Australia - Facts and Factoids

  • Australia is the smallest inhabited continent of the seven continents.
  • Australia can also be considered the largest island in the world, though sometimes it is deemed a continent rather than an island.
  • Australia is divided into six states (Southern Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania) and two self-governing territories: Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory (which is around Canberra, the capital city).
  • Australia is the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils. A staggering two thirds of the country consists of desert landscape - referred to as 'outback'. Though it also has tropical rainforests in the north-east, and mountain ranges in the south-east.
  • And the stunning Great Barrier Reef off Eastern Australia is the biggest coral reef in the world.

What is the History of Australia?

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the continent for approximately 65,000 years. European maritime exploration of Australia began in the early 17th century. Dutch explorers came first. In 1770, Australia's eastern half was mapped by Captain Cook , who landed at Botany Bay to claim the area for Great Britain. After the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government needed a new penal colony. They sent the First Fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish one in Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on 26 January 1788, (A date which later became Australia's National Day.)

The remainder of the continent was mapped by Matthew Flinders, on HMS Reliance. He was assisted by George Bass after whom the straits north of Tasmania were named) an they famously made use of two small boats called Tom Thumb I and II. Flinders was captured by the French at Mauritius on his way home and held prisoner for six years.

Other penal colonies, in other regions followed and explorers like Burkes and Wills began to explore Australia's inner realms. There was voluntary settlement running alongside this, much expanded during the gold rushes in the 1850s and beyond. An additional five self-governing crown colonies were established. On 1 January 1901, all six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. (Australia's official title).

Abel Tasman named the region New Holland, but the British changed this to Terra Australis, which means 'Southern Land' and the formal Latin was adapted by explorer Matthew Flinders. It was he, and his contemporaneous explorers, who coined the term 'Down Under', in reference to Australia and New Zealand.. Australia is, of course also known widely as "Oz", but its also been called, "the Great Southern Land", "the Lucky Country", "the Sunburnt Country", and "the Wide Brown Land".

What is There to See in Australia?

I'm not sure where to start. Australia is such a great country to visit. The people are friendly and every time I have visited I have made good friends. The scenery is stunning. Australia is justly world famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces, its beaches, deserts, "the bush", and "the Outback". The beaches are amongst the best in the world, as is the snorkelling.

Australian cities are comfortable, at times chic, at other times fascinatingly historic and there's some amazing food.

I have visited:

The Great Ocean Road

I've flown to Melbourne from Niue via Auckland. And The Great Ocean Road is one of those scenic wonders of the world that’s been on my bucket list for some time. So, I’ve decided to squeeze it into this trip on a one (very long) day bus tour.

The passengers on my ‘small’ (20 passengers) bus option are a polyglot bunch. Qataris, Filipinos, Indians, Latvians, Brazilians, Spanish, Romanian, no Australians and one American. The American, CJ, is a young, good looking black guy on a round the world trip. He has laudable ambitions to make round the world travel more accessible to his fellow countrymen and is setting up a website. He’s an intelligent and thought provoking companion. He also carries my coat and bag and takes photos of me. What more could I ask for?

The scenery, along much of the 243 kilometre drive, is reminiscent of parts of the South African Garden route. Wide golden beaches, wild sprawling cliffs and the sea cascading over glistening rock steps and pavements. It’s clear why one stretch has been named the Shipwreck Coast. It must be glorious in the summer sun (though packed with traffic – there are plenty of tour buses out today in the depths of winter) but today’s clouds add superbly to the brooding atmosphere.

The road was built as a World War One memorial (it’s the longest memorial in the world) and construction took 13 years. There’s an arch commemorating this near the entry point near Torquay (we're back in England again). This area is known for surfing and Bell's Beach is host of the annual Rip Curl Pro.

Past Apollo Bay, the route diverts from the coast into lush English style countryside: rolling hills and lambs gambolling. next, the Great Ocean Road dives into the lush Otway National Park, This is rainforest, where incredible huge tree ferns and giant eucalyptus offer a Jurassic Park experience. Our guide, Jimmy, says that these eucalyptus are known as mountain ash (confusingly, a completely different family to the European variety) and are the third tallest trees in the world. He also says Anglesey (we stop for coffee at a town of that name named after the British original) is in Ireland, so I’ll check that fact out.

Kangaroos are elusive today. I catch one hopping by out of the corner of my eye and a few bedraggled koalas peer down balefully from the treetops. (Not in the mountain ash though - they’re not keen on these as a food source).

Loch Ard Gorge

But this road is most famous for its rock formations. The first of these surround a stunning blue inlet at Loch Ard Gorge. There's a long story attached to the name. In 1878, a large clipper ship called Loch Ard ran aground on nearby Muttonbird Island. the only two survivors (out of 54) were a young sailor apprentice named Tom Pearce, and a nineteen-year-old Irish girl, Eva Carmichael, who was travelling with her family. Tom rescued Eva, and they both called for help to try and rescue others - though to no avail. Though Tom was recognised as a hero, the story doesn't have a romantic ending. Eva went back to Europe where she married an aristocrat.

The gorge did have an archway as its centre piece, but it collapsed and the two remaining rock pillars of the gorge have been named Tom and Eva. They've featured in several film sets.

The Twelve Apostles

Three minutes along the road, the other highpoint of the day is the rock formations of the once Twelve Apostles (now eight and shortly to be even fewer, as erosion progresses). This is one of those sights that gratifyingly, exceeds expectations. The heavens clearly agree, as the sun is sending shafts of light though the clouds, bathing the limestone stacks and glinting on the surf. It’s a scene straight out of a biblical epic.

Melbourne Revisited

A whizz round Melbourne this morning. The city is compact and easy to navigate; it has a comfortable buzz about it. I’ve come out on a shopping mission today and Melbourne is a great place to shop. It’s not the most photogenic of cities, but I like the spacious streets and heavy Victorian/1930s colonial architecture, of the centre. Behind, tower modern skyscrapers, purple, green and black mosaics. Sandwiched in the middle, Chinatown,with the usual dragon gates and scarlet lanterns. I purchase a brand new underwater camera, identical to the lovely Olympus Tough I have at home I brought the old broken one by mistake instead), and then set off to the landmark Queen Victoria market, aiming to eat lunch there. But Chinatown spills out into lines of bright and tempting Asian eateries, abutting the main department stores, and I’m seduced into a Japanese restaurant, where the (very fresh) sushi is indeed excellent.

Melbourne - A Foodie City

Melbourne is looking like a great foodie city. There are a huge variety of offerings, unusual and otherwise. There’s much less in the usual western fast food line and a great deal of oriental, as well as bakeries displaying a range of delights, most notably roll shaped cakes and pasties slathered with bright coatings (I’m not sure what of) that I’ve never seen before.

What's an UGG Boot?

The market has even more to offer. But I’m seduced again, this time into purchasing a pair of UGG boots. I’ve been worrying that Tasmania, my next stop, will be uncomfortably cold and I’ve only got trainers with me, wet (and very smelly) from Niue. These UGGs are proper Australian ones, not the Chinese made American ones, which are at least double the price. UGG is simply a generic word for sheepskin boots here, a stall holder spends a good half hour explaining to me. I check up on the internet when I get back. Wikipedia confirms what he said. It also states that the average Australian wears them as slippers and wouldn’t be seen dead on the street with them on, as they’re deemed to be ‘daggy’.

I walk back to my hotel surveying footwear as I go. There’s not an UGG in sight, not so much as  a tall boot. The footwear of choice is a trainer or heavy ankle boots (DM style). Nearly everyone has several inches of bare calf below their trousers.

Next stop Tasmania

The Aftermath of 9 -11

September 2001 and I’m in Japan. I’m watching a video on the TV that shows a plane crashing in to some sky scrapers. We think it is a cinematic thriller until we realise that it is a live feed. Naturally everyone is very sombre - all the planes have been cancelled for the last two days and my next stop is Australia. At the airport I’m told that the planes are back on schedule, but that's not the only problem.  ‘You can't get on the plane ma'am.  Your visa's no good.  (Trailfinders got it - it's only one of those electronic ones). ‘Why?’  ‘We don't know! '

I have to wait an hour feeling very tearful until ,the tannoy pages for Suzan Wogers.  Everything is now okay, but no explanation is proffered.  I sleep across three seats (very nice) on the way to Brisbane. A lot of people have cancelled international travel. I anticipate problems on arrival in Oz, but no-one says a word and I’m allowed in. Except that whilst I’ve been in the air Ansett Airlines have gone bust and I have eight flights booked with them round Australia and, next, down to Tasmania.

Byron Bay -The First Bus Out of Town

Trailfinders say try to book more flights, we will refund you at some point. Wow. Both Air New Zealand and Quantas are also very unhelpful. Their business is booming now.   I manage to re-book two of my eight flights, the longer ones, and then resort to buses.  I’ve always fancied emulating the movies, so I get on the first bus out of town and end up in a place called Byron Bay, the hippy capital of Australia. It was named (by Captain Cook) after Lord Byron's grandfather, Vice Admiral 'Foul-Weather Jack' John Byron, a circumnavigator of the globe.

It's very pretty.  Fantastic surf covered beaches ,edged by lush rainforest covered mountains, full of parrots, iguanas and other tropical exotica, houses on stilts, spiky bottlebrush trees, a ridiculous supply of good restaurants, surf shacks, New Age shops, naturopaths and massage parlours.  There's a great walk at Cape Byron State Conservation Park, on a headland (the most easterly on mainland Australia) with a lighthouse. I decide I want to live here.  Then I  look again at the average Australian male: shorts, long socks, ruddy cheeks and a beer gut from consuming too much Victoria bitter.  Maybe not. It 's also, serendipitously,  the home town of Damian (see Indonesia). So at least I have somewhere to stay.

We doss on the beach.   Everyone here is on dope, so I  smoke my first joint (is that sad or not?).  I cough a lot and nothing else happens.

Sydney Tour

I’ve joined the student gap year community. A twelve hour bus ride to Sydney, down the coast, The highlights are passing a giant prawn in Ballina and  watching videos. One day in Sydney to re-visit. I stay in a hostel - never again - sharing with three twenty somethings.  Clothes all over the floor, and I have to fight my way in to our cubicle.  My room mates return at 3 a.m. Ugh! 

Retracing my steps round the Victorian buildings of The Rocks, Darling Harbour, the monorail and aquarium, and the Botanical Gardens. Sydney feels the same but different. Odd. To finish my tour,  a fabulous sunset helicopter flight over the huge harbour, with great views  of the Coathanger Bridge and Opera House. Every type of cuisine seems to be available along Glebe Point Road, though it's difficult to navigate your way through all the sweating joggers.

Canberra, the Capital of Australia in Two Hours

Another twelve hour bus journey via Canberra. This time we pass a giant sheep, The Big Merino, at Goulburn. He's been dubbed Rambo, by the locals.

Canberra is the capital city of Australia, founded principally to avoid altercation between Sydney and Melbourne, as to which should be chosen. It sits in its own Capital Territory, taken from New South Wales. It had to be at least 100 miles from Sydney. The capital city was founded and formally named as Canberra in 1913, after the name of a local Ngunnawal clan. It it is an entirely planned city, home to the Government of Australia, the judiciary, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National University, the Royal Australian Mint, the Australian Institute of Sport, the National Gallery, the National Museum and the National Library. and the Australian Defence Not to mention the foreign embassies, international organisations, not-for-profit groups, lobbying groups and professional associations.

Opinion is mixed on Canberra. I've been informed by fellow travellers that it is sedate and boring. 'After sunset it turns into a ghost town'. But this garden city has been ranked among the world's best cities to live and visit. My verdict is that a two hour stopover is just about right to see everything Canberra has to offer, unless you like museums. Other than a multitude of new-ish government buildings there's a flower festival on, so most of the two hours is spent admiring themed carpets of tulips at Floriade. This annual flower festival is in Canberra's Commonwealth Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin (he was one of the architects of the city).


 Eventually, Melbourne, the capital of Victoria State, once capital of Australia, named after British Prime Minister. William Lamb (Viscount Melbourne). It developed on the back of the Australian Gold Rush and has a host of Victorian buildings melding with modern development. it's still synonymous with much that is iconic about the country, the F1 Circuit, the cricket ground, street art, music and theatre.

I'm staying in Melbourne with Sue, who I met in Japan.  We tour the city, and  its surroundings. The city is neat and business like with pretty parks. It's tranquil down by the River Yarra, though the bustle of modern scrapers looms close by and good views across town to be had from those. The bars and shops are plush. Modern and Victorian is juxtaposed. Flinders Street Station is very Victorian. there's the Anglican Church and Parliament Square. The Botanic Gardens are lovely, the rhododendrons in full bloom. 

The Mornington Peninsula is  just like being back in Sussex: Brighton Beach, Shoreham, Hastings, St Leonards. Except that there are  mountains and the beaches are golden. There's a good view from Arthur's Seat (now we're in Scotland.) And then off to Italy, with gorgeous Sorrento Beach.

And there's a very Bohemian area, Brunswick Road,  that's good for eating. It's great food again,  I've not had a bad meal yet.  It was Greek last night.  And I manage to get my cancelled flight to New Zealand re-booked. (See New Zealand for this section)

Airlie Beach

As usual my travels have veered from one extreme to the other. Back in Australia, a night in Brisbane with Peter, also from the tour in from Japan. He tours me round the botanical gardens, the tower viewpoint. It's nice, but not very happening. Another bus, 18 1/2 hours ( effin Ansett) back  up to Airlie Beach. It's a tough journey. I wake at 6.30 a.m. to hear ' It's really difficult to stick my teeth back in on a bus,' wafting down the aisle. 

A bathroom is very welcome - about half an inch of dirt must come off. Then I wander out to sign up on a boat - my goal is the famed Whitsunday Islands and streams of boats offer short cruises there. How to choose from the many touts sitting in their little cabins? The  catamaran Avatar, leaving in two days time, seems a bargain. In-between I admire all the chocolate shops, swim in the pool, read the Celestine Prophecy (recommended by a girl in the swimming pool) and go out for dinner with Ray, Bert and Aidan, who I meet in the supermarket. They drink a lot and they're Irish, but you probably worked that out.

Cruising the Whitsundays - with Captain Erica

Then, I get to find out why my cruise was so cheap. Twenty one young things  crammed on board a racing catamaran. Cosy isn't the word. I'm allocated  one bunk, in a hull with Kim, a tiny (fortunately) Korean girl. We sleep nose to tail. Fortunately, she doesn’t snore, though she ends up under me at one point, in a mire of spilled shampoo, suntan cream and orange juice.

The captain is a stocky 23 year old rugby player called Eric, who specialises in painting toe nails. He has a box full of the necessary accoutrements and he’s pretty good at it. It turns out he prefers being called Erica. He puts me in charge of music. My Capital Gold CDs go down well and it's better than hauling on sails. We skim along to the strains of Vienna, battling for sunbathing space on the webbing and squealing when the waves splash through.

The beaches in the Whitsundays are truly stunning - the best in the world? The snorkelling stops are hugely worthwhile, and at least we get some space  off the boat. At Whitehaven Beach, aptly nick-named Paradise, the softest finest, silver sand stretches forever and when we do reach the cerulean sea, a school of rays are basking gracefully in the clearest of water.

We circumnavigate the wheel of the Whitsundays. Snorkelling at Turtle Bay and Manta Ray Bay, past the luxurious Hayman Island Resort. I'm very sunburnt. Erica says we're right under the hole in the troposphere here.

Off to get my bus back to Brisbane, except that my ticket has the wrong time on it and the bus has gone without me. I have to say my good-byes all over again. It's a seventeen hour bus journey back to Brisbane and another overnight with Peter. Someone has left an aboriginal baby alone, on a seat at the back of the bus.

The Top End, Australia

Then, I find myself on a bus travelling across the top and down the side - Darwin (again and more fish feeding) to Perth - with a group of 23 old age pensioners, a Swiss couple and one 33 year old gay guy. Does nobody my age travel any more?  And we're camping!  What am I doing camping?  Putting up tents, with unwanted help and unwanted instruction  and getting covered in muddy grass.  Being woken much too early, with everyone packed up an hour before we are due to leave. There is red dust everywhere - yes everywhere - and salt water showers and taps that spit frogs at you when you turn them on. There are some pretty gruesome sights in the washblocks where my fellow travellers strip off with no hint of modesty.

South to Katherine Town (war cemetery and beautiful trees), Hot Springs (no time to try them) and the red escarpments and waterfalls of Gregory National Park.

The Kimberley

Into the Kimberley, the top most part of huge Western Australia. Despite the wilderness, steep-sided red mountain ranges (Kelly's Knob) and dramatic gorges this was one of the first areas in Australia to be settled. 

A cruise on Lake Argyle, a huge man made reservoir. More red mountains, and crocodile spotting. There are fish with crimson eyes brazenly swimming alongside them. A flight over the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu Park (incredible rock formations and tropical coastline and diamond mines), a walk in the Hidden Valley, the odd creek or two. Gum trees, galah cockatoos and a great deal of peeping scratchy  blue hued spinifex contrasting beautifully with the cinnamon desert, as we near the coast. Geike Gorge for yet another cruise with pied cormorants, dollar birds, stunning reflections and coolibah trees. (No prizes for guessing what I'm singing now.)


There isn't a moment that isn't organised.  It's like Butlin’s on wheels.  There are microphone introductions as we're going along (even when I'm sleeping) and quizzes and songs with actions. There is even a fancy dress competition.

A late night is 9 pm. I've decided that AAT stands for Ancient and Tragic. Fortunately, Paul is great fun and we wind all the pensioners up by flirting outrageously and sharing a cabin (a welcome respite from the tent) at Broome.

Broome (population 28,000) is the largest town for many miles. Cable Beach is spectacular and I'm tour photographer, as the team take camel rides at sunset. Paul has to leave at Broome though, so I soldier on solo. 

Karijini National Park

The plus side has been more fabulous beaches (Eighty Mile, which is actually 140 Mile), with turquoise seas. This is where the Great Sandy Desert approaches the Indian Ocean. Lovely at the coast, somewhat monotonous inland, trundling along the Great Northern Highway. And far too many mosquitoes. But then we reach more stunning gorge and waterfall scenery at Karijini National Park. The hues of the spinifex and gum trees contrasting with the red soil are glorious. Photos do not do it justice. You can just see my head in the waters of Fern Pool, near our camp site. My sunglass make a bid for freedom, whilst I take a free massage under the waterfall.

It's an interesting camp site. Hot water comes out of the cold taps and frogs spit out of the hot taps.

West Coast Australia

Kangaroos sprint in front of the coach as we skirt the Hawksley Ranges and then we tour an iron mine. That's riveting. Boom-boom! Emus alongside next and lizards called thorny devils.

Then marine delights. Ningaloo and Coral Bay. Sadly it seems that no-one is interested in facilitating snorkelling or a visit to the fringing reef, so I will have to come back to see the whale sharks. But the sand dunes here make great nests to sunbathe topless and escape the rest of the tour in the bay. And we get the Shotover catamaran cruise round the bay.

Shark Bay has a boardwalk leading to stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. They look like fossils, but these dome-shaped deposits are said to be the oldest life forms on earth -1,000 years). The area also has one of the largest seagrass beds in the world, home to 12% of the world's manatees (dugongs). There are turtles to watch too. As if that isn't enough, there are tool wielding bottle nosed dolphins. They protect their noses with sponges. Further on, I feed  a cheeky little dolphin, at Monkey Mia, supervised carefully by rangers.

Driving south, Shell Beach, in the Francois Peron National Park is covered with shells for a 60 kilometre stretch, to a depth of 7–10 metres. More iron mines (around Geraldton), banana plantations, gorgeous wildflowers, then more endless flat red desert, wonderful sunsets and beautiful weather.  The last stop is the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. Thousands of weathered limestone pillars. I've been very lucky.

Now I’m in Perth, savouring civilisation and the city.

Home tomorrow. A shower, abed.

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