AUSTRALIA is an island that is also a continent. It consists of two land masses: the mainland and Tasmania. In area it is the 6th largest country and the smallest continent. Its area is 7,682,300 square km. It is about the size of the mainland states of the United States, excluding Alaska, and approximately 24 times the size of the British Isles.
Australia is one of the oldest continents, the effects of over 250 million years of erosion have turned it into a flat, low lying and stable land mass. It has a wide variety of landforms. Much of the flat inland is desert. At one time this was a fertile area with many lakes and marshes. Some of these old lakes survive today as salt lakes like Lake Eyre in South Australia, with the lowest elevation of 16 metres below sea level (it occasionally fills with water). The highest peak is Mt Kosciusko, in New South Wales, which is 2228 metres above sea level.
Whilst Australia is often thought of as a dry thinly populated land, this is only true of the inland (or outback) areas. The eastern coast is more heavily populated. The huge interior is hot and dry with vast expanses of sandy desert or stone plains giving way to shrub savannah or mallee scrub. The main mountains are along the eastern coast, known as the Great Dividing Range, which has an average altitude of less than 910 metres above sea level. In coastal regions the environments range from tropical rain forest in the north, to pastoral lands and forest in the east and the south-east, to alpine country in the Snowy Mountains and central Tasmania. The highest peak is Mt Kosciusko in the Australian Alps, and is 2,228 metres.
Australia's deserts are as vast as the Sahara, the snowfields huge and picturesque. Our surfing beaches are among the best in the world.
Canberra, specifically built as a capital city.
On Census night in August 2006, Australia had a population of nearly 20.7 million people. 12% of the population live in rural areas. 77%, or three quarters, live in cities and major towns within 50km of the coast. Approximately 2.4%, or 455,000, were indigenous Australians.
Australia is a country of migrants. Until the 1960s most of the migrants came from UK and Ireland but today a growing percentage come from Europe and Asia.
In 2006 almost one quarter of the population was born overseas, with migrants coming from over 200 countries.
There is a steady decline in the number of Australians who state that they follow a religion of some description.
In 1996 71% stated they were Christian. Of those 27% were Catholic, 22% Anglican and 21.9% nominated another Christian denomination.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism numbers are increasing.
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