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In land area, Australia is the sixth largest nation after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil. It has, however, a relatively small population.

Australia is the only nation to govern an entire continent and its outlying islands. The mainland is the largest island and the smallest, flattest continent on Earth. It lies between 10 and 39 South latitude.

The highest point on the mainland, Mount Kosciuszko, is only 2228 metres. Apart from Antarctica, Australia is the driest continent.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. Its interior has one of the lowest rainfalls in the world and about three-quarters of the land is arid or semi-arid. Its fertile areas are well-watered, however, and these are used very effectively to help feed the world. Sheep and cattle graze in dry country, but care must be taken with the soil. Some grazing land became desert when the long cycles that influence rainfall in Australia turned to drought.

The Australian federation consists of six States and two Territories. Most inland borders follow lines of longitude and latitude. The largest State, Western Australia, is about the same size as Western Europe.

History of Australia

More than 60 000 years before the arrival of European settlers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples inhabited most areas of the Australian European settlement in 1788. However, there were an estimated 300 000 Indigenous Australians living on the continent.

Until recently, Western historians focused on early European contact with the Australian continent during the 16th and 17th centuries.

In recent years this approach has been balanced by the recognition that Asian and Oceanic explorers and traders had contact with Indigenous Australian people long before the European expansion into the eastern hemisphere.

After the American War of Independence, Britain looked to establish new penal settlements to replace the north Atlantic colonies. The First Fleet of 11 ships with 1500 aboard, half of them convicts, arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788. Sydney grew from that first British penal settlement.

Transportation of British convicts to New South Wales ceased in 1840, but continued to Western Australia until 1868. About 160 000 convicts arrived over 80 years. That compares with free settler arrivals as high as 50 000 a year.

During the 1850s, settlement was boosted by gold rushes. Scarcity of labour, the vastness of the bush, and new wealth based on farming, mining and trade all contributed to the development of uniquely Australian social institutions and sensibilities.

In 1901 the Australian colonies federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia. As in Canada, the British monarch remains the monarch of Australia, which is now an independent, democratic nation with a tradition of religious tolerance and free speech.

Economy of Australia

Australia has had one of the most outstanding economies of the world in recent years. As a high-growth, low-inflation, low interest rate economy, it is more vibrant than ever before. There is an efficient government sector, a flexible labour market and a very competitive business sector.

With its abundant physical resources, Australia has enjoyed a high standard of living since the nineteenth century. It has made a comparatively large investment in social infrastructure, including education, training, health and transport.

The Australian workforce has seen many improvements over the last decade, leading to the surge in productivity in the 1990s. The complex and centralised award based industrial relations system has given way to a more decentralised one with many employees working under workplace agreements tailored to meet enterprise needs.

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