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:

Petra and the Sydney Book Club

Sydney is across the international date line and nine hours ahead of BST, so I don’t know if I’m coming or going timewise after flying in from San Francisco. I’m staying with Petra, who I met on a boat in the Antarctic at Christmas. Her book group, of eight very welcoming ladies, is meeting in a very fine wood panelled café. It's part way along a headland in a park on the huge Sydney Harbour. It’s all exceptionally civilised. Not least, because the largest natural harbour in the world (almost, it's lost its title to Poole because of land reclamation) ) is looking its best, basking in the winter sunshine.

Sydney Harbour

After tea (in fancy pots) and chat, Petra and I leave the women to talk about their books. (They're Australian authors and I've never heard of them). We follow the dirt trail round the edge of the shore to the zoo. The water is clear blue and sparkling, criss-crossed with the foaming wakes of boats.

The ferries are full to the gunwales (the whole of Sydney is out to enjoy the best day for months) and the sailing dinghies pose gracefully in front of the Coat-Hanger Bridge and the Opera House. I’ve viewed these two iconic structures from every possible angle today: the shore, the road over the bridge itself (when Petra picked me up at the airport), the ferry from the zoo to the city, (scrapers and the Sydney Tower thrown in here too), a pub rooftop in the Rocks and finally from the ferry across to Manly, where there is hardly any room left to sit down on the famous beach. Darling Harbour with all its ferry terminals is packed. But, it’s an exceptionally pleasant way to spend a Sunday, revisiting old haunts.

Next stop Norfolk Island

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.

Arrival in Sydney, Australia

I was on a Round the World trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was my first really big trip and I was very naive. Flying in from Hong Kong I arrived first in Sydney. I had booked a cheap hotel in Kings Cross and found out why it was such a good deal when I got there. I knew nothing about Kings Cross (it’s the red light district area) and when I arrived a guy was standing in the doorway wearing a leather mini and a blonde wig. So, I got take-away and stuck a chair under the door handle.

I was crippled with jet lag and when I found myself down by the iconic Opera House and Botanic Gardens the next day it was dusk and I was very muzzy headed. I walked back across Victoria Park and only later discovered this was a big no-no for single females.

Sydney, Largest City in Australia, for the Moment

Sydney needs little introduction. It's one of the most visited cities in the world famous for its Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (the Coathanger). Kingsford Smith Airport is one of the world's oldest continually operating airports. Sydney is also famous for hosting major international sporting events such as the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Sydney is the capital city of the state of New South Wales, and the most populous city in both Australia and Oceania.(though it vies with rival Melbourne for that title which has switched between the two cities.) The metropolis, (all 658 suburbs) ,includes Sydney Harbour and extends over 40 miles, towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is known as 'The Emerald City' (Sydney is where people go expecting their dreams to be fulfilled only to end up with superficial substitutes and broken dreams) or the 'Harbour City'.(A little more obvious).

Up the Sydney Tower for views of what was purported to be the largest natural harbour in the world.( It may have lost its title recently due to some land reclamation) and a boat tour of the harbour stopping off at Bondi Beach, probably the most famous of many. The boats leave from Darling Harbour and just off to one side the heart of old Sydney and The Victorian Quarter - The Rocks. Other must sees are the aquarium and the mono rail that runs that way.

Sydney was founded as a British penal colony in 1788, the first European settlement in Australia. After World War II, Sydney experienced mass migration and by 2021 over 40 per cent of the population was born overseas.


Next stop, Adelaide to stay with friend Jenny. Her spare room had a water bed. Weird. She had only just commenced her one year teaching exchange job in Australia , so I pottered round the city while she was working. Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, name dafter Queen Adelaide. this was the only freely settled colony in Australia. This is a properly planned city - designed by the first Surveyor-General of South Australia, Colonel William Light. "Light's Vision" (also the name of a statue of him on Montefiore Hill), arranged Adelaide in a grid, with five squares in the Adelaide city centre and a ring of parks, known as the Adelaide Parklands, surrounding it. This is where I find the museums, art gallery, botanical gardens and the Mini Opera House. It was chic and easy, bo-ho shops. A place you could live I thought.

With Jenny to Cleland Wildlife Park to see the koalas, so soft... though I was rewarded by a pellet down my dress as part of my cuddle. We drive round the Barossa Valley, sample the wines and sail up the Murray River in a paddle steamer. I buy a koala toy with hat bobbing corks. It sings Waltzing Matilda. How could you not?.

Kangaroo Island

I also took a bus trip south to overnight on Kangaroo Island. There are plenty of nature reserves, a lot of seals and a few kangaroos. Penneshaw, right next to the ferry terminal is home to a colony of little penguins – also known as fairy or blue penguins. It's cold and dark and I can't easily work out how to get around the island. I can just make the little penguins out - I'm sure they are shivering in the bushes. One of the must sees is the Cape du Couedic Lighthouse above the boardwalk that leads to the Remarkable Rocks.

The Red Centre of Australia

Then, to Alice Springs for a bus trip to Ayers Rock. Alice Springs, with a population of around 25,000, is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. It's just about in the centre of Australia, equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin. It's on a dry river bed surrounded by several deserts, so the region is dubbed The Red Centre. The town was called Stuart until 1933, when it was renamed after the wife of the telegraph pioneer Sir Charles Todd. It's usually known affectionately as Alice of course and a draw to me because of the Neville Shute's novel A Town like Alice. Though I remember the parts of the story set in war time Malaysia much more clearly.

There's little of note except for the gorges, the school, where it's all done by radio and the flying doctors.

Ayers Rock (Uluru)

The drive to Ayers Rock takes all day (it's 450 kilometres) and we stop for English scones, jam and cream once on each leg - the scones were enormous. Strange the things you remember.

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a massive sandstone monolith thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It’s part of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The Kata Tjuta are 36 red-rock domes known as “The Olgas”. Ayers Rock was stunning in its rich glowing redness, with never to be forgotten views of the rock and the neighbouring bulbous Olgas from a helicopter. My first flight in one.

In those days there was a steady procession of climbers scrambling up the almost vertical face of the rock. It was surprisingly windy at the top, threatening to topple those who had made the ascent. Nowadays, climbing is not allowed at all, in deference to the native peoples who venerate the site.

Darwin and The Top End of Australia

Next stop Darwin and Kakadu. Darwin is the capital of Northern Territory, centre of the so called Top End of Australia and home to most of the residents of the territory. It is thoroughly tropical, a link with Asia and the smallest, wettest, and most northerly of the Australian capital cities. The sailors of The Beagle named the area Port Darwin, after their former shipmate, when they called there. The city has been almost entirely rebuilt four times, after cyclones in 1897, 1937 and 1974 and Japanese air raids during World War II,

My best memory of Darwin - unexpectedly small - was making an impromptu visit to the feeding of the fishes in the harbour. Crowds gather at high tide to lob handfuls of bread into the sea, which is almost instantly churning with huge fish who fight for the scraps. The most common attendees: milkfish, mullet, catfish, bream, batfish and barramundi.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu is a park and World Heritage site 100 miles south of Darwin. It's probably most famous as the setting for the film Crocodile Dundee. But it is wonderfully memorable. Beautiful lakes, (I dived in, forgetting I still had my sunglasses on and my Oakleys sank to the bottom). The Aboriginal rock art was incredible. Best of all, this definitely was atmospheric, a trip up the remarkable Yellow Water Billabong, in a flat bottomed boat to see the crocodiles, buffalo and jabirus.

Cairns and The Barrier Reef

Cairns for an extraordinarily memorable day out on the Great Barrier Reef in a catamaran. My first proper snorkelling experience. I was so excited I forgot to come in for lunch. And it was seafood. Cairns is very much a seaside Come and Kiss Me Quick type of place. But I managed to acquire a taste for Fosters while I was there. I’ve never been one for bitter beer.

Port Daintree and Kuranda

Side trips up to Port Daintree. Where the rainforest meets the ocean and there are huge salties in the river. And the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns ascending the Great Dividing Range to Kuranda at the top, in the Atherton Tablelands. 15 tunnels and over 37 bridges.

New Zealand next.

Newsletter Subscription

Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.

I keep your data private and only share your data with third parties that make this service possible. Privacy Policy. No spam I promise. Unsubscribe any time.