by Michael Russell
Although Australia encompasses a vast amount of land (7,686,850 sq. km., or 2,967,909 sq. mi.), it only has six States - five of which are on the mainland, and one which is an island. The five mainland States are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia. The island State is Tasmania. Australia also has two Territories, which have their own executive branches of government. Those are the Australian Capital Territory, or ACT, and Northern Territory. There are also several islands off the coast of Australia which are dependent upon it. Those are Ashmore, Cartier, Christmas, Cocos (Keeling), Coral Sea, Heard, McDonald, Norfolk, and Macquarie Islands.
Australia is the smallest continent, but the sixth largest country in the world. It's only slightly smaller than the contiguous 48 United States. The terrain is predominantly low plateaus with deserts, but the country does have several small mountain ranges as well.
The history of Australia records that the first settlers were Aboriginals from Southeast Asia who arrived about 40,000 years ago. The first European explorations did not begin until the 17th century. The first territorial claim was made in 1770, by Captain James Cook, who took possession in the name of the British Empire.
Between the 18th and 19th centuries, six colonies were established: New South Wales (1786), Tasmania (formerly Van Diemen’s Land – 1825), Western Australia (1829), South Australia (1834), Victoria (1851) and Queensland (1859). In 1901, the colonies united and became federated as the States of the Commonwealth of Australia. Its Constitution embraced the British Parliamentary and U.S. Federal traditions. The government is democratic, has an elected Prime Minister, and recognizes the British Monarch as sovereign. The Monarch is represented by a Governor General who is appointed upon recommendation of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister nominates members of the Parliament to serve on the Cabinet. Those nominees are subsequently sworn in by the Governor General to serve as Ministers. The Federal Parliament has a Senate (76 seats – 12 from each of the States and two from each Territory) and a House of Representatives (150 seats – no state can have fewer than five representatives).
Australia’s monetary system is based on the Australian dollar. Its weights and measures are based upon the metric system.
The agriculture of Australia includes sheep, cattle, poultry, wheat, barley, sugarcane, and fruits. The industries include mining, food processing, chemicals, steel, and industrial and transportation equipment.
Australia has many natural resources which include natural gas and petroleum, diamonds, nickel, uranium, bauxite, coal, zinc, tin, iron ore, mineral sands, silver, lead, and tungsten.
The country exports aluminium, coal, gold, meats, wool, iron ore, wheat, machinery, and transport equipment. Among its imports are crude oil and petroleum products, computers and office equipment, telecommunications equipment and parts, and machinery and transport equipment. Australia counts as its major trading partners China, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Australia has long been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and is allied with Great Britain and the United States, among other countries. It fought alongside its allies in World War I (with Great Britain) and in World War II (with both the United Kingdom and the United States). The Prime Minister sent troops to fight, again, alongside its allies in Iraq in 2003. And in July 2003, Australian troops and negotiators successfully restored order to the Solomon Islands, following the brutal civil war which had spawned wide-spread chaos and disorder in its wake.
The country has ongoing debates with East Timor over the delimitation of a maritime boundary, and sharing untapped petroleum resource which are not covered by the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty, which had established the Joint Petroleum Development Area. However, negotiations continue and Australia strives to arrive an agreeable arrangement for all parties involved.
Michael Russell. Your Independent guide to Australia.
Article Source: EzineArticles.com