When looking at the traditional continental model embraced in most geographical world studies, Australia stands out for quite a few different reasons. In the following brief guide, we’re going to introduce you to some of the most prominent facts about this amazing place, the people that live there, it’s ecology, and the shape of the land itself. We’ll also work to dispell some of the many myths that surround the continent of Australia and its surrounding isles, to hopefully give you a better idea of the realities surrounding its history and future.
As the size of our online infrastructure and connectivity increases, our world shrinks. Therefore, it behooves all of us to learn a little more about other parts of the planet that we’re all sharing. Today, we’re serving up information about Australia! And it’s only “the land down under” depending on where you’re reading this from, right?
So much of what we understand about other parts of the world that we’ve never been to has been shaped by media. That isn’t inherently a bad thing—sometimes, we can learn quite a bit when that media is factual, such as the case with documentaries and other content that aims to deliver truthful information. But frequently, that media allows itself to be shaped by stereotypes. Australians have been particularly overtaken by this, and anyone that argues otherwise is going to get a very loud, pronounced, “Crocodile Dundee,” from this particular writer. Again, stereotypes don’t always have to be bad, but when they begin to shape our understanding of the world, facts are needed.
Non-Australians like to think that they know quite a bit about Australia. From accents to marsupials, it’s a continent that has frequent stereotypes drawn about its ecology, geography, and cultures, from the indigenous people that have lived there for tens of thousands of years, to the Anglo immigrants who began arriving at its shores long after. Stereotypes being what they are, there are shreds of truth to be found among the myths.
Our aim is to replace some of those stereotypes with facts. And for those that are actually based on truth, give some illuminating insight into why they exist, in the first place. The continent of Australia is an incredibly unique place in the world. The landscape is far more varied than most people realize, and the people who live here
One of the most important things that many from around the world fail to realize is that Australia has been populated for decades before the British showed up, and started colonizing areas of it. The indigenous people that called this continent their home have faced immense hardship throughout this colonization, but in spite of that, they’re still very much around; one might even argue that the preservation and knowledge concerning their culture and history is more important now than it ever has been, before. And it’s a huge collection of cultural knowledge, too—Aboriginal Australians encompass many different languages, sets of customs, and respective beliefs. It’s why they’re the first mentioned in our discussion about Australia’s population. We encourage all of our readers to learn more about the continent’s indigenous cultures.
Many current Australian-born citizens still have ancestry dating back to the initial waves of immigrants that arrived from Europe—Ireland and England, in particular. Immigration booms occurring as recently as the past 100 years have led to massive growth in Australia’s overall population, which is represented by the presence of heavily urbanized areas. Health, education, and overall quality-of-life are quite high across the continent when compared to the rest of the developed world.
And while the “Australian outback” has received plenty of attention in popular films and other media, you might be surprised to know that the continent’s population centers are actually immense. Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane all boast populations of over 2 million, and Adelaide is over 1 million.
The Commonwealth of Australia, as it’s officially known, is by and large also the continent of Australia, as long as you’re willing to include the dozens of surrounding isles off the coast of the Australian mainland.
Even though the Australian outback is always a popular topic of discussion, the landscape of this continent is incredibly diverse. Mountainous peaks and tropical forests can be found on Australia and its surrounding isles, but a vast majority of the mainland is arid, or semi-arid. Population centers mostly exist along the outer edges of the continent, due to prominent access to the ocean. Import and export business, as a result, is massive for this continent and its people.
Apart from the many islands surrounding the continent of Australia, the actual country—the Commonwealth of Australia—is a beacon of democracy. It consists of six different territories, with the most densely populated residing to the east of the continent.
- West Australia
- South Australia
- New South Wales
- Northern Territory
A glance at the way these territories are named speaks a great deal about the continent’s history. Derivations from English and European territories tell a story of the arrival of European immigrants, where they came from, and the types of civilization that they established upon their arrival to the continent’s shores.
Look. We’re going to start with kangaroos, and get them out of the way. Not as a sign of disrespect, but because it seems almost impossible to have a cursory discussion about Australian facts and not hear about kangaroos. So, yes. The kangaroos are real, there are more of them than there are people, and you can buy kangaroo meat in the grocery stores. And from this author’s perspective, it doesn’t taste bad at all.
Perhaps more interesting are the species that are surprising to find in Australia, such as camels. Their renown is far eclipsed by koala bears and kangaroos, but camels are not only prolific, they’re exported from Australia to other countries around the world. It’s also home to numerous species that can strike terror into our hearts—more than 10 varieties of deadly, venomous snakes and far more insects and arachnids. Perhaps because of this, it’s also one of the world leaders when it comes to medical treatment for injuries resulting from these species, which leads to comparatively few deaths when accidents happen between them, and humans.
Interestingly, some of Earth’s oddest animals reside in Australia. Biologists frequently debate the reasons that marsupials became such a dominant presence—they aren’t, in much of the rest of the world—but you can find platypus and echidna, too. Hundreds of unique bird species can be found here, but among the best-known are the emu—which are also exported—and the kookaburra.
Dispelling Popular Myths
I can’t imagine whether it’s frustrating or amusing, dealing with the variety of Australian stereotypes that many try to understand the country through. Australians probably find it to be a mix of both, but regardless of that, we’re going to work at dispelling a few of the more prevalent ones, below.
While some of the more popular myths are perfectly outrageous—especially for those of us that grew up watching movies like Crocodile Dundee—others actually stem from the land and the people. We’ve talked a bit about the land of this continent, and though it is largely arid, many assume that nothing else exists; just desert, desert, desert, from coast to coast. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s a myth dispelled by the presence of highly sophisticated urban centers, tall peaks, and lush rainforests.
Another popular myth revolves around the ecology of the continent—the presence of a large number of dangerous animals has led to a reputation that all living things in Australia “want to kill you.” When it’s just a joke, it’s fairly harmless. When it leads to widespread fear of the ecology of an entire continent, it’s a bit ridiculous. Nothing accompanies this stereotype quite so well as the Australian Outback. It’s filled with a massively varied spread of animal species, and several different climates that support them. It’s wide, wild, and expansive, but saying that all of the wildlife in Australia’s interior wants to kill humans is silly, to anyone that knows better.
Further Reading and Resources
Plenty of additional literature is available online, surrounding every aspect of the Australian continent. Numerous organizations have sprung up to aid in the support and preservation of Australian Aboriginal cultures. Government-run websites give plenty of factual details about urban centers in the country, and tourist organizations can provide a wealth of details about the wild interior and coast of Australia.
Of course, we always welcome more questions from all of our readers. And if we happen to have any in Australia, we would love further elaboration (or even corrections, if we’ve made any errors) about the country that you live in! Popular media has filled us with plenty of assumptions about Australia—both the continent and the country—and laying out facts is something that we enjoy doing on a regular basis. Whether you have questions, anecdotes, or even a shout-out, hit us up in the comments below!