Australia is a very big and a very diverse place. This section is designed to help you understand a bit about the lay of the land – where things are, where people live, and what the weather’s like.
Australia is an island continent – sometimes considered both the Earth’s largest island and its smallest continent. At some 7.7 million kilometres square, it is a nation state that shares no borders with any other country. Rather, the waters of the Indian, Pacific, Southern oceans and the Timor, Arafura, Coral and Tasman seas mark its borders. The Australian territories include several islands, the largest of which is Tasmania.
Overall, it’s about the same size as the US (if you don’t include Alaska), it has 25,760km of coastline, a wealth of mineral resources, very little arable land and it supports about 22 million people.
Australia is made up of six states and two territories – all of which are subordinate to the Federal Government, known as the Commonwealth of Australia. It’s capital, Canberra, is the seat of the federal parliamentary democracy.
Most of Australia’s population lives along the eastern and south-eastern coast – particularly the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Recent population statistics show approximately:
- 7.3 million in New South Wales
- 5.6 million in Victoria
- 4.5 million live in Queensland
- 2.3 million in Western Australia
- 1.6 million in South Australia
- 500,000 in Tasmania
- 229,000 in the Northern Territory
- 361,000 in the Australian Capital Territory
For more information, visit our Australian Population article in the Geography section.
States and Territories – Quick Facts
Australia is divided into six states and two territories, plus a number of smaller islands that make up Australia’s remote territories.
- The largest state is Western Australia – which is literally the western third of the entire continent. About 10 times the size of the United Kingdom, its capital is Perth.
- The most populous state is New South Wales, the capital of which is Sydney.
- The Australian Capital Territory, commonly known as the ACT, is where you’ll find Canberra, the seat of government. It’s also home to Parliament House, politicians, public servants and many national institutions.
- Tasmania is an island and separated completely from mainland Australia.
Each state and territory has its own legislature and judiciary although it is subordinate to the Commonwealth and all Federal laws.
For more information, visit our States and Territories article in the Geography section.
Australia is known for being hot, dry and filled with dusty orange and red sand. There are areas that are wet and humid. Containing both rain forests in the North East and mountain ranges in the South, Australia provides diverse climates.
For more information about the Australian Climate, visit our article in the Geography section.
Sydney is the most populous place in Australia followed by Melbourne with 4.6 million and four million people respectively. Outside the major capital cities there are also other major centres. Much of the coast between Sydney and Brisbane – and then for many miles further north still – is very highly populated. While there are towns of all sizes throughout Australia, generally the more remote they are, the smaller they are. Major regional centres outside the agricultural regions tend to be supported by the mining industry, like Kalgoorlie-Boulder in Western Australia, for instance.
Our Major Towns article provides further information about regional centres around Australia.
Getting to Australia
The usual way of getting to Australia is to fly. Because we’re so far away from everything else, you’re going to have to accept there’s no fast or easy way to get here. If you don’t like to fly, you can hop on a ship as most immigrants did right into the 1970s. Read our Getting to Australia article for more information about arriving by air and sea.
You can find more information about Australian Geography or visit our Living and Working in Australia section for more articles about living in Australia.