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Kangeroo Sunset, Australia

Australia

 
Australia
The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the world's smallest continent and a number of islands in the Southern, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Australia's neighbouring countries are Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast.

The continent of Australia has been inhabited for over 40,000 years by Indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the north and by European explorers and merchants starting in the 17th century, the eastern half of the continent was claimed by the British in 1770 and officially settled as the penal colony of New South Wales on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were successively established over the course of the 19th century.

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth Realm. The current population of around 20.4 million is concentrated mainly in the large coastal cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
Background Information
The first human habitation of Australia is estimated to have occurred between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. The first Australians were the ancestors of the current Indigenous Australians; they arrived via land bridges and short sea-crossings from present-day India or Southeast Asia. Most of these people were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, inhabited the Torres Strait Islands and parts of far-north Queensland; they possess distinct cultural practices and practised subsistence agriculture.

The first undisputed recorded European sighting of the Australian continent was made by the Dutch navigator Willem Jansz, who sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606. During the 17th century, the Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of what they called New Holland, but made no attempt at settlement. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Britain. The expedition's discoveries provided impetus for the establishment of a penal colony there following the loss of the American colonies that had previously filled that role.

The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement at Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date was later to become Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. Britain formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory (NT) was founded in 1863 as part of the Province of South Australia. Victoria and South Australia were founded as "free colonies" - that is, they were never penal colonies, although the former did receive some convicts from Tasmania. Western Australia was also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts due to an acute labour shortage. The transportation of convicts to Australia was phased out between 1840 and 1868.
Climate
Australia is bisected by the tropic of Capricorn; much of Australia is closer to the equator than any part of the USA. Accordingly, the northern Australia enjoys a tropical climate, and southern Australia a temperate one.

The tropical states Queensland and the Northern Territory have highly predictable weather. In "winter'', typical daily maximums are from 20 to 24 degrees Celsius (68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and rain is rare. The beaches and tropical islands of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef are perhaps at their most pleasant at this time of year. Further south, the weather is less dependable; in Melbourne in August maximums as low as 13 (56F) degrees are possible, but can reach as high as 23 (72F) degrees.

In summer, the northern states are hotter and wetter, while the southern states are simply hotter, with temperatures up to 41 (105F) in Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne but generally between 25 and 33 - very pleasant indeed.

Snow is rare in the southernmost capitals Melbourne and Hobart, falling less than once every ten years, and in the other capitals it is unknown. However, there are extensive, well-developed ski fields in the Great Dividing Range, a few hours drive from Melbourne and Sydney. Late August marks the peak of the snow season, and the ski resorts are a popular destination; perhaps too popular for some tastes. An alternative skiing destination is New Zealand, which provides skiers with excellent snow and facilities at lower cost.
Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Map of Australia