Australia is one of the most popular destinations on the planet for backpackers and luxury travellers alike. World-renowned landmarks like Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Great Ocean Road and some of the most unique wildlife on the planet have helped Australia become a must see destination on any traveller's list.
Australia is truly like nowhere else on the planet. It possesses approximately 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) of beautiful coastline, 15 World Heritage Listed sites and over 3,000 national reserves. A brilliant mix of natural wonders, fantastic food and wine, culture, history, cosmopolitan cities and laid-back friendly locals, it is a peaceful backdrop to any holiday, encouraging visitors to return time and time again for the unique collection of adventures on offer.
The first people to discover Australia did so approximately 40,000 years before Europeans set foot on the continent. Recently unearthed evidence suggests, somewhat controversially, that the first European to visit Australia was Portuguese explorer Christopher de Mendonca, who led a flotilla of four ships into Botany Bay in 1522 - almost 250 years before Britain's Captain James Cook.
Australian Aboriginals flourished in lush coastal regions as hunter/gatherers. The British colonisation of Australia, which began in New South Wales in 1788, had a disastrous effect on the Aboriginal people, as they fell prey to infectious diseases carried by the new settlers and were gradually displaced from their traditional homeland.
19th Century European settlement
Meanwhile European settlement spread to other parts of Australia. Brisbane was founded in 1825. Western Australia was founded in 1829. The city of Perth was founded that year. In 1834 a man named John Batman decided the site of Melbourne was a good place to found a settlement. In 1835 he made a treaty with the Aborigines in which he gave them trade goods for land. However the treaty was not recognised by the British government, which disregarded it. Nevertheless the city of Melbourne was laid out on the land in a grid pattern. In 1836 another colony was founded at Port Adelaide, which grew into South Australia. The city of Adelaide was planned by Colonel William Light (1786-1839) the first Surveyor General of Australia. After 1815 thousands of new settlers arrived in Australia every year fleeing poverty in Britain. By 1840 the white population of Australia was about 160,000. By 1851 it was about 430,000. Meanwhile explorers such as Charles Sturt 1795-1869 and Thomas Mitchell 1792-1855 explored the interior of Australia. In 1851 Victoria was made a separate state from New South Wales. Queensland grew from a settlement at Moreton Bay, which was founded in 1824. Queensland became independent in 1859.
Australia did not become a federated nation until 1901 when all the colonies voted for amalgamation, and at that point the colonies became states. Even then Australia remained a part of the British Empire, with the British Monarch as its Head of State and a population consisting primarily of Anglo-Saxons. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster Act was passed into law in London, and eventually ratified in Canberra in 1942 (backdated to 1939) - this Act gave Australia its independence as a nation.
From 1931 the British Empire no longer existed, instead an association of independent countries has formed over time since then and is known as the Commonwealth of Nations. The British Monarch at this time also continued to be the Australian Head of State - hence in Australia, the official title of the current head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia which is a legally separate and distinct role to her position as the Queen of Britain.
Throughout the 20th century, Australia maintained its ties with the UK, even though the post-WWII years saw increased immigration from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1999, Australians voted in a referendum to decide whether to become a republic, but the proposal was rejected by 55% of voters, possibly more so because of a rejection of the model offered than by an overwhelming desire to retain the Queen as Head of State.
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world, covering a land area of over 7,680,000 km². It is sandwiched by the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. As it is an island, it has no neighbouring countries, but it is near Papua New Guinea and Indonesia (north) and New Zealand (east).
Australia comprises six states and two territories: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and the Australian Antarctic territory.
Australia is geographically diverse, partly owing to its immense size. The centre of the continent is desert, known to Australians as the Outback. The vast majority of the population is concentrated around the eastern and south-eastern coasts.
The north eastern coastline hosts the largest coral reef structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, consisting of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands that stretch for 2,600 kilometres and cover an area of approximately 344,400 km².
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands that stretch for 2,600 kilometres (1,616 miles) and cover an area of approximately 344,400 km² (132,974 square miles). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia.
Reprinted with permission under Creative Commons Licence Travellers Guide