Australia is a relatively new country, one of the youngest on earth. Therefore it has had to do a lot of catching up to be up to the standards of other developed countries, often surpasing them.
As an island, Australia also has many beautiful coastal beaches. Over 70% of Australians now live in cities or towns. Most of this population lives in the eastern and southern coasts, and around Perth in the west. Australia has a very dramatic landscape and is famous for its "Outback," the remote lands of the interior. The Outback covers most of the interior and is too hot, dry and barren to support many people. Eastern Australia consists of large areas of grasslands, used primarily for sheep and cattle ranches.
Australia is an island, and also the sixth largest country in the world, and the smallest continent in the world.
Australia also has mountainous areas and plateaus scattered throughout the country. The Blue Mountains, on the south-eastern end of Australia, get their name from the blue haze caused by oil droplets given off from the eucalyptus trees. Off the northeast coast of Australia is the Great Barrier Reef which is over 1,900 kilometers of coral. It has developed over the last million years, and is now the largest living structure in the world.
English is the official language, but the way it is spoken and written makes it distinctively Australian English.
There were believed to be between 200 to 300 Australian Aboriginal languages at the time of first European contact. However, only about 70 of these languages survived, with all but 20 of these now endangered. Australia has it's own sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 6,500 deaf people.
The Australian Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, and there is no state religion.
School attendance is compulsory in Australia between the ages of 6-15 years (16 years in South Australia and Tasmania), resulting in an adult literacy rate assumed to be 99%. Government grants have supported the establishment of Australia's 38 universities, however there are several private universities. A state-based system of vocational training colleges exists known as TAFE Institutes, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. Approximately 58% of Australians between 25 to 64 years of age have vocational or tertiary qualifications.
Australia has an enviable Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies. Rising output in the domestic economy has been offsetting the global slump, and business and consumer confidence remains robust. Australia's emphasis on reforms, low inflation, and growing ties with China are other key factors behind the economy's strength. The impact of drought, weak foreign demand, and strong import demand pushed the trade deficit up to $14 billion in 2003 and to $11 billion in 2004 from $5 billion in 2002. One other concern is the domestic housing bubble.
Most of the estimated 20.4 million Australians are descended from 19th and 20th century immigrants, with the majority originating from Britain and Ireland.
The 2001 statistics showed that of the five largest groups of the 27.4% of Australians who were born overseas were from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam and China. Our indigenous population, including Torres Strait Islanders, who are of Melanesian descent was at 410,003 (2.2% of the total population), a significant increase from the 1977 census, which showed an indigenous population of 115,953. Through various Government immigration schemes, Australia has maintained one of the most active immigration programs in the world to boost population growth.