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Australia, officially named the Commonwealth of Australia, is an independent nation within the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and since 1973 has been officially styled "Queen of Australia." Australia is located in the Indian Ocean, with the Timor, Arafura, Coral and Tasman Seas surrounding it. Australia is the world's smallest continent but sixth-largest country; its population is concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts. The invigorating sea breeze known as the "Fremantle Doctor" affects the city of Perth on the west coast and is one of the most consistent winds in the world.

As well as being one of the leading nations in the Asia Pacific region, the Australian economy is larger than the economies of all of the other countries in South East Asia combined. Its economy has been extraordinarily resistant to global fluctuations, and has been growing consistently, bolstered by demand for its raw materials and agricultural output. It is politically and economically stable, enjoys a strategic geographic location, possesses an enormous natural resource base, a highly developed and skilled humanresource base, and transparent and modern legal and financial systems. Its well-developed business infrastructure facilities support commerce, and although there is minimal manufacturing in the sector has a well-developed aerospace and defense industry infrastructure.

Australia is faced with the problems of invasion due to the attractions offered by the great potential value of the land and the very small population occupying it. The difficulty of defending Australia from invasion is greatly increased by the absence of strategic railways, the immense length of coastline, and the great distance from the United Kingdom with its naval and military support. Against these difficulties must be placed the advantage derived by Australia from her distance from other countries.

Australia has three time zones. Western Australia observes Western Standard Time (WST), the Northern Territory and South Australia observe Central Standard Time (CST), and Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania observe Eastern Standard Time (EST). WST is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), CST is GMT + 9:30 hours, and EST is GMT + 10 hours.

Australia's indigenous inhabitants, a hunting-gathering people collectively referred to today as Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders, arrived more than 40,000 years ago. Although their technical culture remained static--depending on wood, bone, and stone tools and weapons--their spiritual and social life was highly complex. Most spoke several languages, and confederacies sometimes linked widely scattered tribal groups. When Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770, the native population may have numbered 300,000 in as many as 500 tribes speaking many different languages. In 2006 the indigenous population was approximately 517,200, representing about 2.5% of the population.

The U.S. State Department has given Australia high marks for its respect for human rights. However, Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, has criticized Australia's strict policies on asylum. The government discourages refugees from many countries in the region from settling in Australia. For example, in the fall of 2001 Australia refused entry to 450 Afghani refugees who were stranded in the Indian Ocean. Instead, they were sent to detention camps or deported. Australia prefers to control its borders and offer citizenship to those most likely to make an economic contribution and maintain the country's values. Amnesty International also asserts that Australia's counterterrorism campaign has come at the expense of human rights. Amnesty International objects to the alleged detention and questioning of terrorist suspects without charges being filed. In 2000 the United Nations Human Rights Commission criticized Australia for its treatment of aborigines.

The name "Australia" is derived from the Latin Australis, meaning of the South. Legends of an "unknown land of the south" (terra australis incognita) dating back to Roman times were commonplace in mediæval geography, but they were not based on any actual knowledge of the continent. On May 14, 1606, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós who had landed in Vanuatu (assuming it to be the southern continent), claimed possession of all land to the South Pole on behalf of the King of Spain. He named the lands Austrialía del Espíritu Santo after the House of Austria, as the Hapsburgs were called in Spain.

The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used by Dutch officials in Batavia to refer to the newly discovered land to the south as early as 1638. The first use of the word "Australia" in the English language was a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1692 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny under the pen name Jacques Sadeur.

Alexander Dalrymple then used it in a 1765 translation of Juan Luis Arias de Loyola's book about the voyage of Luis Váez de Torres along the south coast of New Guinea in October 1606, a copy of which Joseph Banks took on James Cook's first voyage in 1768. Dalrymple also used the term Australia in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean (1771), to refer to the entire South Pacific region. In 1793, George Shaw and Sir James Smith published Zoology and Botany of New Holland, in which they wrote of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland."

The name "Australia" was popularized by the 1814 work A Voyage to Terra Australis by the navigator Matthew Flinders, who was the first recorded person to circumnavigate Australia. Despite its title, which reflected the view of the British Admiralty, Flinders used the word "Australia" in the book, which was widely read and gave the term general currency.

From his book's Introduction: "There is no probability, that any other detached body of land, of nearly equal extent, will ever be found in a more southern latitude; the name Terra Australis will, therefore, remain descriptive of the geographical importance of this country, and of its situation on the globe: it has antiquity to recommend it; and, having no reference to either of the two claiming nations, appears to be less objectionable than any other which could have been selected."

...with the accompanying note at the bottom of the page: "Had I permitted myself any innovation upon the original term, it would have been to convert it into AUSTRALIA; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth."

Governor Lachlan Macquarie of New South Wales subsequently used the word in his dispatches to England. In 1817, he recommended that it be officially adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2017 19:18:46 ZULU