Australia is an Oceanian country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area. Neighboring countries include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.
Australia is a developed country and one of the wealthiest in the world, with the world's 12th-largest economy. With the second-highest human development index globally, Australia ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. Australia is a member of the United Nations, G20, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
The basis of Australian culture has been strongly influenced by Anglo-Celtic Western culture. Distinctive cultural features have also arisen from Australia's natural environment and Indigenous cultures. Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighboring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.
The climate of Australia is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low-pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia. These factors cause rainfall to vary markedly from year to year. Much of the northern part of the country has a tropical, predominantly summer-rainfall (monsoon) climate. The south-west corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate. Much of the south-east (including Tasmania) is temperate.
Australian forests are mostly made up of evergreen species, particularly eucalyptus trees in the less arid regions; wattles replace them as the dominant species in drier regions and deserts. Among well-known Australian animals are the monotremes (the platypus and echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, koala, and wombat, and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra. Australia is home to many dangerous animals including some of the most venomous snakes in the world.
School attendance, or registration for home schooling, is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 up until about 16. In some states (e.g., Western Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.
Australia has an adult literacy rate that was estimated to be 99% in 2003. However, a 2011–12 report for the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Tasmania has a literacy and numeracy rate of only 50%. In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia regularly scores among the top five of thirty major developed countries (member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Catholic education accounts for the largest non-government sector.
Australia has 37 government-funded universities and two private universities, as well as a number of other specialist institutions that provide approved courses at the higher education level. The University of Sydney is Australia's oldest university, having been founded in 1850. Other notable universities include those of the Group of Eight leading tertiary institutions.
The OECD places Australia among the most expensive nations to attend university. There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. About 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications, and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries.
Australian cuisine refers to the cuisine of Australia and its indigenous and colonial societies. Indigenous Australians have occupied these lands for some 40,000–60,000 years, during which time they developed a unique hunter-gatherer diet, known as "bush tucker", drawn from regional Australian flora and fauna—such as the kangaroo. Australia was, from 1788 to 1900, a collection of British colonies in which culinary tastes were strongly influenced by British and Irish traditions - and agricultural products such as beef cattle, sheep and wheat became staples in the Australian diet.
The first settlers introduced British food to the continent, much of which is now considered typical Australian food, such as the Sunday roast. Multicultural immigration transformed Australian cuisine; post-World War II European migrants, particularly from the Mediterranean, helped to build a thriving Australian coffee culture, and the influence of Asian cultures has led to Australian variants of their staple foods, such as the Chinese-inspired dim sim and Chiko Roll. Vegemite, pavlova, lamingtons and meat pies are regarded as iconic Australian foods. Australian wine is produced mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country.
Australian cuisine of the first decade of the 21st century shows the influence of globalization. Organic and biodynamic foods have become widely available and there has been a revival of interest in bushfoods. British traditions persist to varying degrees in domestic cooking and the takeaway food sector, with roast dinners, the Australian meat pie and fish and chips remaining hugely popular, but there are also new elements featured in these foods. Meat is a core component of the Australian cuisine and diet, and the production of meat has historically been a significant part of Australia's agricultural economy. To barbecue meat is considered traditional in Australia. While fast food chains are abundant, Australia's metropolitan centres possess many famed haute cuisine and nouvelle cuisine establishments offering both local and international food due to strong multiculturalism. Restaurants whose product includes contemporary adaptations, interpretations or fusions of exotic influences are frequently termed "Modern Australian".
Although Australia has no official language, English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling.
General Australian serves as the standard dialect. According to the 2011 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 81% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Mandarin (1.7%),Italian (1.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.3%), Greek (1.3%), and Vietnamese (1.2%); a considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. A 2010–2011 study by the Australia Early Development Index found the most common language spoken by children after English was Arabic, followed by Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, and Hindi.
Over 250 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which less than 20 are still in daily use by all age groups. About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people. At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 5,500 deaf people.
Australian English (AuE, AusE, en-AU) is the form of the English language used in Australia. Australian English has a distinctive accent and vocabulary.