Australia (officially the Commonwealth of Australia) is an Oceanian country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the world’s sixth-largest country by total area. Neighbouring countries include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east and New Zealand to the south-east.
For at least 40,000 years before the first British settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians who spoke languages grouped into roughly 250 language groups.
Climate, flora & fauna
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid. Australia is the flattest continent, has the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest inhabited continent. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. Most of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El NiÃ±o southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.
Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it covers a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests, and is recognised as a “megadiverse” country. Most Australian woody plant species are evergreen and many are adapted to fire and drought, including many eucalyptus and acacias. Well-known Australian fauna include monotremes (the platypus and echidna) ; a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, koala, wombat; the saltwater and freshwater crocodiles; and birds such as the emu and kookaburra. Australia is home to the largest number of venomous snakes in the world.
Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic, although distinctive Australian features had been evolving from the environment and indigenous culture. Over the past 50 years, Australian culture has been strongly influenced by American popular culture (particularly television and cinema), large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking countries, and Australia’s Asian neighbours. The vigour and originality of the arts in Australia – literature, cinema, opera, music, painting, theatre, dance, and crafts Â— have achieved international recognition.