade policy is focused on promoting our security and long-term prosperity. It seeks to protect and advance Australia's national interests in a rapidly changing environment, while supporting a stable global order. A commitment to multilateralism, in particular the United Nations, is a central tenet of Australian foreign policy. Australia has been integrally involved in global efforts to build peace and security for decades, just as it has in promoting global trade and investment liberalisation.

Our alliance with the United States remains an enduring priority, as does comprehensive engagement with key countries in the Indo–Pacific such as China, India, Indonesia and Japan.

Our aid program is worth around $5 billion per year, making Australia one of the most generous per capita aid donors in the world.

Australia's spectacular natural environment, diversity and high quality of life make it a popular international tourist destination, with nearly six million people visiting Australia in 2011.

Close up of Western pygmy possum.
Western pygmy possum feeding on large fruited Mallee. Photo: DSEWPaC (Lochman Transparencies)
Action shot of an elite female netball player holding netball.
Netball is the most popular women's team participation sport in Australia. Photo: Ausport
The Opera House as seen from Sydney Harbour.
Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy of Sydney Opera House Trust.

National Symbols

The Australian flag

The stars of the Southern Cross represent Australia's geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere. The large Commonwealth star symbolises the federation of the states and territories, and the Union Jack reflects Australia's early ties to Great Britain.

Our national colours

Australia's national colours are green and gold, the colours of our national floral emblem, the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha Benth).

National day

Australia Day is celebrated every year on 26 January. The date commemorates the anniversary of the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove in 1788.

National anthem

Advance Australia Fair has been Australia's official national anthem since 19 April 1984.

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

The coat of arms

The Australian coat of arms was granted by King George V in 1912. It consists of a shield containing the badges of the six Australian states, symbolising federation, and the national symbols of the golden wattle, the kangaroo and the emu. By popular tradition, the kangaroo is accepted as the national animal emblem. The golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha Benth, was proclaimed the national floral emblem in August 1988.

National holidays

Australia observes about 12 public holidays a year, including New Year's Day, Australia Day and Anzac Day.

Anzac Day, 25 April, is a national day of commemoration for those who fought for Australia and those who lost their lives in war. It is the day the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915 during World War I. To mark the day, Australians and New Zealanders attend ceremonies at home and around the world, including in Gallipoli.

Australian flag coposed of the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross
The Australian Flag
Australia's coat of arms depicts a kangaroo and an emu standing on either side of a shield adorned with symbols for each of the six states. The Commonwealth Star sits above the shield, and below is a scroll emblazoned with the word 'Australia'. The golden wattle frames the image from below, set behind the scroll.
Australian coat of arms
Silhouetted Navy bugler and Army soldier at dawn.
A Navy bugler salutes during the Australian national anthem at the Anzac Day dawn service at Monument Hill, Fremantle, Western Australia. Photo: Navy Imagery Unit West (ABIS Jayson Tufrey)

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