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Australia, island continent located southeast of Asia and forming, with the nearby island of Tasmania, the Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The continent is bounded on the north by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea, and the Torres Strait; on the east by the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea; on the south by the Bass Strait and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Indian Ocean. The commonwealth extends about 4,000 km (about 2,500 mi) from east to west and about 3,700 km (about 2,300 mi) from north to south. The area of the commonwealth is 7,682,300 sq km (2,966,200 sq mi), and the area of the continent alone is 7,614,500 sq km (2,939,974 sq mi), making Australia the smallest continent in the world, but the sixth largest country. The capital of Australia is Canberra, and the largest city is Sydney; both are located in the southeast.

The Commonwealth of Australia is made up of six states—New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia—and two territories—the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. The external dependencies of Australia are the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, the Territory of Cocos Islands (also called the Keeling Islands), the Coral Sea Islands Territory, the Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and Norfolk Island.

The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aboriginal people, who migrated to the continent some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. The continent remained relatively unknown to most of the outside world until the 17th century. The first permanent European settlement was established in 1788 at Port Jackson, in southeastern Australia, as a British penal colony; it grew into the city of Sydney. Australia developed as a group of British colonies during the 19th century, and in 1901 the colonies federated to form a unified independent nation, the Commonwealth of Australia.


Browne, Rollo. An Aboriginal Family. Lerner, 1988. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Darian-Smith, Kate. Exploration into Australia. Dillon, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Darlington, Robert. Australia. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 2000. For readers in grades 4 to 8.

Grupper, Jonathan. Destination: Australia. National Geographic., 2000. Introduction that focuses on animals; for readers in grades 4 to 6.

Hintz, Martin, and Ann Heinrichs. Australia. Children's Press, 1998. An illustrated overview of Australia's natural resources, indigenous and immigrant cultures, and history; for younger readers.

Nile, Richard. Australian Aborigines. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1993. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Rajendra, Vijeya, and Sundran Rajendra. Australia. Marshall Cavendish, 1991. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Sayre, April Pulley. Australia. Twenty-First Century, 1998. An overview of the continent for readers in grades 4 to 6.

Arden, Harvey. Dreamkeepers: A Spirit-Journey into Aboriginal Australia. HarperCollins, 1994. Account of contemporary Aboriginal issues; includes comparisons with Native Americans.

Bambrick, Susan, ed. Cambridge Encyclopedia of Australia. Cambridge University Press, 1994. Evaluates as well as describes.

Brett, Judith, ed. Developments in Australian Politics. Macmillan, 1994. Description of current issues in Australian politics.

Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country. Broadway Books, 2000. The travel writer and humorist chronicles his trek across Australia.

Chatwin, Bruce. The Songlines. Viking, 1987. Observations on experiences in Australia; focus on Aboriginal culture.

Clark, C. M. H. A History of Australia. 6 vols. Various publishers, 1962-2000. Classic, extensive history.

Cowan, James. Messengers of the Gods: Tribal Elders Reveal the Ancient Wisdom of the Earth. Bell, 1993. Experiences and insights of tribal life.

Craven, Ian, ed. Australian Popular Culture. Cambridge University Press, 1994. Entertaining essays, ranging from Crocodile Dundee to the history of vegemite.

Day, David. Claiming a Continent. HarperCollins, 1998. Australian historian details a narrative history from invasion to present day, with race at the center of the discussion.

Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore. Knopf, 1987. Contemporary sources illustrate the settlement of Australia as a British penal colony.

Nile, Richard, ed. Australian Civilization. Oxford University Press, 1995. Essays on history, myth, legend, women, and culture.

Pickering, Samuel F. Walkabout Year: Twelve Months in Australia. University of Montana Press, 1995. Essays on a family's yearlong travels and experiences.

Rickard, John. Australia: A Cultural History. 2nd ed. Longman, 1997. Historical and cultural survey.

Smith, Roff Martin. Australia. National Geographic, 1999. A beautifully illustrated guide to Australia's history, culture, and geographic marvels.

Dose, Gerd, and Bettina Keil, eds. Writing in Australia: Perceptions of Australian Literature in its Historical and Cultural Context. Lit Verlag, 2000. Sheds light on the effort of Australian writers to contribute to the country's self-definition.

Gale Group Staff. Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography: Australian, Canadian, New Zealander and South African Writers. Gale, 2001. A useful reference.

Pierce, Peter, ed. Oxford Literary Guide to Australia. Rev. ed. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Webby, Elizabeth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2001. An introduction to Australia's major writers, literary movements, styles, and genres.

Wilde, William H., and others, eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 1994.


Powell, Joseph M., BA. Hons., M.A., Ph.D., D.Litt. Emeritus professor, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University. Fellow, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; corresponding Fellow, British Academy. Past president, Institute of Australian Geographers; former editor, Australian Geographical Studies. Author of An Historical Geography of Modem Australia (1988).

Davison, Graeme John, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, Monash University. Coeditor of The Oxford Companion to Australian History (1998) and author of The Use and Abuse of Australian History (2000), The Unforgiving Minute: How Australia Learned To Tell the Time (1993), and The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melboume (1978).

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