Questions & Answers

Is Australia An Island?

Some go so far as to call Australia an “island continent.” Because it fits both criteria, Australia can and should be considered both an island and a continent.

Australia spans 3 million square miles, which makes it the smallest continent on planet Earth. Its size is the main reason people often can’t decide whether it’s an island or a continent. Considering the fact that it’s more similar in size to Greenland, an island than to South America, a continent, the answer to the question is not simple. Some go so far as to call Australia an “island continent.” Because it fits both criteria, Australia can and should be considered both an island and a continent.

Geography Of Australia

Australia is placed between the South Pacific Ocean and the Indian ocean, in Oceania. The continent of Australia has the smallest land area of all the continents and the second-lowest population, after Antarctica. The continent shares the same name with the country situated on it, with its official name being the Commonwealth of Australia. Since the entirety of the country of Australia is on an isolated landmass, people often refer to it as an island continent.

When taking the area of jurisdiction into account, Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world, but it has the biggest expanse of ocean jurisdiction. There are no land borders in Australia, but we can divide it into three large parts to better illustrate its geography. First would be the western half, also called the Western Plateau, with multiple mountain ranges near the coastline, but mostly flat throughout the rest of the region. 

Australia seen from space.
Australia seen from space.

The eastern coast is separated from the other parts of the continent by the Eastern Highlands. These parts consist of mostly forests, with the most rainfall and the densest population. Between these two parts are the Central Lowlands, with the most complex and biggest river system in Australia. Near the eastern coast of the continent lies the Great Barrier Reef, which is considered to be the biggest coral reef complex in the world.

Australia As An Island And A Continent

Australia is often considered an “island continent,” but according to most geographers, islands and continents are two different things. Islands are often defined as masses of land surrounded by water from all sides that are smaller than continents. Many would argue that if we consider something a continent, it can’t be an island based on that definition alone. But it’s more complicated when talking about Australia since that definition applies to it in its entirety.

There is no strict or scientific way to define a continent, which makes it even harder to classify Australia as just one of the two. Is size the only factor that makes Australia a continent and Greenland an island? If so, that still doesn’t mean Australia isn’t an island as well. The fact that it’s situated on a separate tectonic plate gives it the status of a continent, which isn’t something that can be said of Greenland, for example.

So while there isn’t a definitive answer, it’s hard not to conclude that Australia is both an island and a continent. It fits the definition of both the scientific ones, as well as the more subjective ones. Its unique flora and fauna, the fact that it is connected to an individual tectonic plate, and its sheer size make it a continent. But it’s still a large mass surrounded by water from all sides, which also makes it an island at the same time.

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.


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