Some call it the big island. It is, of course, Australia, the world's smallest continent with an area of less than 7.7 million square kilometres.
Location: Australia lies between the Indian and Pacific Oceans southeast of Asia (the world's largest continent) and south of the equator. Because of its geographical location on the globe, it is commonly referred to as the land Down Under.
Population: 21.6 million by the end of 2008.
Type of Government: Australia is a constitutional monarchy. Its sovereign queen is Elizabeth II of England.
States and Territories: There are six states and two mainland territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The two mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
National Capital: No, it's not Sydney. The national capital is Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory.
Languages: Mainly English. In the homes, because of Australia's multicultural mix, other languages may be spoken. But if you speak English you'll be understood.
Currency: Australian dollar.
Croc Dundee country
There's the image of Crocodile Dundee country from the film with Paul Hogan. Croc Dundee, of course, is a quintessentially ocker character who wrestles with crocs and mesmerises water buffaloes in the Australian bush.
What you may find instead when visiting Australia, especially if flying in to Sydney, are the iconic Opera House, the Harbour Bridge (lovingly called the Coathanger by us locals), miles of white sand beaches, a melting pot of many peoples, and a live, vibrant culture that stems from its multicultural identity.
Still, Australia is pretty much unknown in some parts of the world.
The early explorers called it Terra Incognita — Unknown Land — and beyond perceiving it as that largely uninhabited place, that big island where kangaroos roam, visitors can still be surprised that not only is Australia so much more, but Australian travel offers so much more.
Best known cities
Arguably the best known cities are Sydney in New South Wales and Melbourne in Victoria. Add to this the national capital, Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, midway between Sydney and Melbourne.
Australia’s cities, each one with its own individually distinctive character, are very much cosmopolitan centres, where people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, although still of largely United Kingdom and European backgrounds, have come to call home.
Beach, bush, barbecues
With most of the large cities situated along the coast, and with the beach and the bush within easy reach, Australia boasts an outdoorsy lifestyle, and barbecues at many open-air venues are very much part of the culture, despite the diversity of ethnic backgrounds, as are surfing, swimming or just lazing around on its white sand beaches.
Awesome natural features
Inland lie the great Australian deserts, and perhaps the one inland city of note would be Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, right in the Red Centre of Australia and close to such awesome natural features as Uluru, the world’s largest rock, and the Valley of the Winds.
Wine making regions
There are two major wine-making regions, the Barossa Valley in South Australia and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, and some of their cabernet sauvignons, rieslings and chardonnays are of exceedingly high quality.
Grandeur and tragedy
Land of such diversity
Australia, in fact, is a land of such diversity and a place of innumerable natural wonders you can be in the hot humid tropics one weekend and in the subzero temperatures of the Australian high country the next; you could be in the heart of cosmopolitan Sydney one day and be in an Aboriginal community the next.
This is a vast land whose moods and features change as you travel through it: from the citified urban structures to its many natural wonders such as the mystifying natural sculptures wrought by wind and rain and geological upheavals.
If you simply wish to lie on the beach and enjoy the sights, you can do it here. You can also find thrills and great adventures and be like Crocodile Dundee, if these are what you seek.