Most people know what country they live in and on what continent. But what exactly is the difference between the two? A continent is a very large landmass, often separated by oceans. Some of these are separated by other geographic or social characteristics. A geographic separation may be a narrow strip of land, whereas a social separation may be based on shared culture.
The rules defining continents are not steadfast. Typically, the world recognizes 7 distinct continents: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Antarctica, and Australia. Although some schools of thought combine North and South America into one, thus creating 6 continents. Still, others, adhering to the “one solid landmass” theory, believe that there are 4 continents: America, Afro-Eurasia, Antarctica, and Australia.
A country, however, is a distinct political entity. In most cases, it has clearly defined borders that are either the result of geographic features such as rivers and mountains or cultural boundaries. Constitutions and peace treaties formalize the location of these borders. There are 195 countries in the world.
Is Australia A Continent?
Geography Of Australia
Australia is comprised of mainland Australia, Tasmania, Seram, New Guinea, sometimes Timor, and surrounding islands. It is the smallest of the continents with a land area of 3,310,000 square miles and is the lowest lying continent with human inhabitants. The nearby islands are connected to the continent by the continental shelf, including the Sahul Shelf and the Bass Strait. About half of the continental shelf is found at 160 feet deep or less
Geology Of Australia
Geologically speaking, the Australian continent is found on the Indo-Australian plate. This plate separated from the supercontinent Gondwana around 96 million years ago. It moved away from Antarctica and headed north. Around 10,000 BC, the previous ice age was ending, and the melting led to rising sea levels. These rising waters eventually formed the Bass Strait which separated Tasmania from the landmass. Between 2,000 and 4,000 years later, additional flooding created New Guinea and the Aru Islands, now north of the mainland. Australia is the only continent without active volcanic regions. Over time, the Australia-New Guinea tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian plate. This collision resulted in the mountains of New Guinea and the islands of Wallacea.
Biodiversity Of Australia
The northward drifting of the Indo-Australian plate helped the continent to offset the global cooling trend. While other landmasses grew colder, the Australian continent was moving closer to the equator, thus neutralizing the temperature changes. This temperature stability allowed the flora, fauna, and fungi to evolve into special ecological roles. Its isolated position additionally prevented the influence of outside species, allowing for unique development with no competition. Because of its lack of volcanoes and glaciers, the soil on the Australian continent was undisturbed and able to retain nutrients. This high level of fertility aided plant diversity, allowing for co-evolution rather than divergent evolution. The islands of Wallacea were close enough to the southeast Asian rainforests that some plants were able to make their way into New Guinea. The ocean straits, however, were too large to allow for mammal migration.
This combination of events has resulted in high levels of biodiversity and endemism on the continent today. Marsupials (mammals with pouches to carry their young) and monotremes (egg-laying mammals) were able to dominate the placental mammals that are so common in other areas of the world. Many species of birds were able to develop; scientists believe songbirds first evolved on the Australian continent before migrating to other lands around the globe.
Is Australia A Country?
History Of Australia
Indigenous people were living here, having descended from migrants who came to the area between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago, when Europeans first arrived. Dutch explorers landed on the Australian mainland in 1606 AD, mapped the northern and western coasts, and named it New Holland. They did not establish settlements. In 1770, James Cook claimed the eastern coasts for Britain and named it New South Wales. The British government established a penal colony, an isolated settlement for prisoners, here in 1783. Additional settlers arrived in 1788, forming what eventually became present-day Sydney.
The increasing number of European settlers led to additional settlements all over the mainland and as far away as Tasmania. The United Kingdom laid claim to the west and divided New South Wales into South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland in the mid-1800’s. The latter half of the 19th century brought on a gold rush and the colonies gained some measure of autonomy As free settlers and penal colonies spread across the land, the indigenous population suffered as many as 1 million fatalities due to diseases and conflict with the Europeans over the next 150 years.
By 1901, the colonies were established as the Commonwealth of Australia, a dominion of the British Empire. In 1931, the British government passed the Statute of Westminster, giving the dominions legislative independence and making them sovereign nations. Australia adopted the statute in 1942, backdating it to 1939. After World War II, the country opened its borders to European immigrants and in the 1970’s, to Asian immigrants (following the termination of the White Australia policy). The country cut all ties with the UK in 1986, removing the right of the UK to legislate in Australian government.
Today the country is made up of 6 states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania. These are all located on the mainland with the exception of Tasmania, and island to the south. Neighboring countries include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Zealand.
Population Of Australia
The population of Australia is approximately 22.4 million. This number has grown exponentially since World War II, largely due to the government encouraging immigration to the country. Approximately 24.6% of the population are foreign-born, and 43.1% have at least one, foreign-born parent. Indigenous people make up 2.5% of the population. The total number of people in Australia is expected to nearly double by 2050.
The most common language here is English, specifically Australian English. Approximately 81% of the population speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include: Mandarin (1.7%), Italian (1.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.3%), Greek (1.3%), and Vietnamese (1.2%). Of the original 250 aboriginal languages, 20 are used by all age groups and 150 by older generations.
More than half, 61.1%, of the population, identify as Christian. Christian churches have strongly influenced the development of education, health, and social services in the country.
Economy Of Australia
Australia is the 12th largest economy in the world. It has a high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (the fifth highest in the world) and low rates of poverty. It is considered a wealthy nation with an average annual growth rate of 3.6%. The most important industries here include mining exports, telecommunications, banking, and manufacturing. Four of its major cities are ranked within the top 10 most livable in the world: Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Perth.
Is Australia a Country?
A unique and diverse country, Australia, also called an island nation, is the only country to concurrently be its own continent as well.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
Your MLA Citation
Your APA Citation
Your Chicago Citation
Your Harvard CitationRemember to italicize the title of this article in your Harvard citation.