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.
Covering a total area of 7.69 million square kilometres, mainland Australia is the world’s largest island - but smallest continent. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area.
In distance, the continent stretches about 3700 kilometres from north to south and 4000 kilometres from east to west, making it the sixth-largest nation after Russia, Canada, China, the United States and Brazil.
Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.
Cities, states and territories
Australia is divided into six states and two territories.
Canberra is the national capital and the centre of government. It is located approximately 290 kilometres south of Sydney in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Thought to mean ‘meeting place’, from the Aboriginal word ‘Kamberra’. It is home to important national institutions, including the Australian Parliament and the High Court of Australia.
New South Wales is Australia’s oldest and most populated state. It was originally settled as a penal colony on the shores of Port Jackson where the bustling capital city of Sydney now stands. More than a third of Australians live in New South Wales, and Sydney is the nation’s largest city.
Victoria is the smallest of the mainland states in size but the second most populated.
Melbourne is the capital and is Australia’s second most populated city. During the gold rush of the 1850s, it became one of the world's largest and wealthiest cities. Melbourne is sometimes referred to as the "cultural capital of Australia" and is the birthplace of Australian film, television, art, dance and music. Victorians’ enthusiasm for sport is also legendary and this is where Australian Rules football began.
Queensland is Australia’s second-largest state in size. The state capital is Brisbane, the third most populated city in Australia. Queenslanders enjoy more winter sunshine and warmth than most other Australian states and it’s perfect for all types of outdoor activities and water sports. Queensland is also home to the world famous Great Barrier Reef as well as five World Heritage Listed areas.
South Australia is a state in the southern central part of the country which covers some of the most arid parts of the continent. It is the fourth largest of Australia's states and shares its borders with all of the mainland states and the Northern Territory. The state capital is Adelaide, the fifth-largest city in Australia. South Australia has a thriving arts scene and is sometimes known as the ‘Festival State’, with more than 500 festivals taking place there every year.
At the top end of Australia lies the Northern Territory. Darwin, on the northern coast, is the capital, and Alice Springs the principal inland town.
Alice Springs is the physical heart of Australia, almost exactly at the nation's geographical centre. The Northern Territory is home to the famous Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Kakadu National Park.
Western Australia is Australia’s largest state by area. About three-quarters of the state’s population live in the capital Perth, which is the fourth most populated city in Australia. The east of the state is mostly desert while to the west the state is bound by almost 13000 kilometres of pristine coastline. In the 1890s gold was discovered and mining is still one of the state’s biggest industries.
Tasmania is separated from mainland Australia by Bass Strait and is the smallest state in Australia. The capital, Hobart, was founded in 1804 as a penal colony, and is Australia's second oldest capital city after Sydney. One-fifth of Tasmania is covered by national parks and wilderness areas. It is one of the world's most mountainous islands whose geology reflects Australia’s connection millions of years ago with Antarctica.
Australia also administers Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (or Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territory (covering 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent) as external territories.