The name Australia comes from the Latin word “australis”, meaning “southern”. And because it lies entirely within the southern hemisphere, Australia is often referred to as “down under”. Australia is the only country that is also a continent. In area, it ranks as the sixth largest country and smallest continent.
Australia is a dry, thinly populated land. Only a few coastal areas receive enough rainfall to support a large population. Most of Australia’s people live in the south-eastern coastal region, which includes the country’s two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne. Australia’s vast interior is mostly desert or dry grass land and has few settlements. The country as a whole has an average of only six persons per square mile.
Australia is famous for its vast open spaces, bright sunshine, enormous numbers of sheep and cattle, and unusual wild life. Kangaroos, koalas, platypuses and wombats are only a few of the many exotic animals that live there.
Along the north-east coast of the continent lays the Great Barrier Reef, the largest group of coral reefs in the world. This unique area supports an unmatched variety and quantity of coral polyps.
The first Australians a dark-skinned people known today as aborigines, had lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years before the first white settlers arrived. Since then, the number of whites has steadily increased and the number of aborigines has inclined. Today, the vast majority of Australians are white.
Australia is one of the world’s developed countries, with bustling cities, modern factories, and highly productive farms and mines. Its economy is increasingly diversified, with a healthy service industry and a gradual shift of the value of exports from mining to manufactory. The income from the nation’s exports has given most of Australia’s people a high standard of living.
Great Britain settled Australia as a prison colony in the late 1700’s, and most Australian people are of British ancestry. These immigrants brought many British customs with them. For example, tea is Australia’s favorite hot drink, and people drive on the left side of the road in Australia as they do in Britain. In addition, English – with many British terms – is the official language. Nevertheless, just as the people of Australia have give the language a distinctive slant with their own terms and pronunciation, so have they developed a way of life all their own.