Australia, island continent located southeast of
forming, with the nearby island of Tasmania, the Commonwealth of
self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Commonwealth of Australia
is made up of six
states—New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania,
Western Australia—and two territories—the Australian Capital Territory
The first inhabitants of Australia
were the Aboriginal
people, who migrated to the continent some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.
continent remained relatively unknown to most of the outside world
17th century. The first permanent European settlement was established
at Port Jackson, in southeastern Australia,
as a British penal colony; it grew into the city of Sydney. Australia developed as a
British colonies during the 19th century, and in 1901 the colonies
form a unified independent nation, the Commonwealth of Australia.
The climate of Australia
varies greatly from
region to region, with a tropical climate in the north, an arid or
climate in much of the interior, and a temperate climate in the south.
these variations, the moderating influence of the surrounding oceans
absence of extensive high mountain ranges help prevent marked extremes
weather. However, some areas occasionally experience extreme weather
conditions, such as tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and severe drought.
The major cities of Australia
are Sydney, a
seaport and commercial center; Melbourne, a cultural center; Brisbane,
seaport; Perth, a seaport on the western coast; and Adelaide, an
the national capital, is much smaller in population.
The United Kingdom and
the principal countries of origin for the majority of immigrants to Australia,
reflecting the colonial history of the country. Since World War II
population has become more ethnically diverse as people have immigrated
wider range of countries. The proportion of residents born in other
increased from 10 percent in 1947 to 24 percent in 2000.
Great Barrier Reef, world’s largest coral reef system,
located off the
northeastern coast of Australia
bordering the Coral Sea (part of the Pacific Ocean).
The reef extends about 2,010 km (about 1,250 mi) roughly
parallel to the coast of the
state of Queensland, from the Torres
the north to near the town of Bundaberg
in the south.
Simple marine animals called corals
constructed the Great Barrier Reef
thousands of years. Nearly 3,000 individual coral reefs and some 300
coral islands form the reef, which ranks as the world’s
structure made by living organisms. This intricate network
of coral formations has an area of about 37,000 sq km (about 14,300 sq
encompassing about 13 percent of the world’s total coral reef.
In 1975 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
was established as
the largest marine protected area in the world. The park covers some
km (133,100 sq mi), including waters surrounding the reefs. In 1981 the
was designated a World Heritage Area by the World Heritage Committee of
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO). The Great Barrier Reef is
considered one of the great natural
wonders of the world.
Coral reefs provide the
ideal conditions for marine life. They are found in shallow tropical
stay warm year-round. Their exposure to sunlight provides energy to the
and plants that feed animals living in the reef. The reef itself
creatures with a large, intricate surface area on which they can find
shelter. For these reasons, more animal species are found on coral
in any other marine ecosystem (localized group of
organisms and the environment they inhabit). Although the coral reefs
in Indonesia and
contain the greatest numbers of species, the Great
Barrier Reef also has tremendous numbers of plants and
native mammals are marsupials, including the koala. Koalas live in the
eucalyptus forests of eastern Australia,
where they feed on the leaves and flowers of certain species of
well as on mistletoe and box leaves.
Other plant and animal life in the
500 kinds of algae, 4,000 types of mollusks, and 20 species of sea
snakes. The Great
Barrier Reef Marine
is an important refuge for a number of threatened species, including 30
of whales and dolphins, 6 species of sea turtles, the dugong (sea cow),
One of the most spectacular
the Great Barrier Reef occurs once a
the coral colonies spawn. For a few nights after the full moon in
December, all corals of the same species release their eggs and sperm
same time, with remarkable precision. By spawning all at once, the
increase the number of their offspring and the chances that at least
explorer and navigator Captain James Cook sailed around the
world twice, made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, and became the
European to visit Hawaii.
Cook sailed to Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia,
Vancouver Island, and the Hawaiian Islands,
where he was killed in a fight with islanders.