Parks and Reserves Information about Australia's National Parks, Botanic Gardens, National Nature Reserves, Marine Parks and Marine Reserves.
|Background: Australia became a commonwealth of the British Empire in 1901. It
was able to take advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural
and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in
World Wars I and II. Long-term concerns include pollution, particularly depletion of the
ozone layer, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great
Barrier Reef. A referendum to change Australia's status, from a commonwealth headed by the
British monarch to an independent republic, was defeated in 1999.
Government type: democratic, federal-state system recognizing the British monarch as sovereign
Currency: 1 Australian dollar ($A) = 100 cents
Geography of Australia
Location: Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific
People of Australia
Australia's aboriginal inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people generally referred to as Aborigines, arrived about 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups. Aboriginal population density ranged from 1 person per square mile along the coasts to 1 person per 35 square miles in the arid interior. Food procurement was usually a matter for the nuclear family and was very demanding, since there was little large game, and they had no agriculture.
Australia may have been sighted by Portuguese sailors in 1601, and Capt. James Cook claimed it for Great Britain in 1770. At that time, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. The aboriginal population currently numbers more than 300,000, representing about 1.7% of the population. Since the end of World War II, efforts have been made both by the government and by the public to be more responsive to aboriginal rights and needs.
Today, tribal aborigines lead a settled traditional life in remote areas of northern, central, and western Australia. In the south, where most aborigines are of mixed descent, movement to the cities is increasing.
Immigration has been essential to Australia's development since the beginning of European settlement in 1788. For generations, most settlers came from the British Isles, and the people of Australia are still predominantly of British or Irish origin, with a culture and outlook similar to those of Americans. However, since the end of World War II, the population has more than doubled; non-European immigration, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, has increased significantly since 1960 through an extensive, planned immigration program. From 1945 through 1996, nearly 5.5 million immigrants settled in Australia, and about 80% have remained; nearly one of every four Australians is foreign-born. Britain and Ireland have been the largest sources of post-war immigrants, followed by Italy, Greece, New Zealand, and the former Yugoslavia.
The 1970s saw progressive reductions in the size of the annual immigration program due to economic and employment conditions; in 1969-70, 185,000 persons were permitted to settle, but by 1975-76 the number had dropped to 52,700. Immigration has slowly risen since. In 1999-2000, Australia accepted 92,270 new immigrants, a 9.7% increase over the previous year.
Australia's refugee admissions of about 12,000 per year are in addition to the normal immigration program. In recent years, the government has given priority to refugees from the Former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and Africa. In recent years, refugees from Indochina and the former Yugoslavia have comprised the largest single element in Australia's refugee program.
Although Australia has scarcely more than two persons per square kilometer, it is one of the world's most urbanized countries. Less than 15% of the population live in rural areas.
Population: 20,090,437 (July 2005 est.)
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Australia > Map Economy History