Australian society is made up of people from a rich variety of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds, and this is a defining feature of modern Australian society. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have inhabited Australia for tens of thousands of years. Most Australians are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who arrived during the past two hundred years from more than 200 countries. The most commonly spoken language in Australia is English, and the most commonly practiced religion is Christianity, although foreign languages and other religions are also common.
Cities, states and territories
Australia is divided into six states and two territories.
Canberra is the national capital and the centre of government. It is located approximately 290 kilometres south of Sydney in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Canberra lies on the ancient lands of the Indigenous Ngunnawal people, and its name is thought to mean meeting place, from the Aboriginal word Kamberra. It is home to important national institutions, including the Australian Parliament and the High Court of Australia.
New South Wales is Australias oldest and most populated state. It was originally settled as a penal colony on the shores of Port Jackson where the bustling capital city of Sydney now stands. More than a third of Australians live in New South Wales, and Sydney is the nations largest city.
Victoria is the smallest of the mainland states in size but the second most populated. Melbourne is the capital and is Australias second most populated city. During the gold rush of the 1850s, it became one of the worlds largest and wealthiest cities. Melbourne is sometimes referred to as the "cultural capital of Australia" and is the birthplace of Australian film, television, art, dance and music. Victorians, enthusiasm for sport is also legendary and this is where Australian Rules football began.
Queensland is Australias second-largest state in size. The state capital is Brisbane, the third most populated city in Australia. Queenslanders enjoy more winter sunshine and warmth than most other Australian states and its perfect for all types of outdoor activities and water sports. Queensland is also home to the world famous Great Barrier Reef as well as five World Heritage listed areas.
South Australia is a state in the southern central part of the country which covers some of the most arid parts of the continent. It is the fourth largest of Australias states and shares its borders with all of the mainland states and the Northern Territory. The state capital is Adelaide, the fifth-largest city in Australia. South Australia has a thriving arts scene and is sometimes known as the Festival State, with more than 500 festivals taking place there every year.
At the top end of Australia lies the Northern Territory. Darwin, on the northern coast, is the capital, and Alice Springs the principal inland town. Alice Springs is the physical heart of Australia, almost exactly at the nations geographical centre. The Northern Territory is home to the famous Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Kakadu national park.
Western Australia is Australias largest state by area. About three-quarters of the states population live in the capital Perth, which is the fourth most populated city in Australia. The east of the state is mostly desert while to the west the state is bound by almost 13000 kilometres of pristine coastline. In the 1890s gold was discovered and mining is still one of the states biggest industries.
Tasmania is separated from mainland Australia by Bass Strait and is the smallest state in Australia. The capital, Hobart, was founded in 1804 as a penal colony, and is Australias second oldest capital city after Sydney. One-fifth of Tasmania is covered by national parks and wilderness areas. It is one of the worlds most mountainous islands whose geology reflects Australias connection millions of years ago with Antarctica.
Australia also administers Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (or Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territory (covering 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent) as external territories.
Weather in Australia
Australia experiences temperate weather for most of the year but the climate can vary due to the size of our continent. The northern states typically experience warm weather much of the time, with the southern states experiencing cooler winters. Australia is also one of the driest continents on earth with an average annual rainfall of less than 600 millimetres. Like all countries in the southern hemisphere, Australias seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. December to February is summer; March to May is autumn; June to August is winter; and September to November is spring.
Weather in Sydney, New South Wales
New South Wales lies in the temperate zone. The Great Dividing Range, in the east of the state, has a large impact on the climate, creating four distinct zones: the coastal strip, the highlands, the Western Slopes and the flatter country to the west. Sydneys climate is pleasantly temperate all year round with more than 340 sunny days a year. In summer (December to February), average maximum temperatures in Sydney are around 26 degreeC. It can also be humid at this time with an average humidity of 65 per cent. Average maximum temperatures in the winter (June-August) are around 16 degree C. Sydneys rainfall is highest between March and June.
Weather in Melbourne, Victoria
Victorias climate is marked by a range of different climate zones, from the hot, dry regions of the northwest to the alpine snowfields in the northeast. Average annual rainfall ranges from less than 250 millimetres in parts to in excess of 1800 millimetres over some of the mountainous regions. Melbourne has a reputation for its changeable weather, but as a general rule, the city enjoys a temperate climate with warm to hot summers; mild, balmy springs and autumns; and cool winters.Temperatures average 25 degree C in summer and 14 degree C in winter. Rainfall is highest from May to October.
Weather in Adelaide, South Australia
South Australias climate varies from hot and dry in the interior to milder, wetter climates in the south and on the south-east coast. Adelaide generally has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. It is the driest of all the Australian capital cities. The average rainfall in January and February (summer) is around 20 millimetres, but months with no rain are common. June is the wettest month of the year, averaging around 80 millimetres. The average maximum temperature is 29 degree C in summer and 15-16 degree C in winter.
Weather in Perth, Western Australia
Western Australia has a number of climatic zones due to its enormous size. In the north-west, heavy rains mark the summer wet season, although the interior is mostly dry with high summer temperatures; while the southwest has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Perths rainfall is highest between May and September. February is usually the hottest month of the year, averaging temperatures of 31 degree C. A sea breeze called The Fremantle Doctor, blows from the south-west providing relief from the heat. Winters are relatively cool and wet with temperatures of around 18 degree C.
Weather in Brisbane, Queensland
Brisbane has a subtropical climate with warm or hot weather for most of the year. In summer (December - February), maximum temperatures average around 30 degree C. The city experiences most rainfall in summer which can sometimes take the form of thunderstorms with torrential rain. It can be very humid during this time.
Winter is generally dry, mild and pleasant. Most winter days are sunny with average temperatures of around 17degree C. Average monthly rainfall over the year is around 96 millimetres.
Weather in Cairns, Queensland
Queenslands climate is characterised by low rainfall and hot summers in the inland west, a monsoon season in the north, and warm temperate conditions along the coastal strip. The dry inland plains record the hottest temperatures during summer, when the annual median rainfall is below 200 millimetres. Cairns enjoys a tropical climate, with hot and humid summers and mild, dry winters. The average annual rainfall is 1992 millimetres, mostly falling between January and March. Typical daytime temperatures in Cairns are 23-31 degree C in mid-summer and 18 degree C in mid-winter. Tropical cyclones sometimes occur from November through May in coastal regions.
Weather in Hobart, Tasmania
Since Tasmania is an island with no place more than 115 kilometres from the sea, its climate is classified as mild temperate maritime. Summers are mild and rainfall is spread fairly evenly throughout the year, although the winter months are the wettest. Because of its latitude, the seasons are much more evident in Tasmania than the rest of Australia. Hobart has four distinct seasons. The warmest months, January and February, are also the driest with average temperatures of around 21 degree C. While exposed to the southerly winds from the Antarctic, Hobart is protected by Mt Wellington from the worst weather.
Weather in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Canberra has a mostly dry, continental climate with warm to hot summers and cool winters. The average annual rainfall is 629 millimetres which is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month is October and the driest is June. During winter, snow falls in the nearby Australian Alps. January is the hottest month with average maximum temperatures of 28 degree C. The coldest month is July with average daily temperatures of 11 degree C which can drop below zero at night. Canberra has around nine hours a day of sunshine in summer, dropping to around five hours in winter.
Weather in Alice Springs, Northern Territory
The Northern Territorys climate is distinctly different from that of southern Australia, and varies greatly between the northern part, known as the Top End and the southern extremities. There are two distinct seasons: the wet (October to April) and the dry (May to September). Alice Springs climate is one of extremes with hot summers and cold winters when night time temperatures can fall below zero. Rainfall varies dramatically from year to year, but the annual average is around 286 millimetres. Daytime summer temperatures are generally in the high 30s, with dry, cool nights. Spring can bring thunderstorms, hail and dust storms.
Weather in Broome, Western Australia
Broome has a tropical climate with hot and humid summers and warm winters and two distinct seasons: wet (December to March) and dry (the rest of the year). From October to April temperatures reach around 33 degree C. Winters (June-August) are mild, with average July temperatures around 27 degree C during the day. Overnight temperatures rarely fall below 5 degree C or much higher in the summer. The average annual rainfall is 532 millimetres but sometimes no rain falls for months on end. January to March is the wettest time of year. Tropical cyclones can occur from November to April, most commonly in January and February.