Something of Interest
Australian English is a major variety of the English language and is used throughout Australia. Although English has no official status in the Constitution, Australian English is Australia's de facto official language and is the first language of the majority of the population.
Australian English started diverging from British English after the founding of the colony of New South Wales in 1788 and was recognised as being different from British English by 1820, arising from the intermingling of early settlers from a great variety of dialectal regions of the British Isles and quickly developed into a distinct variety of English.
Australian English differs from other varieties of English in vocabulary, accent, pronunciation, register, grammar and spelling.
Internationally well-known examples of Australian terminology include outback, meaning a remote, sparsely populated area, the bush, meaning either a native forest or a country area in general, and g'day (good day), a greeting. Dinkum, or fair dinkum means "true", or "is that true?", among other things, depending on context and inflection. The derivative dinky-di means "true" or devoted: a "dinky-di Aussie" is a "true Australian".
Australia officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area. Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.
The name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern". The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz, Aus or Aussie since the early 20th century. Aussie is also a common colloquial term for "Australian".
The History of Australia refers to the history of the area and people of the Commonwealth of Australia and its preceding Indigenous and colonial societies. Aboriginal Australians are believed to have first arrived on the Australian mainland by sea from Maritime Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia) between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago. The artistic, musical and spiritual traditions they established are among the longest surviving such traditions in human history.
The first known landing in Australia by Europeans was by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606. Other Dutch navigators explored the western and southern coasts in the 17th century, and dubbed the continent New Holland. Macassan trepangers visited Australia's northern coasts after 1720, possibly earlier. Other European explorers followed until, in 1770, Lieutenant James Cook charted the East Coast of Australia for Britain and returned with accounts favouring colonisation at Botany Bay (now in Sydney), New South Wales.
A First Fleet of British ships arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788 to establish a penal colony (a settlement used to exile prisoners). In the century that followed, the British established other colonies on the continent, and European explorers ventured into its interior. Indigenous Australians were greatly weakened and their numbers diminished by introduced diseases and conflict with the colonists during this period.
Gold rushes and agricultural industries brought prosperity. Autonomous Parliamentary democracies began to be established throughout the six British colonies from the mid-19th century. The colonies voted by referendum to unite in a federation in 1901, and modern Australia came into being. Australia fought on the side of Britain in the two world wars and became a long-standing ally of the United States when threatened by Imperial Japan during World War II. Trade with Asia increased and a post-war multicultural immigration program received more than 6.5 million migrants from every continent. The population tripled in six decades to around 21 million in 2010, with people originating from 200 countries sustaining the world's 14th largest national economy.
Government and Politics
The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia is the federal democratic administrative authority of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia, a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy, was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states. The terms of this agreement are embodied in the Australian Constitution, which was drawn up at a Constitutional Convention and ratified by the people of the colonies at referendums. The structure of the Australian Government may be examined in light of two distinct concepts, namely federalism and the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Separation of powers is implied from the structure of the Constitution which breaks down the branches of government into separate chapters. The Australian federal system is a unique mixture of the Westminster and U.S. systems of federal representative democracy, with important elements of both present.
The politics of Australia takes place within the framework of a federal constitutional parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. Australians elect parliamentarians to the federal Parliament of Australia, a bicameral body which incorporates elements of the fused executive inherited from the Westminster system, and a strong federalist senate, adopted from the United States Congress. Australia largely operates as a two-party system in which voting is compulsory.
The Monarchy of Australia is a form of government in which a hereditary monarch is the sovereign of Australia. The monarchy is a constitutional one, modelled on the Westminster style of parliamentary government, incorporating features unique to the Constitution of Australia.
The present monarch is Elizabeth II, styled Queen of Australia, who has reigned since 6 February 1952. She is represented in Australia by the governor-general, in accordance with the Australian constitution and Letters Patent (written orders) from the Queen. In each of the states, the monarch is represented by a governor, appointed directly by the Queen on the advice of each of her respective state governments.
The Australian monarch, besides reigning in Australia, separately serves as monarch for each of fifteen other Commonwealth countries known as Commonwealth realms. This developed from the former colonial relationship of these countries to Britain, but they are now independent of each other and are legally distinct.
Australia has six states—New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA)—and two major mainland territories—the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). In most respects these two territories function as states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only in areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including those over schools, state police, the state judiciary, roads, public transport and local government, since these do not fall under the provisions listed in Section 51.
Foreign Relations and Military
The foreign relations of Australia are influenced by its position as a leading trading nation and as a significant donor of humanitarian aid. Australia's foreign policy is guided by a commitment to multilateralism (multiple countries working together) and regionalism, as well as to strong bilateral relations with its allies. Key concerns include free trade, terrorism, economic cooperation with Asia and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Australia is active in the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations.
It has become steadfastly allied with New Zealand, through long-standing ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) ties dating back to the early 1900s, and the United States, throughout the Cold War.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is the military organisation responsible for the defence of Australia. It consists of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and a number of 'tri-service' units. The ADF has a strength of just over 80,000 full-time personnel and active reservists, and is supported by the Department of Defence and several other civilian agencies.
The ADF is technologically sophisticated but relatively small. Although the ADF's 57,994 full-time active-duty personnel, 22,072 active reserves and 22,166 standby reserves make it the largest military in Oceania, it is still smaller than most Asian militaries. Nonetheless, the ADF is supported by a significant budget by worldwide standards and is able to deploy forces in multiple locations outside Australia.
Geography and Climate
The geography of Australia encompasses a wide variety of biogeographic regions being the world's smallest continent but the sixth-largest country in the world. The population of Australia is concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts. The geography of the country is extremely diverse, ranging from the snow-capped mountains of the Australian Alps and Tasmania to large deserts, tropical and temperate forests.
Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the French dependency of New Caledonia to the east, and New Zealand to the southeast.
The climate of Australia varies widely due to its large geographical size, but by far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid. Only the south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern part of the country has a tropical climate, varied between tropical rainforests, grasslands, part desert.
The geology of Australia includes virtually all known rock types and from all geological time periods spanning over 3.8 billion years of the Earth's history.
Fauna, Flora and Fungi
Agriculture and mining are the predominate land uses which affect the Australian environment. The management of the impact on the Australian environment from the mining industry, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, forests and native animals are recurring issues of conservation.
The fauna of Australia consists of a huge variety of animals; some 83% of mammals, 89% of reptiles, 90% of fish and insects and 93% of amphibians that inhabit the continent are endemic to Australia. This high level of endemism can be attributed to the continent's long geographic isolation, tectonic stability, and the effects of an unusual pattern of climate change on the soil and flora over geological time. A unique feature of Australia's fauna is the relative scarcity of native placental mammals. Consequently the marsupials—a group of mammals that raise their young in a pouch like kangaroos, including the macropods, possums and dasyuromorphs—occupy many of the ecological niches placental animals occupy elsewhere in the world. Uniquely, Australia has more venomous than non-venomous species of snakes.
The flora of Australia comprises a vast assemblage of plant species estimated to over 20,000 vascular and 14,000 non-vascular plants, 250,000 species of fungi and over 3,000 lichens. The flora has strong affinities with the flora of Gondwana, and below the family level has a highly endemic angiosperm (flowering plants) flora whose diversity was shaped by the effects of continental drift and climate change since the Cretaceous. Prominent features of the Australian flora are adaptations to aridity and fire which include scleromorphy (vegetation that has hard leaves and short internodes) and serotiny (seed plants, in which seed release occurs in response to an environmental trigger). These adaptations are common in species from the large and well-known families Proteaceae (Banksia), Myrtaceae (Eucalyptus - gum trees), and Fabaceae (Acacia - wattle).
The Fungi of Australia form an enormous and phenomenally diverse group, occupying a huge range of freshwater, marine and terrestrial habitats with many ecological roles, for example as saprobes, parasites and mutualistic symbionts of algae, animals and plants, and as agents of biodeterioration. Where plants produce, and animals consume, the fungi recycle, and as such they ensure the sustainability of ecosystems.
The economy of Australia is one of the largest capitalist economies in the world with a GDP of US$1.57 trillion. Australia's total wealth is 6.4 trillion dollars. In 2011, it was the 13th largest national economy by nominal GDP and the 17th-largest measured by PPP-adjusted GDP, about 1.7% of the world economy. Australia is the 19th-largest importer and 19th-largest exporter. Australia has the eighth highest tax rate in the world, which could hinder economic growth in the long term especially affecting Small and medium enterprises after the global financial crisis and further strengthening its economy with the development of the Chinese economy, which is the one of the main export destinations for Australian raw materials.
For almost two centuries the majority of settlers, and later immigrants, came from the British Isles. As a result the people of Australia are primarily of British and/or Irish ethnic origin. The 2011 Census asked respondents to provide a maximum of two ancestries with which they most closely identify. The most commonly nominated ancestry was English (36.1%), followed by Australian (35.4%), Irish (10.4%), Scottish (8.9%), Italian (4.6%), German (4.5%), Chinese (4.3%), Indian (2.0%), Greek (1.9%), and Dutch (1.7%). Asian Australians make up 12% of the population.
In 2011, 24.6% of Australians were born elsewhere and 43.1% of people had at least one overseas-born parent; the largest immigrant groups were those from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, India, Italy, Vietnam, and Philippines.
The Indigenous population—mainland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 548,370 (2.5% of the total population) in 2011, a significant increase from 115,953 in the 1976 census.
Although Australia has no official language, English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling. General Australian serves as the standard dialect. According to the 2011 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 81% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Mandarin (1.7%), Italian (1.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.3%), Greek (1.3%), and Vietnamese (1.2%); a considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. A 2010–2011 study by the Australia Early Development Index found the most common language spoken by children after English was Arabic, followed by Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, and Hindi.
In the 21st century, religion in Australia is predominantly Christian. In the 2011 Census, 61.14% of the Australian population were recorded as adhering to Christianity. Historically the percentage has been far higher and the religious landscape of Australia is diversifying, along with multicultural immigration and 22.3% of people with no religious affiliation. 22.3% of Australians declared "no-religion" on the 2011 Census, and a further 8.55% did not answer the question. The remaining population is a diverse group which includes Buddhist (2.46%), Islamic (2.21%), Hindu (1.28%), Jewish (0.45%) and Sikh (0.3%) communities. The Constitution of Australia of 1901 prohibits the Commonwealth government from establishing a church or interfering with the freedom of religion.
School attendance, or registration for home schooling, is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 up until about 16. In some states (WA, NT & NSW), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.
Australia has the fourth highest life expectancy in the world after Iceland, Japan and Hong Kong. Life expectancy in Australia in 2010 was 79.5 years for males and 84.0 years for females. Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease, responsible for 7.8% of the total mortality and disease. Ranked second in preventable causes is hypertension at 7.6%, with obesity third at 7.5%. Australia ranks 35th in the world and near the top of developed nations for its proportion of obese adults.
Total expenditure on health (including private sector spending) is around 9.8% of GDP. Australia introduced universal health care in 1975. Known as Medicare, it is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently set at 1.5%. The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the Commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (subsidising the costs of medicines) and general practice.
The culture of Australia is essentially a Western culture influenced by the unique geography of the Australian continent, the diverse input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the British colonisation of Australia that began in 1788, and the various waves of multi-ethnic migration that followed. The predominance of the English language, the existence of a democratic system of government drawing upon the British traditions of Westminster Government, Parliamentarianism and constitutional monarchy, as well as American constitutionalist and federalist traditions, Christianity as the dominant religion and the popularity of sports such as cricket and rugby evidence a significant Anglo-Celtic heritage. Australian culture has diverged significantly since British settlement in 1788.
Television in Australia began there experimentally as early as 1929 in Melbourne and later from other locations, such as Brisbane in 1934.
The music of Australia has an extensive history stretching back to the Indigenous and colonial societies. Indigenous Australian music is a part of the unique heritage of a 40,000–60,000 year history which produced the iconic didgeridoo (a wind instrument developed by Indigenous Australians). Contemporary fusions of Indigenous and Western styles (exemplified in the works of No Fixed Address, Yothu Yindi, Christine Anu and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu) mark distinctly Australian contributions to world music.
The food of Indigenous Australians was largely influenced by the area in which they lived. Most tribal groups subsisted on a simple hunter-gatherer diet, hunting native game and fish and collecting native plants and fruit. The general term for native Australian flora and fauna used as a source of food is bush tucker. The first settlers introduced British food to the continent, and much of that is now considered typical Australian food; the Sunday roast has become an enduring tradition for many Australians. Since the beginning of the 20th century, food in Australia has increasingly been influenced by immigrants to the nation, particularly from Southern European and Asian cultures.
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