Australia

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Oceania (Australasia)

Commonwealth of Australia
Flag of Australia Coat of arms of Australia
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem:  Advance Australia Fair
Location of Australia
Capital Canberra
Largest city Sydney
Official languages English ( de facto )
Demonym Australian
Government Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, see Government of Australia
 -  Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
 -  Governor-General Michael Jeffery
 -  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
Independence from the United Kingdom 
 -  Constitution 1 January 1901 
 -  Statute of Westminster 11 December 1931 
 -  Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 9 October 1942 (with effect from 3 September 1939
 -  Australia Act 3 March 1986 
Area
 -  Total 7,741,220 km² ( 6th)
2,988,888  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1
Population
 -  2008 estimate 21,310,000 ( 53rd)
 -  2006 census 19,855,288 
 -  Density 2.6/km² ( 224th)
6.7/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total US$718.4 billion (IMF) ( 17th)
 -  Per capita US$34,359 (IMF) ( 14th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total US$1046.8 billion ( 13th)
 -  Per capita US$49,271 (DFAT) ( 16th)
HDI (2007) 0.962 (high) ( 3rd)
Currency Australian dollar ( AUD)
Time zone various ( UTC+8 to +10.5)
 -  Summer ( DST) various ( UTC+9 to +11.5)
Internet TLD .au
Calling code +61

The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the southern hemisphere comprising the mainland of the world's smallest continent, the major island of Tasmania, and numerous other islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The neighbouring countries are Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast. Australia is the only country that is also a continent.

The Australian mainland has been inhabited for more than 42,000 years by indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the north and then European discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, the eastern half of Australia was later claimed by the British in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales, commencing on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established during the 19th century.

On 1 January 1901, the six colonies became a federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The capital city is Canberra, located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The population is just over 21.3 million, with approximately 60% of the population concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.

Etymology

Artist's rendition of Port Jackson, the site where Sydney was established, viewed from the South Head. (From A Voyage to Terra Australis.)
Artist's rendition of Port Jackson, the site where Sydney was established, viewed from the South Head. (From A Voyage to Terra Australis.)

The name " Australia" is derived from the Latin Australis, meaning "Southern". Legends of an "unknown land of the south" ( terra australis incognita) date back to Roman times and were commonplace in medieval geography but were not based on any documented knowledge of the continent. In 1521 Spaniards were among the first Europeans to sail the Pacific Ocean. The first use of the word "Australia" in English was in 1625—the words "A note of Australia del Espiritu Santo, written by Master Hakluyt", published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus. It is said that the name Australia originally came from the Spanish man Pedro Fernández de Quirós whose travels around the southern seas brought him close to the lands he named “Australia del Espiritu Santo” in honour of the House of Austria which, at the time, governed the Spanish Empire. The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used by Dutch East India Company officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south in 1638. "Australia" was used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny under the pen name Jacques Sadeur. Alexander Dalrymple then used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean (1771), to refer to the entire South Pacific region. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland."

The name "Australia" was popularised by the 1814 work A Voyage to Terra Australis by the navigator Matthew Flinders, the first recorded person to circumnavigate Australia. Though its title reflected the British Admiralty's usage, Flinders used the word "Australia" in his book, and because it was widely read it gave the term general currency. Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England, and on 12 December 1817 recommended to the Colonial Office that it be officially adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as "Australia".

The word "Australia" in Australian English is pronounced /əˈstɹæɪljə, -liːə, -jə/.

History

The first human habitation of Australia is estimated to have occurred between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago. These first Australians were possibly the ancestors of the current Indigenous Australians; they may have arrived via land bridges and short sea-crossings from present-day South-East Asia. Most of these people were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, inhabited the Torres Strait Islands and parts of far-north Queensland; their cultural practices were and remain distinct from those of the Aborigines.

Lieutenant James Cook charted the east coast of Australia on HM Bark Endeavour, claiming the land for Great Britain in 1770. This replica was built in Fremantle in 1988; photographed in Cooktown Harbour where Cook spent seven weeks.
Lieutenant James Cook charted the east coast of Australia on HM Bark Endeavour, claiming the land for Great Britain in 1770. This replica was built in Fremantle in 1988; photographed in Cooktown Harbour where Cook spent seven weeks.

The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland was made by the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, who sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in 1606. During the 17th century, the Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of what they called New Holland, but they made no attempt at settlement. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. The expedition's discoveries provided impetus for the establishment of a penal colony there.

The British Crown Colony of New South Wales started with the establishment of a settlement at Port Jackson by Captain Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. This date was later to become Australia's national day, Australia Day. Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1829. Separate colonies were created from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia. South Australia was founded as a "free province"—that is, it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free" but later accepted transported convicts. The transportation of convicts to the colony of New South Wales ceased in 1848 after a campaign by the settlers.

Port Arthur, Tasmania was Australia's largest gaol for transported convicts.
Port Arthur, Tasmania was Australia's largest gaol for transported convicts.

The Indigenous Australian population, estimated at 350,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly because of infectious disease combined with forced re-settlement and cultural disintegration. The removal of children from their families, which some historians and Indigenous Australians have argued could be considered to constitute genocide by some definitions, may have contributed to the decline in the indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by some commentators as being exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons. This debate is known within Australia as the History Wars. Following the 1967 referendum, the Federal government gained the power to implement policies and make laws with respect to Aborigines. Traditional ownership of land— native title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius (lit. "land of none" or "empty land") at the time of European occupation.

The Last Post is played at an ANZAC Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria, 25 April 2005. Such ceremonies are held in virtually every suburb and town in Australia.
The Last Post is played at an ANZAC Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria, 25 April 2005. Such ceremonies are held in virtually every suburb and town in Australia.

A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Stockade rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence, and international shipping. On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting. The Commonwealth of Australia was born as a Dominion of the British Empire. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed from a part of New South Wales in 1911 to provide a location for the proposed new federal capital of Canberra (Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed). The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the Commonwealth in 1911. Australia willingly participated in World War I. Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action. The Kokoda Track Campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.

The Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the United Kingdom when Australia adopted it in 1942, but backdated it to the beginning of World War II to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during the war. The shock of the United Kingdom's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US under the auspices of the ANZUS treaty. After World War II, Australia encouraged immigration from Europe; since the 1970s and the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and other non-European parts of the world was also encouraged. As a result, Australia's demography, culture and self-image have been transformed. The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed in 1986 with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and ending judicial appeals to the UK Privy Council. In 1999, Australian voters rejected by a majority of 54% a move to become a republic with a president appointed by two-thirds vote of both houses of the Australian Parliament. To alter the Australian constitution an Act of the Australian Parliament must occur as well as a referendum receiving not only a majority of votes across the country, but also a majority of votes in a majority of the six Australian states. The referendum of 1999 not only did not receive a majority of votes across the country, it also did not win one of the six Australian states. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus on the expansion of ties with other Pacific Rim nations while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners.

Politics

Parliament House in Canberra was opened in 1988 replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.
Parliament House in Canberra was opened in 1988 replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.

The Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional democracy based on a federal division of powers. The form of government used in Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General at federal level and by the Governors at state level. Although the Constitution gives extensive executive powers to the Governor-General, these are normally exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister. The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside the Prime Minister's direction was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.

There are three branches of government:

  • The legislature: the Commonwealth Parliament, comprising the Queen, the Senate, and the House of Representatives; the Queen is represented by the Governor-General, who by convention acts on the advice of his or her Ministers.
  • The executive: the Federal Executive Council (the Governor-General as advised by the Executive Councillors); in practice, the councillors are the Prime Minister and Ministers of State.
  • The judiciary: the High Court of Australia and other federal courts. Appeals from Australian courts to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom ceased when the Australia Act was passed in 1986.

The bicameral Commonwealth Parliament consists of the Queen, the Senate (the upper house) of 76 senators, and a House of Representatives (the lower house) of 150 members. Members of the lower house are elected from single-member constituencies, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats". Seats in the House of Representatives are allocated to states on the basis of population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. In the Senate, each state is represented by 12 senators, and each of the territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory) by two. Elections for both chambers are held every three years; senators have overlapping six-year terms, and only half of the seats are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution. The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.

There are two major political groups that form government: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a grouping of two parties: the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and the Australian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. Since 3 December 2007, shortly after the 2007 election, the Labor Party led by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been in power in Canberra, and the party is now in power in every parliament in the country. In the 2004 election, the previous governing Coalition led by John Howard won control of the Senate—the first time in more than 20 years that a party (or a coalition) has done so while in government. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over, in each state and territory and at the federal level. Enrolment to vote is compulsory in all jurisdictions except South Australia.

States and territories

Perth Adelaide Melbourne Canberra Sydney Brisbane Indian Ocean Indonesia Papua New Guinea East Timor Great Barrier Reef

Australian States and Territories
Australian States and Territories

Australia has six states, two major mainland territories, and other minor territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. The two major mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In most respects, the territories function like the states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation only overrides state legislation in certain areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including powers over hospitals, education, police, the judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government.

One interesting difference between Australia and the United States is that because the land area of the Commonwealth has not changed since federation, crown land in the states is the property of the state governments, not the commonwealth. The crown land owned by the Commonwealth consists of crown land in the territories and isolated small parcels used as airports etc. In the United States, because of its major expansion since federation, this only applies in the original thirteen colonies and Texas.

Each state and territory has its own legislature: unicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Queensland, and bicameral in the remaining states. The lower house is known as the Legislative Assembly ( House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania) and the upper house is known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier, and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor; an Administrator in the Northern Territory and the Australian Governor-General in the ACT, have analogous roles.

Australia also has several minor territories; the federal government administers a separate area within New South Wales, the Jervis Bay Territory, as a naval base and sea port for the national capital. In addition Australia has the following inhabited external territories: Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and several largely uninhabited external territories: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Foreign relations and military

The Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial

Over recent decades, Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States through the ANZUS pact, and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum. In 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for cooperation. Australia has energetically pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation. Australia led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. It is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization. There are several major bilateral free trade agreements Australia has pursued, most recently the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia also maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance; as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Australia's armed forces—the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—comprise the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), numbering about 51,000. All branches of the ADF have been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping (most recently in East Timor, the Solomon Islands and Sudan), disaster relief, and armed conflict, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The government appoints the Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services; the current Chief of the Defence Force is Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston. In the 2006–07 budget, defence spending is A$22 billion. While the Governor-General is the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force, he or she does not play an active part in the ADF's command structure; the elected Australian Government controls the ADF.

Geography

Climatic zones in Australia, based on Köppen classification.
Climatic zones in Australia, based on Köppen classification.

Australia's 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,299 sq. mi) landmass is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas. Australia has 34,218 kilometres (21,262 mi) of coastline (excluding all offshore islands) and claims an extensive exclusive economic zone of 8,148,250 square kilometres (3,146,057 sq. mi). This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the northeast coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometres (1,250 mi). Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world's largest monolith, is located in Western Australia. At 2,228 metres (7,310 ft), Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland, although Mawson Peak on the remote Australian territory of Heard Island is taller at 2,745 metres (9,006 ft).

By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid lands commonly known as the outback. Australia is the flattest continent, with the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest inhabited continent. Only the southeast and southwest corners of the continent have a temperate climate. Most of the population lives along the temperate southeastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps, and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia. In June 2008 it became known that an expert panel had warned of long term, maybe irreversible, severe ecological damage for the whole Murray-Darling basin if it does not receive sufficient water by October.

Ecology

The koala and the eucalyptus forming an iconic Australian pair.
The koala and the eucalyptus forming an iconic Australian pair.

Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it includes a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests and is recognised as a megadiverse country. Because of the continent's great age (and consequent low levels of fertility), its extremely variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country, with 755 species. Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is a legal framework for the protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created under the national Biodiversity Action Plan to protect and preserve unique ecosystems; 64 wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention, and 16 World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia was ranked 13th in the world on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index. Australian forests often contain a wide variety of eucalyptus trees and are mostly located in higher rainfall regions.

Most Australian woody plant species are evergreen and many are adapted to fire and drought, including many eucalypts and acacias. Australia has a rich variety of endemic legume species that thrive in nutrient-poor soils because of their symbiosis with Rhizobia bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Among well-known Australian fauna are the monotremes (the platypus and the echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, the koala, and the wombat; the saltwater and freshwater crocodiles; and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra. Australia is home to the largest number of venomous snakes in the world. The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE. Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after first human settlement, including the Australian megafauna; others have become extinct since European settlement, among them the Thylacine.

Economy

The Super Pit in Kalgoorlie, Australia's largest open cut gold mine
The Super Pit in Kalgoorlie, Australia's largest open cut gold mine

Australia has a prosperous, Western-style mixed economy, with a per capita GDP slightly higher than that of the UK, Germany, and France in terms of purchasing power parity. The country was ranked third in the United Nations' 2007 Human Development Index and sixth in The Economist worldwide quality-of-life index 2005. The absence of an export-oriented manufacturing industry has been considered a key weakness of the Australian economy. More recently, rising prices for Australia's commodity exports and increasing tourism have made this criticism less relevant. Nevertheless, Australia has the world's fourth largest current account deficit in absolute terms (in relative terms it is more than 7% of GDP). This is considered problematic by some economists, especially since it has coincided with the high terms of trade and low interest rates that make the cost of servicing the foreign debt low.

The Hawke Government started the process of economic reform by floating the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulating the financial system. The Howard government continued the process of microeconomic reform, including a partial deregulation of the labour market and the privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry. The indirect tax system was substantially reformed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST), which has slightly reduced the heavy reliance on personal and company income tax that characterises Australia's tax system.

In January 2007, there were 10,033,480 people employed, with an unemployment rate of 4.6%. Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education and financial services, constitutes 69% of GDP. Agriculture and natural resources constitute 3% and 5% of GDP but contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets include Japan, China, the U.S., South Korea and New Zealand.

Demography

Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1900 3,765,400
1910 4,525,100 20.2%
1920 5,411,000 19.6%
1930 6,501,000 20.1%
1940 7,078,000 8.9%
1950 8,307,000 17.4%
1960 10,392,000 25.1%
1970 12,663,000 21.9%
1980 14,726,000 16.3%
1990 17,169,000 16.6%
2000 19,169,000 11.6%
Est. 2008 21,197,569 10.6%
http://populstat.info/Oceania/australc.htm

Most of the estimated 21.3 million Australians are descended from colonial-era settlers and post-Federation immigrants from Europe, with almost 90% of the population being of European descent. For generations, the vast majority of both colonial-era settlers and post-Federation immigrants came almost exclusively from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still mainly of British or Irish ethnic origin.

Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, spurred by an ambitious immigration program. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born overseas. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. In 2001, the five largest groups of the 23.1% of Australians who were born overseas were from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam, and China. Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania. Migration target for 2006–07 was 144,000.

Perth, Western Australia is the most isolated regional capital city in the world.
Perth, Western Australia is the most isolated regional capital city in the world.

The Indigenous population—mainland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was 410,003 (2.2% of the total population) in 2001, a significant increase from the 1976 census, which showed an indigenous population of 115,953. Indigenous Australians suffer from higher rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians.

In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03) live outside their home country.

English is the national language; Australian English has its own distinctive accent and vocabulary. According to the 2001 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for around 80% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Chinese (2.1%), Italian (1.9%), and Greek (1.4%). A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. It is believed that there were between 200 and 300 Australian Aboriginal languages at the time of first European contact. Only about 70 of these languages have survived, and all but 20 of these are now endangered. An indigenous language remains the main language for about 50,000 (0.25%) people. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 6,500 deaf people.

The Barossa Valley wine producing region of South Australia; fewer than 15% of Australians live in rural areas.
The Barossa Valley wine producing region of South Australia; fewer than 15% of Australians live in rural areas.

Australia has no state religion. In the 2006 census, 64% of Australians were listed as Christian of any denomination, including 26% as Roman Catholic and 19% as Anglican. Nineteen percent were listed as " No Religion" (which includes humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and rationalism); and a further 12% declined to answer or did not give a response adequate for interpretation. About 5% were of non-Christian religions. As in many Western countries, the level of active participation in church worship is much lower than this; weekly attendance at church services is about 1.5 million: about 7.5% of the population.

School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia, starting at 6 years and ending at 15 years (16 years in South Australia and Tasmania and 17 years in Western Australia and Queensland), contributing to an adult literacy rate that is assumed to be 99%. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Australia's education as the 8th best in the world: a significantly better ranking than the OECD average. Government grants have supported the establishment of Australia's 38 universities and although several private universities have been established, the majority receive government funding. There is a state-based system of vocational training, higher than colleges, known as TAFE Institutes, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. Approximately 58% of Australians between the ages of 25 and 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications, and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries.

Culture

UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.">The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne was the first building in Australia to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne was the first building in Australia to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Since 1788, the primary basis of Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic, although distinctive Australian features soon arose from the country's unique environment and the pre-existing indigenous culture. Over the past 50 years, Australian culture has been strongly influenced by American popular culture (particularly television and cinema), large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking countries and Australia's Asian neighbours. The vigour and originality of the arts in Australia—literature, cinema, opera, music, painting, theatre, dance, and crafts—have achieved international recognition.

Australian visual arts have a long history, starting with the cave and bark paintings of its indigenous peoples. From the time of European settlement, a common theme in Australian art has been the Australian landscape, seen for example in the works of Arthur Streeton, Arthur Boyd, and Albert Namatjira. The traditions of indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally and are closely tied to ceremony and the telling of the stories of the Dreamtime. Australian Aboriginal music, dance, and art have a palpable influence on contemporary Australian visual and performing arts. The National Gallery of Australia and the various state art galleries have strong collections of Australian and overseas artworks and are highly attended by Australians. Australia has an active tradition of music, ballet, and theatre; many of its performing arts companies receive public funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state's capital city, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, first made prominent by the renowned diva Dame Joan Sutherland. Dame Nellie Melba was her great predecessor. Australian music includes classical, jazz, and many popular genres. Ballet and dance are also represented across the nation by The Australian Ballet and various state dance companies. Sir Robert Helpmann featured as a great Australian dancer and has been followed by numerous others including the current artistic director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company. Australia has produced many great actors including Nicole Kidman and the current joint director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett.

Australian literature has also been influenced by the landscape; the works of writers such as Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson captured the experience of the Australian bush. The character of colonial Australia, as embodied in early literature, resonates with modern Australia and its perceived emphasis on egalitarianism, mateship, and a perceived anti-authoritarianism. In 1973, Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the only Australian to have achieved this; he is recognised as one of the great English-language writers of the 20th century. Colleen McCullough David Williamson and David Malouf are also writers of great renown. Australian English is a major variety of the language; its grammar and spelling are largely based on those of British English, overlaid with a rich vernacular of unique lexical items and phrases, some of which have found their way into standard English. Australian English has much less internal dialectal variation than either British or American English although pronunciation of words and word usage can vary amongst regions.

Australian rules football was developed in Victoria in the late 1850s and is played at amateur and professional levels. It is the most popular spectator sport in Australia, in terms of annual attendances and club memberships.
Australian rules football was developed in Victoria in the late 1850s and is played at amateur and professional levels. It is the most popular spectator sport in Australia, in terms of annual attendances and club memberships.

Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services, and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Australia's film industry has achieved many critical and commercial successes. Each major city has daily newspapers, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. According to Reporters Without Borders in 2007, Australia was in 28th position on a list of countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (15th) and the United Kingdom (24th) but ahead of the United States (48th). This low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; in particular, most Australian print media are under the control of News Corporation and John Fairfax Holdings.

Sport plays an important part in Australian culture, assisted by a climate that favours outdoor activities; 23.5% Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities. At an international level, Australia has strong teams in cricket, field hockey, netball, rugby league, and rugby union, and it performs well in cycling, rowing, and swimming. Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rules football, horse racing, soccer, and motor racing. Australia has participated in every summer Olympic Games of the modern era, and every Commonwealth Games. Australia hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and has ranked among the top five medal-takers since 2000. Australia has also hosted the 1938, 1962, 1982, and 2006 Commonwealth Games. Other major international events held in Australia include the tennis)">Grand Slam Australian Open tennis tournament, international cricket matches, and the Formula One Australian Grand Prix. Viewing televised sport is popular; the highest-rating television programs include the summer Olympic Games and the grand finals of local and international football (various codes) competitions.

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