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Is Australia A Country Or A Continent?

By Antonia Čirjak January 24 2020

Map of Australia.
Map of Australia.

When talking about Australia, people often differentiate whether they mean the country or the continent. Although it is easy to conclude that Australia is both, it is important to emphasize what exactly we are talking about. The easiest way to explain would be to say that the continent of Australia consists of Australia (the country) and also New Guinea, New Zealand, and Seram. That means that the country we call Australia is a part of the continent called Australia. 

What Is A Continent?

There is no single definition accepted by everyone of what precisely a continent is. There are seven continents on Earth: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. The most common definition of a continent says that it’s a separate landmass that is situated on a single tectonic plate. What makes this definition not entirely exact is that there are two clear exceptions - Europe and Asia. They are part of the same landmass and are still considered separate continents. If the border between the two is enough to consider each a continent on its own, the same would be possible for many other countries.

On the other hand, if every landmass that stands separate from others is considered a continent, what stops us from concluding that most islands are also continents? People will often mention size, meaning a continent should be large, but there are no definitive numbers. All of that makes it harder to define a continent with complete certainty. But even without a precise definition, it is easy to conclude that Australia is a continent. Its size and the fact that it is a separate landmass surrounded by water from all sides make it as clear as can be. Australia can also be considered an island, but that’s a topic for a different time.

The Country Of Australia

Sydney, Australia.
Sydney, Australia.

Now that we’ve concluded that Australia is a country and a continent, with the country itself being on the continent, we should say a bit more about Australia as a country. The official name of Australia is the Commonwealth of Australia. It consists of the mainland of the continent and the island of Tasmania, as well as a large number of smaller islands. It is the sixth-largest country in the world. The capital of Australia is Canberra, but its largest city is Sidney, followed by other larger cities such as Melbourne and Brisbane.

The population of Australia in 2020 is projected to be more than 25 million. With a density of 3.3 persons per square kilometer, it is considered to be very sparsely populated. The majority of its population lives on the east coast of the continent, with a large part of the rest of the landmass being comprised of deserts. Australia is considered to be a well-developed country, is highly urbanized, and with five cities with more than a million inhabitants. Those cities are Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane.

The History Of Australia

Before the first Dutch explorers arrived on the Australian continent, Indigenous Australians have been living there for about 65,000 years. At first, Australia was called New Holland by the Dutch, who started to explore it as early as 1606. While they did chart the coast of the continent, they didn’t try to settle there. In the 18th century, the British Government started to create colonies in Australia, motivated by the loss of its American colonies. During the majority of the 18th and 19th centuries, the British were colonizing Australia, trying to assimilate with the indigenous population in the process.

In total, there were six British colonies in the 19th century, each with its government. In 1901 they managed to achieve a federation of the colonies, which took a decade of planning and voting. During the 20th century, Australia would help Britain in many political affairs, including World War I. many consider the battles and losses fought during that period to mark the unofficial birth of the Australian nation. In 1931 with the Statute of Westminster, the majority of the constitutional links between Australia and Britain were ended.

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