Welcome to the Land Down Under

The continent of Australia is defined in different ways depending on the geographer. In this chapter, we'll include Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and all the other Pacific islands in a region called Oceania. We'll hike around these countries, explore their landscapes and wildlife, taste some local cuisine, and more.

Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Commonwealth of Australia is the smallest of the seven continents but the largest country in the region of Oceania. It is made up of six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. Two-thirds of the country is covered in scorching hot deserts. Most people, therefore, live along the 21,262 miles of temperate coastline where the weather is mild and wet. The northern part of the country has a more tropical climate, with rainforests and swamps.

The People of Australia

The first people to arrive in Australia were the Australian Aborigines, who got there about 40,000 years ago. Scientists believe they arrived by boat from Southeast Asia. At this time, the islands were closer together, and the seas were not as high. When European settlers arrived in the late 1700s, there may have been 500,000 to 1 million Aborigines living in Australia. This number went down because of disease and war. Today, the Australian government is helping the Aboriginal people, giving them citizenship and the right to own their land.

Not a Baaad Life!

There are about 120 million sheep in Australia, making this country the top producer of wool in the world. The sheep are merinos, brought over from South Africa and England. Their wool is very fine and soft. Farmers use dogs and horses to herd and lead their flocks. Sometimes the flocks can have thousands of sheep on farms called stations. Then farmers use motorcycles and trucks to keep track of the animals. Removing the wool from sheep is called shearing, and the people who do it are called shearers. Mining is another big industry, and Australia is the world's top exporter of coal and diamonds, as well as many other minerals.

Fun Fact

Canberra

Australia's capital city is also its largest inland city. Sydney and Melbourne are bigger cities, but both of them are near the coast.

Life in Australia

The cuisine in Australia is largely made up of meat — specifically beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and mutton, which is sheep. Because the British claimed part of Australia in the 1700s, their foods influenced Australian cuisine for quite a while. Recently, immigrants from other parts of Europe have come to live in Australia and brought their foods with them, adding even more new dishes to the mix.

Sports are a big deal in Australia, especially cricket, tennis, and a special kind of football called Australian Rules. People also love to swim, surf, and sail in the warm coastal waters.

DID YOU KNOW?

What's in a Name?

Australia gets its name from the Latin word australis, which means “southern.” Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere.

didgeridoo

A didgeridoo is a musical instrument often made from the trunk of a eucalyptus or bamboo plant that is peeled, trimmed, and sometimes painted. When it is played, it makes a very low, unusual sound. Sometimes it is used for communication over long distances, and sometimes it is used in special ceremonies.

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