Spending Christmas at the beach or skiing in August may seem strange but the fact is, Australia's seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere - summer starts in December, autumn in March, winter in June and spring in September. Due to its size, geographical location and the lack of extensive high mountain ranges Australia has a wide range of climates but generally no extremes. The average temperature ranges from 23-26 degrees Celsius above the Tropic of Capricorn with the southern areas more temperate although subject to variations. This and the fact that Australia is the driest continent on earth makes our land a great all-year destination. In fact in our winter you can ski in the southern states one day and be diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland the next. Geography
Australia is the only country occupying a whole continent - albeit the smallest one, lying on and extending north and south from the Tropic of Capricorn. With an area covering 7,682,300 km2 (2,966,136 square miles) it is the sixth largest country of the world after Russia, Canada, China, the US and Brazil. The coastline consisting of tranquil bays, wonderful beaches with pounding surf, rocky outcrops and dramatic sheer cliffs is 36,735km (22,812 miles) long. Australia is bounded by the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Arafura Sea to the north, lapped by the turquoise waves of the Indian Ocean to the west, and the mighty Southern Ocean to the south. Australia occupies one of the oldest landmasses and the flattest of all continents, the highest point, Mt Kosciuszko being 2228m (7,310 feet) in the Australian Alps between NSW and Victoria. The fertile coastal strip hides a dry and inhospitable centre, the Outback - a photographer's delight with its colours of flaming red, rich brown, pale yellow and orange interspersed by the bluish-green of low scrub and the linen-white trunks of ghost gum trees. This seemingly endless land is broken by saltlakes, starkly beautiful mountains like the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the mysterious rock formations of Ayers Rock/Uluru, Mt Olga/Kata Tjuta, and Mt Augustus. The longest river, originating in Queensland, is the Darling measuring 2736km (1,700 miles). Flora and Fauna
Don't be surprised to encounter a hopping kangaroo or running emu - a large flightless bird - while driving along in the countryside.
Our national symbols, featured in the Australian coat of arms are found throughout the continent in large numbers. Australia's isolation for more than 55 million years has created a unique sanctuary of animals and plants found nowhere else in the world. Australia's marsupials did not have to compete with highly developed mammals and there are still over 100 species which flourish in ideal conditions. Take our cute koala for instance, sleeping peacefully on a branch high above the ground in a gum-tree with the young holding itself tight to mum's back. Keep your eyes wide open, they're hard to see but can be spotted in national parks and forests along the east coast. Wildlife sanctuaries let you observe them from close range and some even allow visitors into the enclosure. Australia hosts a really interesting animal group, the monotremes, egg laying mammals, that are often referred to as living fossils, like the platypus - a river dwelling little animal with duck bill and an agile furry body resembling an otter. Another representative of this group is the echidna or spiny anteater. While visiting a zoo don't forget to observe the wombat, a large, grazing, burrowing marsupial. Essentially nocturnal, wombats have been in Australia for 15 million years and are found in many parts of Australia. The Tasmanian Devil, a carnivorous marsupial is a fascinating animal. Now only found in the wild in Tasmania, the nocturnal Tassie Devil is basically a scavenger, with a loud screech and powerful jaws. There are 520 lizard species in Australia that range from small squeaking geckos to the spectacular frill-necked lizard and the swift moving goanna that can reach a size of 2m (6.5ft). Whales migrate from Antarctica during winter to warmer waters off Australia. The mighty humpback travels along the east coast while the southern right whales frequent the south and the western coast, bearing up and plunging into water again, playing and frolicking. The Great Barrier Reef along the east coast off Queensland is the longest and most complex living coral system in the world and provides a habitat for a wide range of marine animals. Another area noted for its prolific wildlife is Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory - enjoy the sight of waterbirds, crocodiles, wild buffaloes or go fishing for the prized barramundi. Discovering Australia's birds is one of the delights of visiting Down Under, with more than 750 species of birds recorded, 300 of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Listen to the unique laugh of the kookaburra, a large kingfisher, enjoy the sight of the many different parrots, feed the brilliantly plumed rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, or watch as hundreds of small fairy penguins march up the beach to their burrows every night at dusk on Phillip Island. Australia has many vegetation regions. Fill your lungs with the heavy scented air of the rainforests, or the distinctive smell of the eucalypt, commonly called gum tree. Wildflowers turn open country into a blaze of colour in spring and some of the best known are the waratah, Sturt's desert pea, kangaroo paw and the Christmas bush. Pristine Environment
Australia has more than 2,000 national parks and nature reserves, protected wilderness areas of natural and environmental importance that range from desert landscape to high mountains to coastal dunes and rainforests. Fill your cup! - the water is safe to drink anywhere. Beyond the big cities the air is so clean it is rarely experienced elsewhere in the world and the intensity and clarity of the light is the dream of every photographer. There are still areas of Australia that haven't been explored, they are so wild and inaccessible. Little wonder, that no less than thirteen areas are inscribed on the UN's World Heritage List a proud feat, not many countries can boast. On the list are Kakadu National Park, Uluru, the Wet Tropics of north Queensland, and the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves, Willandra Lakes, Lord Howe Island, Tasmanian Wilderness, Shark Bay, Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Riversleigh (Queensland) and Naracoorte (South Australia), Macquarie Island and Heard and McDonald Islands. Yearly clean up campaigns where the whole nation participates in ensure that Australia remains clean and pristine. Industry
The manufacturing industry accounts for about 14 per cent of Australia's GDP. The manufacturing sector has developed behind high tariff walls in the post-war years however protection is being reduced to make it a more efficient and export-oriented sector of the economy. About 98 per cent of all manufacturing firms are small businesses. The main industries are chemicals, aerospace, electrical and electronics, information technology, engineering, food processing, motor vehicles, iron and steel, paper, woodchips and forestry. Due to a sizeable resource base, Australia has developed an efficient and internationally competitive agricultural industry. Agricultural output contributes about 2.5 per cent to GDP. Australia leads the world in wool production and is a significant supplier of cereals, dairy produce, meat, sugar and fruit. Australian wines are receiving increasing attention due to the their high quality and distinctive flavour.
Exports have grown rapidly in recent years. Fisheries products especially crustaceans are also exported mainly to East Asia and the US. The services industry, the largest segment of the economy is the fastest growing industry. It covers construction, trade, property, finance, communications, education, tourism, business services and it accounts for 70 percent of GDP. Tourism is the largest and fastest growing sector of the services industry. Science and Technology
Australian scientists and researchers have been responsible for many advances in the manufacturing, mining and agricultural industries. They have also made significant contributions to medical science and there are quite a number of inventions that earned Australian scientists the Nobel prize. Penicillin, for example was co-discovered by Lord (Howard) Florey, and it was first administered to civilians in Australia. Sir Macfarlane Burnet was awarded with a Nobel prize for his work in immunology and virology, while eminent scientist Sir John Eccles shared his prize for his work on the nervous system. British father and son Sir William Henry and Sir William Lawrence Bragg who worked in Australia, were inventors of the X-ray diffraction spectrometer and founders of the science of X-ray crystallography. John Cornforth shared his Nobel prize for chemistry for steroid synthesis. Private sector research and development has also achieved a high growth-rate in the last decade. The CSIRO or Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is Australia's main scientific body, whose work is directed towards industry, natural environment and minerals, energy and construction industries. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology provides important data for the World Weather Watch program, which has three meteorological centres - Melbourne, Moscow and Washington. Australia also conducts research in nuclear science and technology, geology, and space and it maintains four scientific research stations on Antarctica. One of the world's largest optical telescopes, the Anglo-Australian Telescope, a joint venture between the Australian and British governments, is operated at Siding Spring, and made some significant discoveries since 1974 when it began operating. The Australian Telescope near Parkes is a powerful radiotelescope consisting of eight dishes spread over a large area designed for investigating supernovas. Transport
Although Australia is a vast country it is easily explored by plane, rail and coach.
The need to overcome long distances contributed to the development of transport that has evolved rapidly and Australia has made many advances in this field. About 810,000km (503,010 miles) of roads and 40,000km (24,840 miles) rail networks span the continent. The first passenger flight in Australia took place on November 2, 1922 operated by Qantas, the first airline to be registered in the country - now a specialist long-haul operator recognised by the flying kangaroo on its red tail. Other airlines formed in subsequent years and today, Qantas, Ansett Australia and smaller, but significant regional airlines maintain an unsurpassed reputation for safety, comfort and service. Scheduled domestic services carry more than 18 million passengers a year. About 9 million vehicles use our roads and Australia is among world leaders in road safety. The wearing of seatbelts, safety helmets, strict drink-driving laws, random breath testing of motorists and constant improvement of roads have contributed to the reduction of road accidents. Trains operate in all states except Tasmania and there are interstate lines offering exciting journeys into the Outback or along the lush east coast; as well as commuter services in most capital cities. On the Indian Pacific, a trans-continental railway journey, that bridges the distance between Sydney and Perth, you can experience the famous "Long Straight", 478.4 kilometres (297 miles) of unbending track between Ooldea and Nurina on the Nullarbor Plain. This is the world's longest straight stretch of railway. National Rail, jointly owned by the federal government and the governments of New South Wales and Victoria is providing a nation-wide service. Australia has about 70 ports of commercial significance and it trades with about 200 countries around the world exporting almost 320 million tonnes of freight by sea annually. Communications and Media
Telstra Corporation operates more than 8.5 million telephone services, and following deregulation was joined by Optus competing in the long-distance and mobile telecommunications sector. A third player, Vodaphone, carrier of public mobile telecommunications services is rapidly expanding its services. Australia is a major investor in Intelsat, the international telecommunications satellite co-operative of 129 nations and is a major user of its 17 satellites. Australia Post provides a domestic letter service and a range of associated postal services handling more than four billion items of mail a year. Australians are news-hungry and newspaper readership ranks among the highest in the world in proportion to population.
There are more than 1200 magazine titles and several national, metropolitan and regional daily newspapers. The oldest daily newspaper in the southern hemisphere is the Sydney Morning Herald, founded in 1831 and together with the venerable Melbourne newspaper, The Age, is sold widely across the country. The national daily is The Australian. The first radio transmitting and receiving station in Australia started operating in 1912, while the first television station, TCN Channel 9, opened in 1956 in Sydney. The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), funded by the federal government provides nation-wide commercial-free radio and television services. The Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) delivers multicultural and multilingual television and radio services nation-wide. There are 41 commercial television stations and three satellite stations across the country, while the pay television service, Galaxy Pay Television was launched in 1995. There are four ABC radio networks, 108 commercial stations on the AM band, 51 commercial FM stations and 100 community radio stations and seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander licensed broadcasters in Australia. Resources and Energy
Australia is a major producer and exporter of energy resources and is one of the world's biggest producers of minerals and metals. More than 60 different minerals are mined such as bauxite, mineral sands, diamonds, black and brown coal as well as ores containing gold, silver, lead, zinc, iron, copper, nickel, tin, manganese and uranium. Although Australia imports heavy crude, it exports light crude oil and liquefied natural gas. Australia is also an important producer of precious and semiprecious stones such as diamonds, sapphire, opal and pearls. Most electricity is produced using coal fired power plants and the large coal deposits enable Australia to produce electricity at a relatively low cost.