Humanities › Geography Geography of Australia Share Flipboard Email Print MarkRubens / Getty Images Geography Country Information Basics Physical Geography Political Geography Population Key Figures & Milestones Maps Urban Geography By Amanda Briney Geography Expert M.A., Geography, California State University - East Bay B.A., English and Geography, California State University - Sacramento Amanda Briney, M.A., is a professional geographer. She holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from California State University. our editorial process Amanda Briney Updated October 03, 2019 Australia is a country in the Southern Hemisphere, south of Asia, near Indonesia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. It is an island nation that comprises the Australian continent as well as the island of Tasmania and some other small islands. Australia is considered a developed nation, and it has the world's 12th-largest economy and sixth-highest per-capita income. It is known for a high life expectancy, its education, quality of life, biodiversity, and tourism. Fast Facts: Australia Official Name: Commonwealth of AustraliaCapital: CanberraPopulation: 23,470,145 (2018)Official Language: EnglishCurrency: Australian dollars (AUD)Form of Government: Parliamentary democracy (Federal Parliament) under a constitutional monarchy; a Commonwealth realmClimate: Generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in northTotal Area: 2,988,902 square miles (7,741,220 square kilometers)Highest Point: Mount Kosciuszko at 7,310 feet (2,228 meters)Lowest Point: Lake Eyre -49 feet (-15 meters) History Due to its isolation from the rest of the world, Australia was an uninhabited island until about 60,000 years ago. At that time, it is believed that people from Indonesia developed boats that were able to carry them across the Timor Sea, which was lower in sea level at the time. Europeans did not discover Australia until 1770 when Captain James Cook mapped the island's east coast and claimed the land for Great Britain. On January 26, 1788, colonization of Australia began when Captain Arthur Phillip landed in Port Jackson, which later became Sydney. On February 7, he issued a proclamation that established the colony of New South Wales. Most of the first settlers in Australia were convicts who had been transported there from England. In 1868 the movement of prisoners to Australia ended, but shortly before that, in 1851, gold had been discovered there, which significantly increased its population and helped grow its economy. Following the establishment of New South Wales in 1788, five more colonies were founded by the mid-1800s. They were: Tasmania in 1825Western Australia in 1829South Australia in 1836Victoria in 1851Queensland in 1859 In 1901, Australia became a nation but remained a member of the British Commonwealth. In 1911, Australia's Northern Territory became a part of the Commonwealth (prior control was by South Australia.) In 1911, Australia's Capital Territory (where Canberra is located today) was formally established, and in 1927, the seat of government was transferred from Melbourne to Canberra. On October 9, 1942, Australia and Great Britain ratified the Statute of Westminster, which began to formally establish the country's independence. In 1986, The Australia Act furthered the cause. Government Australia, now officially called the Commonwealth of Australia, is a federal parliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm. It has an executive branch with Queen Elizabeth II as the Chief of State as well as a separate prime minister as head of government. The legislative branch is a bicameral Federal Parliament consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The country's judicial system is based on English common law and is composed of the High Court as well as lower-level federal, state, and territorial courts. Economics and Land Use Australia has a strong economy due to its extensive natural resources, well-developed industry, and tourism. The main industries in Australia are mining (such as coal and natural gas), industrial and transportation equipment, food processing, chemicals, and steel manufacturing. Agriculture also plays a role in the country's economy, and its main products include wheat, barley, sugarcane, fruits, cattle, sheep, and poultry. Geography, Climate, and Biodiversity Australia is located in Oceania between the Indian and South Pacific Oceans. Although it is a large country, its topography is not too varied, and most of it consists of low desert plateau. The southeast, however, does have fertile plains. Australia's climate is mostly arid to semiarid, but the south and east are temperate and the north is tropical. Although most of Australia is arid desert, it supports a wide range of habitats, thus making it incredibly biodiverse. Alpine forests, tropical rainforests, and a wide variety of plants and animals thrive there because of its geographic isolation from the rest of the world. As such, 92% of its vascular plants, 87% of its mammals, 93% of its reptiles, 94% of its frogs, and 45% of its birds are endemic to Australia. It also has the greatest number of reptile species in the world as well as some of the most venomous snakes and other dangerous creatures like the crocodile. Australia is most famous for its marsupial species, which include the kangaroo, koala, and wombat. In its waters, around 89% of Australia's fish species both inland and offshore are restricted only to the country. In addition, endangered coral reefs are common on Australia's coast—the most famous of these is the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system and it stretches over an area of 133,000 square miles (344,400 square kilometers.) It is made up of more than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral bays and supports more than 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of hard coral, "one-third of the world’s soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles, and more than 30 species of marine mammals," including endangered species, according to the World Wildlife Fund.