Currency unit

Australian dollar



Carbon fixing









Australia was inhabited by humans from the earliest times. The native Australians (Kurri) can trace their residence for thousands of years. They may have the earliest known culture on earth. Like all people who have been long established in their home territory they had adapted well to the Australian environment. Many different language groups spread over the whole continent appear to have shared a common culture of myth and ritual. Some of this still survives and may be reviving as persecution comes to an end.

There is documentary evidence that Portuguese touched on the east coast of the continent in 1522. However, they didn't follow up their discovery (perhaps because it was in the part of the world which had been awarded to the Spaniards by the Pope at the treaty of Tordesillas in 1494) and the news was lost. The next European contact was in 1605 by a Dutch ship which sighted the west coast of Cape York. The Dutch then explored the west and southern coasts, Tasmania and New Zealand. However, the politically effective visit was James Cook's in 1770 as it led to settlement.

Australia was settled from Britain by convicts, many of whom were in fact Irish. The first voyage arrived in 1788. It was used as a place to clear the prisons after the independence of the United States, where convicts had been sent before.

It is the only continent to be occupied by a single state. However, it was settled in a number of different colonies which developed separately at first because of the great distances between them. New South Wales was first. Later came Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. For rail freaks the curiosity of the country is that three different rail gauges were adopted at a time when few believed the whole continent would be united.

After the achievement of Federation in 1901 Australians found their nationhood in the slaughter of the first world war when with New Zealanders they formed the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). It brought together people from different states, and taught them to hate the incompetent British officers who used them in unwinnable battles or bungled the landings at Gallipoli where so many died.

The large Irish component of the population, some of whom were sent as convicts and others who went there to escape the Irish famine of the 1840s maintain an anti-British feeling, mixed with the descendants of the English and Scots.

Since 1945 there have been many settlers from other parts so that the British and Irish founders of the nation are now a smaller proportion of the immigrant population. Many came from southern Europe - Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia. Since the 1960s the laws against "non-white" immigration have been relaxed and many people have come from south east Asia, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. In the long run the character and culture of Australia will be altered by the newer immigrants to become more like the cultural diversity of the United States. A new cultural synthesis may arise, perhaps including the Aborigines.



Various Aborigine langs.







A federal state with a parliamentary system. There is a Federal House of Representatives and a Senate. The House is elected by the Alternative vote system, which gives some representation to minorities; the Senate by proportional representation (Single Transferable Vote). The Senate can therefore be controlled by a different party to the House (or as at present have no overall control). Each state has a parliament and Premier.

The Head of State is nominally the Queen of Britain (as Queen of Australia) but represented by a Governor General who is now always an Australian citizen. (In 1972 the Gough Whitlam affair, when Sir John Kerr as GG dismissed the Labor government because the upper house rejected the budget led to a lessening of the GG's powers.)

The Head of Government is the Federal Prime Minister. A recent Labor PM Paul Keating proposed changes in the government system which would have led to the declaration of a Republic in 2001. Debate was on what kind: presidential; or parliamentary.

General Election April 1996 brought the Liberal (conservative) party to power, ending a long period of Labor rule.

A referendum on the Monarchy resulted in a vote against change. Opinion polls suggest this was more a vote against the proposed method of electing a president by the Federal Parliament than of positive liking for the monarchy.

The states are rather weak and their governments closer to being devolved than Sovereign.

In the November 2007 elections the conservative (Liberal) prime minister John Howard was defeated by the Labor party under Kevin Rudd. The new PM promised to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq and also wants to abolish the monarchy. In 2011 he was deposed from within his own Labor Party and replaced by Julia Gillard (born in Wales).

One of the main disputes in politics is about carbon tax. Federal governments want to impose a tax on carbon which would affect the coal exporters. Apparently those in favor have failed to ensure that this tax would be used for solar energy investment. The coal producers have linked it to a denial of the importance of climate change and the main opposition party runs on a platform of Denial.

Interesting reading

Kenneth Gordon McIntyre - The Secret Discovery of Australia

See any of the books by Thomas Keneally - Australians

Commonwealth of Thieves: The Story of the Founding of Australia
Rabbit-proof fence

Rabbit-Proof Fence [DVD] [2002]
Long Walk Home / The Rabbit-Proof Fence







Australia is integrated into the western market economy but is increasingly dependent on China as a source of raw materials - mainly Iron ore, and the supply of coal to Japan. However, for a long time protection of local industries has resulted in inefficiency and high costs. Opening up to competition seems likely to result in unemployment.

It is mainly a primary producer of agricultural products and minerals. The manufacturing sector tends to be weak in competition with the nearby Japanese and other East Asian economies.

The agricultural sector is vulnerable to climate problems. For example, most farming was affected (2007-2009) by a drought. In 2011 the eastern states were affected by flooding.







Australia was biologically isolated from the rest of the world following the split up of Gondwanaland (the continent which included Antarctica, Africa, India and South America). Most of the land species were endemic to the continent and therefore adapted to each other as a complex system. Marsupials survived there isolated from Placental mammals (only in South America were there other examples, but most of them were eliminated by Placentals when the Central American corridor was formed). Many of the mammal species were marsupials. These had diversified to fill most of the available niches. But placental mammals brought in by the Europeans often fill these niches more efficiently.

The coming of Europeans with their plants and placental animals has disrupted this system. It is impossible to tell how it will adapt. Many species are diminished in number and some are extinct.

Intensive grazing of sheep and the growing of grain has altered land use considerably. The new crops are not adapted to the ecology of this very dry country, and much of the irrigated land is salting up.

Climate change will probably tend to make the south east drier and increase the frequency of droughts.

Cutting of forest and use of irrigation has also changed land use. It is possible that some land is more prone to drought than before, but it is known that Australia has always had a very variable climate. Modern industrial agriculture cannot easily adapt to the variability. Global warming may be increasing the frequency of "El Nino" events - the warming of the western Pacific. One of these is accompanied by increased drought in the west: Indonesia and Australia, with more rain in the east: California, Mexico, Peru and Chile.

The biggest problems are probably erosion of farmland and reduction of tree cover. Towns have been built in places where natural forest fires are common. As in Los Angleles in the US devastating fires can cause huge property damage - as in February 2009 in the state of Victoria.

The new settlers need to learn more from the ancient inhabitants.

There are radioactive sites where British nuclear tests took place during the 1950s and 1960s.

Ultra-violet intensities from ozone loss are increasing and a favorite Australian pastime - sun bathing - is increasingly dangerous.

Although Australia may be badly affected by Climate Change the Howard government failed to accept the Kyoto treaty and did not curb its CO2 emissions and was allied with the US in Climate Change denial. Fears of continuing drought are the main climate problem.

Australia ought to be a world leader in solar energy but its politicians have followed those of the United States in denying the seriousness of the climate problem. (This has changed with the new government elected in November 2007). All the main agricultural areas in the south are suffering from a prolonged drought that has now (April 2009) lasted 12 years. In 2007 irrigation was banned because of lack of water.

Although the population is small (18 million), there is a question of how many humans can be supported at a western standard of consumption.

It is possible that Global Warming will result in the rain belt of the southern areas migrating into the sea, leaving the currently settled area an arid desert.

Although Australia's exports of coal, mainly to China and Japan, are a major source of the world's carbon emissions into the atmosphere, Australia could be the site for very large solar energy installations, and possibly the site, along with the Sahara, for carbon fixing industries, and thus may become a major contributor to the processes reversing the climate problem. Potentially Australia could get nearly all its energy from solar derivatives. When will it do so?

End of drought 2012

Daniel Nettle - Linguistic Diversity

Linguistic Diversity (Oxford Linguistics)

Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages

Ces langues, ces voix qui

Robert Hughes - the Fatal Shore

The Fatal Shore






Human Rights

The rate of arrest and of deaths in police custody of native Australians is worrying and cause for inquiry by the Federal government.

The former rather rightwing government was criticised for its immigration policy.

Climate effects

Australia is the developed country most likely to be seriously damaged by climate change as almost all of its current economy will be made impossible. The southern agricultural area will wither as the rainbelts retreat into the Southern Ocean. The coal exports must cease after coal is banned as a source of energy.

July 2011 - the government proposes a Australia carbon tax, which may give some advantage to solar.

One degree
Increased drought in southeast and west.

Two degrees
Agriculture probably impossible in most of the presently settled areas. Northern tropical monsoon may extend further south and rainfall may increase in Queensland, probably with increased flooding.

The experience of Queensland in early January 2011 shows unprecedented floods during a La Nina event.

Tasmania probably the only viable agricultural area in the south.

Last revised 7/08/12


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