Australia's ecosystem is an unusual one because of its remote location. As a result, there are many animal species that occur here and nowhere else in the world, such as the platypus, kangaroo, echidna, and koala. Australia has 516 national parks to protect its unique plants and animals.
One of Australia's most amazing sites rises like an enormous whale's back from a flat red-soil desert called the Red Center. This site is called Uluru, and it is a sacred natural formation at the heart of the country. Rising 1,100 feet (335 meters) tall, it is the largest rock in the world!
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of animals on the planet. There are 36 species of poisonous funnel-web spiders in eastern Australia. There are also 20 types of venomous snakes, including the taipan, which attacks without warning and bites repeatedly, killing its victim in minutes.
There are several types of rain forests in Australia. Tropical rain forests, mainly found in the northeast, are the richest in plant and animal species. Subtropical rain forests are found near the mid-eastern coast, and broadleaf rain forests grow in the southeast and on the island of Tasmania.
With such a warm climate (it’s the driest continent) and many, many beaches, Australia is not only a popular place to holiday, it’s a country that many British people have chosen to move to. In fact 20,000 Britains emigrated to Australia last year.
The continent of Australia is divided into six states:
- Southern Australia
- Western Australia
- New South Wales
and two territories:
- Northern Territory
- Australian Capital Territory
The largest towns in Australia are nearly all capitals of the various states and territories. Sydney, for example, is the capital of New South Wales and Melbourne is the capital of Victoria. Canberra is the capital of the Australian Capital Territory as well as being capital for the country as a whole.
Australia is located in the southern hemisphere which means its seasons are exactly the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere where the United Kingdom is. Australians enjoy their summers in December, January and February which is why they often have Christmas dinner on the ‘barbie’! Their winter months are June, July and August but there is still plenty of sunshine and their winters are generally mild.
The first people who arrived in Australia were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But Australia was to be discovered by others too! In 1770 the now famous Captain James Cook set off on a voyage of discovery, charting the east coast of Australia in his ship HM Endeavour. He named Eastern Australia ‘New South Wales’. In 1788 Britain claimed the first of six colonies. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies joined to form the Commonwealth of Australia. This means they have the same King or Queen as Britain although they only perform a ceremonial role. Australia has a democratic government.
Every year on 26 January, Australians celebrate Australia Day which marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, where the British flag was raised by Governor Arthur Phillip.
The Great Barrier Reef is the biggest reef in the world, so huge in fact that it’s about the the size of 70 million football pitches – that’s really hard to imagine! It’s also home to over 1500 kinds of fish. The Stout Infant Fish is the smallest at only 7 millimetres long while the whale shark is the biggest, and can grow up to a massive 12 metres long! While the Reef may be a huge tourist attraction, it is also home to some of the most dangerous animals in the ocean, including the Box Jellyfish and Blue Ringed Octopus.
The biggest river in Australia is the Murray which forms the boundary between the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Because there is so little rain in most parts of the country, many of Australia’s lakes and rivers are quite dry for much of the time.
Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) is a very famous Australian landmark. Called the sacred mountain ‘Uluru’ by the Aboriginal people, it is found right in the middle of the country and is the largest single standing rock in the world. It measures an impressive 3.6 km in length, is 1.9 km wide and 348 metres high and is a very popular tourist attraction.
People often refer to land in Australia as the ‘outback’ or the ‘bush’. By this they mean the sparse desert landscape which makes up two thirds of the country. So although Australia is a big country, there are many parts that aren’t suitable for living which is why overall it has a low density of population.
Words to know
Aussie (pronounced ‘Ozzie’): a person from Australia.
Boomerang: a wooden weapon used for hunting which returns to its thrower, invented by the Aboriginal people of Australia.
Didgeridoo: a long, wooden wind instrument or horn traditionally used by the Aboriginal people.
G'day: the Australian way of saying ‘hello’.
Great Barrier Reef: the largest reef in the world, found off the north-east coast of Australia.
Indigenous people: the original inhabitants, the natives of a country.
Marsupial: an animal that carries its young in a pouch, such as kangaroos, wombats and koalas.
Outback: the bush or desert, a mostly uninhabited region of Australia.
Uluru: the Aboriginal people's name for their sacred mountain, found in the middle of Australia.