Introduction to Australia
(Part of the "Australia Art Unit)


Australia is known as "The Land Down Under." That's because it's down under the equator, in the Southern Hemisphere. Its official name is "The Commonwealth of Australia."

Australia is the smallest of the world's seven continents. It is about the size of the United States, and there are several states and territories in the Commonwealth of Australia: New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory. Tasmania, a small island just off the coast, is also part of the Commonwealth.

The largest cities in Australia are Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital is Canberra. Most people live on the coast, because the interior of the continent, known as the "Outback," is mainly desert.

In Australia, the seasons are opposite of those in the Northern Hemisphere. In the months of December, January, and February, the weather is very warm. Imagine celebrating Christmas when it's 90 degrees!

Australia is known for many things, including the Great Barrier Reef, which is off of the east coast of the continent. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral formation, and the largest structure ever made by living creatures. It is 1250 miles long, and it is visible from the moon!

The continent was first sighted by Europeans in 1606. In 1770, Captain James Cook claimed the land for England. At first, the English thought the land was worthless and that the land was not good for farming. But then England decided that it might be a good place to send its convicted criminals who were in crowded jails. In less than a century, over 160,000 criminals were brought to Australia.

In 1851 gold was discovered, and Europeans came to the continent by the thousands. Even after the gold rush fizzled, Europeans continued to come to the land down under, and many set up ranches for sheep and cattle. Today, raising sheep and cattle is still Australia's biggest business.

The official flag of the Commonwealth of Australia features a "Union Jack" (a British flag) in the upper left hand corner, on a blue field. Directly under the Union Jack is a 7-pointed star, representing the states and territories. There are 5 other 7-pointed stars on the flag, and these represent "The Southern Cross"--a constellation that is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

Australia has another flag, too. In the early 1970s, a flag was designed to represent the Aboriginal people in Australia. It is divided into sections. The top black section represents the black-skinned original people of Australia. The red section at the bottom represents the earth, and the yellow circle represents the sun.

Both of these flags use picture symbols to stand for things that are important to the Australian people. There are many symbols used in Australia, and the ones on their flags are just a few of them.

Many famous people have come from Australia, including Paul Hogan ("Crocodile Dundee"), Mel Gibson ("Brave Heart"), and Olivia Newton-John ("Grease").

English is the official language of Australia, but many words and phrases are quite different from what one might hear in the United States. Here are just a few:

Aussie TalkWhat it Means
Barbie Barbeque
Bikie Motorcycle rider
Billabong Waterhole in a dry riverbed
Fair dinkum Really, honestly
G'day Hello
Jumbuck Sheep
Jumper Sweater
Lollies Candies, sweets
Mate Buddy, pal
Sunbake Sunbathe
Tucker Food
Walkabout Long, rambling trip
Water biscuit Cracker

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Resources used include various internet sites as well as numerous books.

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