About Australia

Destination Australia, this page is about many aspects of the “unknown southern land”. Here you will find comprehensive information about Australia in its diversity: geography, economy, science, people, culture, environment, government and history.
You will have access to newspapers from Australia and you will find extensive travel and tourism information for Australia.

The initial inhabitants of Australia traveled here from far-southeast Asia, and from the Torres Strait islands. From their initial settlements in the north some 70,000 years ago, their individual lifestyles and cultural traditions eventually spread across this vast uncharted land.

The first European exposure to Australia occurred in 1606, when the Dutch explorer, Willem Janszoon, sighted, then landed on the Cape York Peninsula. He found the area inhospitable and moved on. Regardless, adventurers and traders, aggressively searching for riches in the southern hemisphere, continued to sail through the northern coastal areas bordering a land the Dutch named New Holland.

In 1688, on one of his three circumnavigations of the globe, William Dampier became the first British explorer to set foot on Australian land, coming ashore in Shark Bay.

In the mid 18th century, Britain had an overcrowded prison population, and they required a new penal colony. In 1770, the legendary British explorer, James Cook, arrived in Australia and found the eastern coastline a most desirable location. He subsequently named this land New South Wales, and claimed it for Great Britain.

Eighteen years later (one of the world’s greatest sea voyages), a grueling 252 day, 15,000 mile journey brought eleven ships carrying about 1400 people (mostly convicts) from England all the way to Australia.

They anchored at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbor) on January 26, 1788. There, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, in his capacity as the colony’s first Governor, the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was established. That day (Australia Day), is an official public holiday celebrated in all states and territories of Australia.

For the next 80 years – in a somewhat provocative move – over 150,000 additional men and women (convicted criminals) were shipped to Australia, often enduring difficult and deplorable conditions during their lengthy ocean journeys.

As a result, until the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850’s brought thousands of (free) immigrants to Australia in search of riches, the settler population was dominated by convicts and their descendants.

In this land of incredible opportunity (for some), the indigenous Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were suffering. Their population base decreased dramatically in the 19th century as imported diseases killed thousands, and forced displacement and blatant land grabs disrupted their traditional lifestyles.

During the 19th century, separate (somewhat independent) colonies were formed from parts of New South Wales, which loosely occupied the eastern half of the country; they included Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria.

On January 1, 1901, a federation of colonies took shape after years of discussions and planning. The Commonwealth of Australia was created as a Dominion of the British Empire, and a new nation was born. Western Australia, granted self-government in 1889 by the British, was the most reluctant participant in this new Commonwealth of Australia, but joined nevertheless.

Immediately thereafter, the Australian Capital Territory was formed from a part of New South Wales, in an effort to provide a location for the new federal capital of Canberra. The Northern Territory joined the Commonwealth that same year, and at that time, the population of Australia was nearly 4 million, which included approximately 95,000 indigenous peoples

The founders of this new nation promoted their belief in civil, economic, political and social equality for all. Free education, trade unions, women’s suffrage, maternity allowances, sick leave and old-age pensions were successfully introduced.

On April 25 each year (ANZAC Day), Australia commemorates the anniversary of the landing of troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during World War I at Gallipoli, Turkey. That decision to fight alongside Britain partially decimated the male population of Australia, as over 60,000 of its bravest were killed and many thousands were severely wounded.

During World War II, Australian forces played a significant role in the Allied victory in Europe, as well as in the South Pacific, where they engaged the Japanese in many difficult battles within remote areas of New Guinea. The Aussies stood tall, and helped win the war.

World War II literally sparked the country’s economy, as unparalleled growth swept across Australia. Workers were needed and countless thousands of migrants from Europe arrived to fill the positions. Many were the wide-eyed young, all hopeful for a bright and profitable future, and they would not be disappointed. 

Fast Facts

Name Australia
(long form) Commonwealth of Australia

Capital City Canberra

States and Territories (Capital Cities)
New South Wales – Sydney
Northern Territory – Darwin
Queensland – Brisbane
South Australia – Adelaide
Tasmania – Hobart
Victoria – Melbourne
Western Australia – Perth

Cities (largest by population) Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast-Tweed

Currency Australian Dollar – (AUD)
(conversion rates) here!

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
$773 billion (2007 est)

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (per capita)
$37,300 (2007 est)

Holidays (national) January 26, Australia Day;
April 25, ANZAC Day

Language English 79.1%, others

Population 21,007,310 (2008 est.)

Population of States and Territories
Capital Territory – 340,800
New South Wales – 6,889,100
Northern Territory – 218,380
Queensland – 4,182,100
South Australia – 1,598,000
Tasmania – 497,312
Victoria – 5,205,200
Western Australia – 2,130,800

Population (per square mile) here!

Religions Catholic (26%), Anglican (20%), Christian (20%), None (15%), Others (13%)

Geographic Coordinates

Latitude/Longitude (Absolute Locations)

Canberra: (capital city) 35� 33′ S, 149� 18′ E

Darwin: 12� 38′ S, 130� 88′ E

Hobart: 47� 89′ S, 147� 35′ E

Perth: 31� 92′ S, 115� 91′ E

Latitudes and Longitudes (specific details) here!

Relative Location Located directly to the south of Papua New Guinea, Australia is geographically positioned in both the southern and eastern hemispheres.

Australia is completely surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and a series of bays, gulfs, seas and straits. See larger map here.