Australia is unique in that it is the only nation that is also a continent, and it is a large nation and continent. Australia (including its southern island Tasmania) is comprised of 2,967,893 square miles. That land mass is similar to the area of the continental United States; however, only 7% of the Australian land is arable.
The western half of Australia is largely desert plateau with barren rolling hills near the coast. The eastern half is characterized by a mountain range – The Great Dividing Range – with its highest point being Mount Kosciusko at 7,308 feet. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef runs 1,245 miles along the northeast coast.Tasmania is a 26,178 square mile island off the southern tip of mainland Australia. Numerous other islands and island groups are Australian territories; these include Ashmore, Cartier, Heard, McDonald, Christmas, Cocos (Keeling), and Coral Sea Islands.
The continent of Australia was isolated for at least 45 million years. Consequently, another unique feature of Australia is its flora and fauna. Some of its more interesting animals include the platypus, tree kangaroo (yes, they live in trees), koala, wombat, wallaby, cassowary, emu, and, of course, the tasmanian devil. They also have many lethal animals. Australia has the most venomous snakes on the planet, and eighty percent of their snakes are venomous. Their waters contain the lethal box jelly fish, blue-ringed octopus, sea snake, and saltwater crocodile. All in all, Australia probably has more animals that can/will kill you than anywhere else on the planet.
Australia has been inhabited for approximately 46,000 years by the Aborigines who migrated from Southeast Asia when a land bridge still existed. They were an isolated hunter-gatherer society that eventually grew to an estimated population of 500,000 to 1 million. They developed at least 250 languages with more than 700 dialects. However, their demise began with the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century.
In the early seventeenth century, Australia was probably first sighted by the Portuguese. The Dutch, however, were the first to land on Australian soil in the Gulf of Carpenteria in 1606. This ‘new’ land became known as New Holland by 1616.
The first British arrived in 1688, but the best known Brit to arrive in Australia – Captain James Cook – did not arrive until 1770. He claimed possession of the land for the British Crown and called it New South Wales. Only 18 years later, in 1788, Britain established its first penal colony at Port Jackson – now Sydney. Britain continued to send prisoners – male and female – to their various penal colonies until 1839.
Early European settlement of Australia was by free settlers and former prisoners. They established six colonies by 1859. Settlers were attracted by the gold rush, starting in 1851, and the mining of other minerals. Sheep farming and growing grain were important economic enterprises to others.
This settlement continually dispossessed the Aborigines of their land and traditional culture. Further, the Aborigines were exposed to European diseases, particularly smallpox, to which they had no immunity. As the European settlements expanded, the Aboriginal population declined.
The six Australian colonies had become states, and at the onset of the 20th century – specifically, in 1901 – the states federated in to the Commonwealth of Australia. A few years later, the Australians fought along side the British in World War I. They fought closely along side the United States in World War II. They have remained a close political ally of the United States since.
Australia’s current population is around 20 million. That is an overall population density of only 7 per square mile; however, most of the population is concentrated along the coasts and in the southeast of the country.
The capital of Australia is Canberra, and it largest city is Sydney with a population of almost 5 million itself. Australia’s population is 91% Caucasian, 7% Asian, and 2% ‘other’ including only about 350,000 Aborigines (the poorest socioeconomic group in Australia).
The Australian economy is based on the Australian dollar which has a current equivalence of approximately 80 cents in US currency. Australia’s primary industry is mining, and its natural resources include bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, and petroleum.
Australia’s government is a democracy with features of the British and United States’ systems; however, Australians continue to give symbolic executive power to Queen Elizabeth II. She is represented in Australia by the governor general. Australians rejected a ballot referendum in 1999 that would have ended their formal allegiance to the British Crown. This rejection was not because of any allegiance to the monarchy but rather because it would have given the Parliament, not the voting public, the power to select the president. Therefore, the symbolic power remains with the Queen.
John Howard has been prime minister of Australia since 1996. Although he has been a rather controversial leader, he is also Australia’s longest serving prime minister. He is up for reelection again this year – 2007. Australia has some noteworthy voting legislation. Voting is not a right but a responsibility. Registered voters must vote. Failing to vote is a punishable offense.
Although Australia seems ‘familiar’ to US visitors in many ways, it is also remarkably unique. These two ‘yanks’ still haven’t figured it out.
We arrived in Bundaberg on November 21 after a lousy passage from Vanuatu. Our original plan was to make landfall at Bundaberg then move the boat south to Brisbane for the season. So a few days after arriving, we rented a car and drove to Brisbane to check it out. We really liked Brisbane, but we didn’t like the marinas as much as the Bundaberg Port Marina, so we decided to spend the season in Bundaberg.
On our way back north from Brisbane, we spent a day at the Australia Zoo. What a great zoo! Especially for yanks like us that are so intrigued by Australia’s wildlife. We were at the zoo until closing in the late afternoon, so we spent a night in Caloundra rather than drive at night. There really are kangaroos all over, and they are a serious road hazard – especially at night when you may not see them until it is too late to avoid them.
We returned to Bundaberg with plans to do a few substantial boat projects while there, but the Australian customs situation convinced us to wait for a duty-free port further down the road. But we had plenty to keep us busy.
We entered Australia on ‘electronic’ visas. These visas are easy to obtain, but they require that you leave the country at least every three months. We both had to travel to the U.S. for short periods early in 2007, so our visas were renewed until mid-April. However, our plans were to be in Australia until late August, so we needed to make another trip out of the country in April to update our visas until July. We explored the options, and for various reasons, we chose to travel to China. We returned from China on April 25, so our visas were renewed until July 25.
We left Bundaberg on May 16 and headed north for Darwin. We spent almost seven weeks sailing from Bundaberg to Darwin – more than 2,000 miles – and we arrived on July 3. We then spent the next three weeks in Darwin getting ready to head north to Asia for the rest of the season. We left Darwin and Australia on July 22, 2007.