Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country involving the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and a number of smaller islands. It’s the world’s sixth-largest country regarding to total area. Some of the neighboring countries include East Timor, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.

For at least 40,000 years before European settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by native Australians, who belonged to one or more of around 250 language groups. After Dutch explorers discovered the continent in 1606, Australia’s eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and settled by penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from January 26, 1788.

As a highly developed country and one of the wealthiest, Australia holds the position of the world’s 12th largest economy and has the worlds fifth highest per capita income. Australia is the world’s 13th largest military expenditure. Having the second highest human development index globally, Australia ranks very highly in numerous international comparisons of national performance, for example, education, health, quality of life, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights.

The name of the continent comes from the Latin australis, meaning “southern”. It has been referred to colloquially as Oz since the early 20th century. Aussie is also a common colloquial term for “Australian”.

Initial human habitation of this continent was estimated to have been between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago, potentially with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now South-East Asia. These initial inhabitants might have been ancestors of modern Native Australians.

Australia’s land mass is 2,941,300 sq mi and is located on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it’s separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas, with the Coral Sea lying off of the Queensland coast, and the Tasman Sea lying between New Zealand and Australia.

Its small size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with subtropical rain forests towards the north east, mountain ranges towards the south east, south west and east, and dry desert towards the center. It’s is known as the flattest continent with the oldest and least fertile soils. The climate of this continent is drastically influenced by ocean currents, including the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, which is connected with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that created cyclones in the northern areas. These are the factors that cause rainfall to vary noticeably from year to year. The majority of the northern part of the country has a tropical, mostly summer-rainfall climate. The southwest corner of the country has a climate of the Mediterranean sort. The majority of the southeast, including Tasmania, is temperate.

Image Caption: A climate map of Australia. Credit: Martyman/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)