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General Information
and a
Short History



Contrary to popular opinion, all Aussies do not have either a kangaroo or a gum tree with a koala living in it in their backyards. Most Aussie's live in cities - NOT in the outback ! - with over 70% of the population living on the eastern seaboard and south-eastern corner of Australia. Strangely enough, our wildlife prefer the wild to city life - although city life can be pretty wild at times too.

Australia's main cities


Australia is the worlds largest island, smallest continent, and 6th largest country. It is also the flattest continent and has a large area of arid regions. Geologists believe that western part of Australia has the oldest rock formations in the world. With a land size of 7,686,884 km2, it is only slightly smaller than the United States. Our coastline is 25,760 km long. Of course we have a lot less population - as of June, 2001 there were 19, 379,000 people enjoying the good life Down Under. Australia is divided into 6 States and 2 Territories - these being New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), Victoria (VIC), South Australia (SA), Western Australia (WA), Tasmania (TAS), The Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Australia also has a number of external territories, both inhabited and uninhabited. These are Australian Antarctic Territories, Christmas Island (Indian Ocean), Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Norfolk Island, Coral Sea Islands Territory, Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands.

Canberra is the Capital City of Australia and is situated within the ACT. Sydney, however, is the largest city on the continent - with 3,934,700 inhabitants registered at the end of 1997. Australia uses decimal currency, the metric system of measurement, and is 10 hours (on the eastern seaboard) ahead of Greenwich Mean Time - which means, for most of you, we are living in your future. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II of England is represented by a Governor-General, resident in Canberra, and by a governor in each State.

The 6 States and 2 Territories

While first inhabitants, the Aborigines, migrated here around 40,000 years ago, white settlement started with convicts transported from England. European explorers knew of the existence of the continent in the 17th century, but discovery of the east coast was not made until 1770 by James Cook, who then claimed the entire country for Britain. Due to the independence of the 13 American colonies, Britain could no longer use Georgia as a penal colony. England's jails were soon filled to overflowing, and the tales told by explorer Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks (the botanist) of the wonderful wide open spaces of the "Great South Land" seemed like just the solution Britain needed to relieve the pressure of overcrowding. The First Fleet of 11 transport ships carrying 778 convicts arrived at Botany Bay on 20th January, 1788, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip (the first Governor of New South Wales), with the "Sirius" dropping anchor at 7.50 am. Conditions there proved unfavourable for a successful colony, so on 21st Phillip took a small party to investigate another bay that Cook had seen 16km to the north - Port Jackson. Cook had not entered Port Jackson, so Phillip and his party were surprised and delighted to find themselves in one of the best natural harbours in the world. After examining a number of coves, Phillip's party finally settled on one 8km from the mouth of the harbour and named it "Sydney Cove". The fleet was moved to Sydney Cove on January 26th, the Union Jack was raised that afternoon, and the colony of New South Wales was established.

Port Jackson (top) and Botany Bay


113 years later, on 1st January, 1901, Australia became a Federated nation. This means the six colonies joined to become a single nation - The Commonwealth of Australia. The original plan for Federation was drafted in 1890 and included New Zealand. In 1898 the first referendum was put to the people, but not enough voted to support the proposition. A second referendum was held a year later, and the draft of the Constitution was approved by a majority of the people. On 1st January, 1901 the first Australian Parliament was opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne. Sir Edmund Barton was installed as our first Prime Minister.

Government in Australia is based on the British "Cabinet" model of the 18th century and on British law. The concept is that the head of state (the Queen and her representative, the Governor-General) acts on the advice of government ministers. The head of state does not initiate new legislation (laws) but must sign each piece of legislation (a parliamentary bill) before it becomes law. Australia has a 3-tierd system of government headed by the Federal Parliament. This comprised an upper house (the Senate) which reviews legislation passed by the lower house (the House of Representatives). The lower house is designed to serve the people and introduce new legislation - its members (designated MHR) represent electorates or seats, and are elected by the public. The political party with the majority of votes at a general election forms the government, with its leader becoming Prime Minister. The Opposition is formed by the party holding most of the remaining seats. National governments are responsible for public finance, taxation, defence, foreign affairs and other matters of national importance. Revenue is raised mostly from taxes and the bulk of its expenditure is on administration and grants. State government is modelled on federal government. Legislation passed by a State Parliament must be signed by the governor of that State. State governments are responsible for law and order, education, child welfare, transport and similar matters directly affecting the State. Local government is the 3rd tier, and consists of city, country town or shire councils. Their responsibilities include road maintenance, building and land development and refuse collecting. Revenue is raised from rates levied on properties.

Parliament House, Canberra 1998 M. Barritt.

Education in Australia is compulsory for all children from the age of 6 to 15 (16 in Tasmania). Primary schools comprise the grades Kindergarten to Year 6 (or 6th grade) - except for Queensland, which continues Primary level to Year 7. High School comprises Year 7 (Year 8 in QLD) to Year 12. Most schools commence at 9am and finish at 3 pm - with 40 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for recess. Like most children everywhere, Aussie kids hate English, Maths and Science, but love Lunchtime, Recess and the 3pm bell ! The traditional tertiary level education structure in all States consists of universities, technical colleges and facilities for special vocational training including teaching, nursing, agricultural, naval and military colleges. There are presently 18 Australian universities and 46 approved colleges of advanced education (CAEs) located in metropolitan and regional areas.

Australia is rich in natural resources which include iron ore, coal, bauxite, mineral sands, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, copper, tin, silver, gold, gem and near gem diamonds, industrial diamonds, opals, sapphires, petroleum and natural gas. Australia produces two-thirds of its petroleum needs and more than enough natural gas. Some refined petroleum products are exported to New Zealand and countries of the Pacific and South-East Asia, while over two-thirds of LPG produced is exported to Japan. Coal fields include those at Wollongong, Lithgow and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, and Queensland. Australia is the world's largest exporter of black coal, bauxite, lead, diamonds and mineral sands; the second largest exporter of alumina, iron ore and uranium; and the third largest exporter of aluminium and gold.

Drilling off the coast of Victoria

Coal was discovered near Sydney as early as 1792, however development of the coalfields was slow until the introduction of steam railways, steamships and the use of gas near the end of the 19th century.

The manufacture of iron and steel products is Australia's largest secondary industry. Australia is the world's largest exporter of iron ore and the second largest producer, credited with about 12% of world output. The ore is extracted by open-cut mining and Australian mines have a total capacity to produce 120,000,000 tonnes each year. The iron and steel industry is strongly export orientated and only about 10% of all ore produced is held for domestic use. Japan is the major importer, taking more than half of the total annual output.

Coal Mining, Queensland

Gold was discovered as early as 1823, however news of its existence was suppressed due to fear of a convict uprising. After convict transportation ended in 1840, the California gold rush of 1848 whetted interest and gold was again discovered at Summer Hill Creek, New South Wales in February 1851. In June 1851 gold was discovered at Ballarat, Victoria, in the 1870's at Palmer Field, Queensland, and the 1890's at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Today the Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie area produces about half the Australian gold output.

As well as natural resources, Australia also produces wool, wheat and world class wines. Approximately 25% of the world's total wool comes from Australia - and is exported to Japan, the Soviet Union, Italy, France, West Germany and Czechoslovakia. The breeding of sheep for wool started as early as 1797 when Spanish merinos were imported by settlers like John Macarthur and William Cox. Macarthur was responsible, through his experiments in cross-breeding, for establishing wool as a major rural commodity.

Other exports of note include super swimmers, tennis champions, unbeatable cricketers, unsinkable yachtsmen, and fearsome Rugby players. Yes, Australia is a sporting nation !

Australia is a culturally diverse country. According to the Bureau of Statistics (yes we have one, too), the 1996 census reported that 3.9 million people had been born overseas, 3.8 million had one or both parents born overseas, 2.6 million spoke a language other than English at home, there were 92 religious denominations and 282 major languages spoken (including Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic, Lebanese, Vietnamese, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Macedonian, Filipino, Croatian, Polish, Maltese, Turkish, Dutch, Flemish and 170 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages).

Where do most Immigrants come from ? According to past Census records,

  1993-7 1983-7 1973-7 1963-7  
  United Kingdom & Ireland 53,200 88,900 156,200 339,500  
  New Zealand 53,600 53,000 20,200 ...  
  Vietnam 21,000 40,100 ...   ...  
  Philippines 17,200 22,300 ...   ...  
  China 28,900 ... ...   ...  
  Hong Kong 19,500 ... ...   ...  
  South Africa ...   14,100 ...   ...  
  Poland ...   8,100 ...   ...  
  Yugoslavia ...   ...   18,100 33,600  
  Greece ...   ...   11,200 67,400  
  Lebanon ...   ...   21,900 ...  
  USA ...   ...   10,900 ...  
  Italy ... ...   ... 61,300  
  Malta ... ...   ... 19,400  
  Germany ... ... ... 17,700  

Information reproduced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics