Australia, which is classified as a country, island and continent, is situated in the southern hemisphere with the Indian Ocean to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the northeast, the Southern Ocean to the southwest and the Tasman Sea to the southeast. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor are located north of Australia, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu to the east, and New Zealand to the southeast. Comprising the mainland of the Australian continent and various islands, including Tasmania and several islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Australia â€“ the world’s largest island – covers an area of almost three million square miles (over 7.6 million sq. km), to make it the world’s sixth-largest country by total area. With a population of just under 23 million, it is the world’s 52nd most populated country. Australia is a land of contrasts and rich in natural resources, with expansive deserts, snow-capped mountainous areas (Australian Alps and Tasmania) , tropical rain forests and sumptuous grasslands all featuring in what is the world’s smallest continent, lowest continent and driest inhabited continent. (Ten deserts account for 20% of Australia’s total area.) The Great Barrier Reef, comprising 900 islands extending over more than 133,000 square miles (2,600 sq. km), is the world’s largest coral reef, and is situated in the Coral Sea close to the country’s northeastern coast of Queensland. Inhabitation of Australia is believed to have started over 40,000 years ago. During the early 17th century, it was discovered by Dutch explorers and later explored by Englishman William Dampier toward the end of the century. The British explorer, navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook made three visits to the Pacific Ocean and made first European contact with the country, the east coast subsequently being claimed for Great Britain in 1770. English is the country’s most widespread language (almost 80% of homes), with British English spelling used for the most part. Around 70 indigenous languages have survived since the first European contact in the 17th century, when there were more than 200, with more than 10% of the country’s 400,000 or so indigenous Australians (who represent 2.2% of the total population) of speaking an indigenous language at home these days. In recent years, Australia, which is the world’s 13th largest economy by GDP, has seen exceptional expansion in its mining sector (including petroleum), whose contribution to GDP between 1993-94 and 2006-07 grew from 4.5% to nearly 8% of GDP. Typical Australian exports include coal, iron ore, lead, mineral sands, gold, diamonds, meat, wool, live sheep, machinery and transport equipment, and grains such as wheat, as well as natural commodities including Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG.) Australia Day, celebrated on January 17th annually, commemorates when the First Fleet (a fleet of 11 ships from England) arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788 and British sovereignty was claimed over the eastern seaboard of New Holland. It was first celebrated back in 1808, although not known as ‘Australia day’ until around the end of the 19th century. These days, it is a national public holiday across all states and territories and is celebrated with many events including festivals, concerts, barbecues and sports competitions. It is also the day on which the Honors List for the Order of Australia is announced. Since the first settlers brought with them their 18th century British food with them (which was totally unsuitable for the Australian climate), the country’s cuisine has changed considerably. The gold Rush of 1851 triggered the arrival of speculators from across the world, with for example the Chinese setting up food stores and restaurants. More new tastes were introduced with the arrival of immigrants from Mediterranean and Asia. Today, Australian menus reflect the country’s multicultural society. The culture of Australia is essentially Western, influenced by British colonization (hence the popularity of sports such as rugby and cricket) and with indigenous elements derived from the styles and inventions of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, such as the didgeridoo, boomerang (a V-shaped flying weapon used by tribes for hunting, but these days also used for entertainment) and indigenous music. Australians also engage in their own sports such as Australian Rules football and surfing has a culture all of its own. Over the years, art and popular culture have maintained a fascination with the ‘Outback’, used to refer to remote areas away from urban centers, as reflected in movies such as “Crocodile Dundee”, with both the outback and the ‘Bush’ (heavily wooded areas outside of urban areas) romanticized in literature and art for the last 200 years. Australia is home to several cultural institutions of international renown such as the Sydney Opera House and also has a vibrant surf culture. Australians have contributed much to the world of music: from the indigenous tribes and their traditional music through to opera stars such as Joan Sutherland, pop stars such as Kylie Minogue and rock bands such as AC/DC and INXS. Famous Australian people include the actors Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Paul Hogan, the comedian Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage), the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and supermodel Elle MacPherson.