Australia, or Commonwealth of Australia, a country occupying its own continent in the Southern Hemisphere. It lies southeast of Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Australia ranks sixth in size among the countries of the world. The continent of Australia is the world's smallest. Excluding dependencies, Australia has an area of 2,966,151 square miles (7,682,300 km2), nearly that of the United States without Hawaii and Alaska. Maximum dimensions, excluding the island of Tasmania, are about 2,450 miles (3,940 km) east-west and 1,950 miles (3,140 km) north-south. Making up the country are six states and two mainland territories. In addition, Australia governs numerous islands.

Australia in brief
General information
Capital: Canberra.
Official language: English.
Official name: Commonwealth of Australia.
Anthems: "Advance Australia Fair" (national); "God Save the Queen" (royal).
Largest cities: (2001 census) Sydney (3,997,321); Melbourne (3,366,542); Brisbane (1,627,535); Perth (1,339,993); Adelaide (1,072,585).
Symbols of Australia: Australia's flag has a British Union flag, five stars that represent the constellation Southern Cross, and a large star for the country's states and territories. The coat of arms features a kangaroo and an emu; golden wattle blossoms (the national floral emblem); a shield with the coats of arms of the six states of Australia; and a star for the states and territories.
Land and climate
Land: Australia is the only country that is also a continent. It lies between the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Australia is mostly flat, except for the Great Dividing Range in the east and several smaller mountainous regions. The major rivers include the Murray and the Darling.
Area: 2,988,902 mi2 (7,741,220 km2), including 26,000 mi2 (67,800 km2) for Tasmania. Greatest distances (mainland)--east-west 2,475 mi (3,983 km); north-south--1,950 mi (3,138 km). Coastline--37,118 mi (59,736 km), including 1,760 mi (2,833 km) for Tasmania and 14,825 mi (23,859 km) for offshore islands.
Elevation:Highest--Mount Kosciuszko, 7,310 ft (2,228 m) above sea level. Lowest--Lake Eyre, 52 ft (16 m) below sea level.
Climate: The northern third of Australia lies in the tropics and so is warm or hot the year around. The rest of the country lies south of the tropics and has warm summers and mild or cool winters. About a third of the country is desert. Australia lies south of the equator, and so its seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere.
Government
Form of government: Constitutional monarchy; in practice, a parliamentary democracy.
Head of state: Queen of the United Kingdom, who is also queen of Australia. In practice, governor general performs functions in queen's absence.
Head of government: Prime minister, the leader of the party or coalition of parties holding a majority in the House of Representatives.
Parliament:Senate--76 members; House of Representatives--150 members.
Executive: Prime minister and Cabinet.
Political subdivisions: Six states, two mainland territories, and eight external territories.
People
Population:Current estimate--20,979,000. 2001 census--18,972,350.
Population density: 7 per mi2 (3 per km2)
Distribution: 91 percent urban, 9 percent rural.
Major ethnic/national groups: More than 80 percent of European descent, chiefly British and Irish, but also Italian, German, Greek, Dutch, and others. About 10 percent Asian. About 2 percent Aborigine (native Australian peoples).
Religion: About 25 percent Roman Catholic, 20 percent Anglican, and 7 percent Uniting Church, which consists of Methodist, Congregationalist, and some Presbyterian churches.
Economy
Chief products:Agriculture--apples, barley, beef cattle, chickens and eggs, grapes, milk, oats, oranges, rice, sheep and lambs, sugar cane, wheat, wool. Fishing--lobsters, oysters, shrimp. Forestry--eucalyptus and pine timber, wood pulp. Manufacturing--cars and other transportation equipment; iron, steel, and other metals; machinery; paper; petroleum, coal, and chemical products; processed foods. Mining--bauxite, coal, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, manganese, natural gas, nickel, opals, petroleum, silver, tin, titanium, uranium, zinc, zircon.
Money:Basic unit--Australian dollar. One hundred cents equal one dollar.
International trade:Major exports--alumina (processed aluminum ore), beef, coal, iron ore, petroleum products, wheat, wool. Major imports--electrical appliances, industrial machinery, office equipment, petroleum products, telecommunications equipment, yarns and fabrics. Major trading partners--China, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States.