AN INTRODUCTION TO AUSTRALIA.
Mainland Australia, with an area of 4.9 million square miles, is the largest island and the smallest continent on Earth. It stretches some 2300 miles from its most northern to its most southern point, and about 2500 miles from east to west.
In area, Australia is the sixth largest nation after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil. Its population, however, is relatively small (now estimated at just over 22 million). Australia's average elevation is 1100 ft, the lowest of all the continents, and its highest point, Mount Kosciuszko, is only 6400ft. What its landforms lack in height they more than compensate for in variety. The giant monolith Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the striking beehive mountains of Purnululu (the 'Bungle Bungles') in Western Australia attract visitors from many parts of the world.
Australia's federal government and the governments of the six States and two self-governing Territories share the responsibilities of governing such a vast land area.
European settlement began in New South Wales in 1788, at Sydney, the nation's largest city and host of the 2000 Olympic games. Sydney's Harbour Bridge and Opera House are national icons, and its airport is the country's major international gateway.
Victoria is the smallest of the mainland States but the second most populous and the most densely populated. Its capital, Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, hosted the Olympic Games in 1956. Victorians' enthusiasm for sport is legendary and the nation stops each November for the Melbourne Cup, Australia's premier horse race.Queensland stretches from the tropical rain forests of Cape York into the temperate zone. Its northeastern coastline is fringed by the Great Barrier Reef. The capital of Queensland is Brisbane. Three international airports, in Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville, service visitors from overseas.