Australia is the only country that is also a continent. In area, it ranks as the sixth largest country and the smallest continent. Australia is often referred to as being "down under" because it lies entirely within the Southern Hemisphere. The name Australia comes from the Latin word Australis, meaning southern. The country's official name is the Commonwealth of Australia.
Australia's two largest cities - Sydney and Melbourne - lie in the South Eastern coastal region. Canberra, the national capital, lies only a short distance inland. The huge interior of Australia is mostly desert or dry grassland and has few settlements. Australia is famous for its vast open spaces, bright sunshine, enormous numbers of sheep and cattle and unusual wildlife.
The country was once a British colony and most of the Australian people are of British ancestry. When people moved to Australia from Great Britain, they carried with them many British customs. For example, Australians drive on the left side of the road, tea is a popular hot drink in Australia, as it is in Britain and English is the official language. However, since Australia has a warm, sunny climate the people of Australia have developed a way of life of their own. Australians love outdoor sports and outdoor living.
Australia is one of the world's leading industrialized countries. It has busy cities, modern factories and highly productive farms and mines. Australia is the leading producer and exporter of wool and bauxite. It also produces and exports other minerals and farm goods. Great Britain was Australia's most important trading partner. Today, Australia trades more with Japan and the United States. The first Australians were dark-skinned people known as Aborigines. The Aborigines had lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years before the first white settlers arrived in the country.
Australia has a population of about 22 million. Approximately 80 per cent of the people live in the South-Eastern quarter of the country, especially in large cities along the coast. Most of the rest live along the northeast and the extreme southwest coasts.
Most Australians are European immigrants or descendants of European immigrants. Aborigines & Torres Strait Islanders make up about 2.5 per cent of the population. Traditionally, Australia has relied heavily on immigrants to build up its labour force. Millions of immigrants have been attracted to Australia to partake of the vast opportunities it offers to old and young alike.
Australia has admitted about 4 million immigrants. Since the 1970s, the number of immigrants from New Zealand and Southeast Asia has increased rapidly. Australia has a large foreign-born population because of the high rate of immigration since World War II. About 25 per cent of all Australians were born abroad.