Australia: The Smallest Continent

Map of Australian States


There are seven continents in the world and Asia is the largest, and according to land-mass, Australia is the smallest at almost a fifth of the size of Asia, but Europe is not far behind as it has just over a million more square miles than Australia.

The measurement of Australia is just shy of three million square miles, but this includes the major island continent of Australia as well as surrounding islands, which are collectively referred to Oceania.

As a result, if you're judging size compared to population, Australia ranks number two with just over 40 million residents in all of Oceania (which includes New Zealand). Antartica, the least populated continent in the world, only has a few thousand researchers that call the frozen wasteland their home. 

How Small Is Australia by Land Area and Population?

In terms of land area, the continent of Australia is the world's smallest continent. In total, it includes 2,967,909 square miles (7,686,884 square kilometers), which is slightly smaller than the country of Brazil as well as the contiguous United States. Keep in mind, though, this number includes the small island nations that surround it in the Pacific Island region of the globe.

Europe is nearly a million square miles larger as the second smallest continent, measuring at a total of 3,997,929 square miles (10,354,636 square kilometers) while Antarctica is the third smallest continent at approximately 5,500,000 square miles (14,245,000 square kilometers).

When it comes to population, technically Australia is the second smallest continent. If we exclude Antarctica, then Australia is the smallest, and as a result, we might say that Australia is the smallest populated continent. After all, the 4,000 researchers on Antarctica only stay through the summer while 1,000 remain through the winter.

According to 2017 world population statistics, Oceania has a population of 40,467,040; South America of 426,548,297; North and Central America of 540,473,499; Europe of 739,207,742; Africa of 1,246,504,865; and Asia of 4,478,315,164

How Australia Compares in Other Ways

Australia is an island since it's surrounded by water but it is also large enough to be considered a continent, which makes Australia the largest island in the world—though technically since the island nation is technically a continent, most ascribe Greenland as the largest in the world.

Still, Australia is also the largest country without land borders and the world's six-largest country on earth. Additionally, it is the largest single country to exist entirely within the Southern Hemisphere—though this accomplishment isn't much considering more than half of the world's country are in the Northern Hemisphere.

Although it has nothing to do with its size, Australia is also comparatively the driest, most arid continent of the seven, and it also boasts some of the most dangerous and exotic creatures outside of the Amazon rainforest of South America.

Australia's Relationship With Oceania

According to the United Nations, Oceania represents a geographic region made up of islands of the Pacific Ocean which includes Australia, Papua New Guinea and excludes Indonesian New Guinea and the Malay Archipelago. However, others include New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia as well as the U.S. island of Hawaii and the Japan island of the Bonin Islands in this geographic grouping.

Quite often, when referring to this southern Pacific region, people will use the term "Australia and Oceania" rather than adding Australia into Oceania. Additionally, the grouping of Australia and New Zealand is often referred to as Australiasia.

These definitions largely depend on the context of their use. For instance, the United Nations definition which only includes Australia and "unclaimed" independent territories is used for organized international relations and competitions like the Olympics, and since Indonesia owns part of New Guinea, that part is excluded from the definition of Oceania.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "Australia: The Smallest Continent." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Rosenberg, Matt. (2023, April 5). Australia: The Smallest Continent. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Australia: The Smallest Continent." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).