Australian Flag
 For some reason, journalists and airline employees confuse Australia with Austria which is alarming when they are supposed to know where each country is. It’s quite simple really, Austria is full of men in short pants who drink lager, gamble, and speak a language you can’t understand, whereas Australia is full of men in cotton shorts who drink  beer, gamble, and speak English only an Australian understands.

Australia is in the Southern hemisphere and Austria is in the Northern hemisphere. Australia is 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,300 sq mi) in area and Austria is 83,855 square kilometres (32,377 sq mi) in area, so that Australia is 91 times bigger than Austria. To give US readers a benchmark to compare, the US is 9,830,000 square kilometres (3,790,000 sq mi) in area. Austria is a nice place to visit though.

There are three time zones in Australia: Eastern Standard Time (AEST), Central Standard Time (ACST) and Western Standard Time (AWST). The Eastern Standard Time in Australia is 10 hours before GMT (London) so that Sydney Friday 11:20 AM is London Friday 2:20 AM and New York Thursday 9:20 PM. Take note of the time difference when making phone calls. In Sydney the season is winter (June, July August) and in New York and London it is summer. At the time of writing it is sleeting and snowing in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.

Note for witches. In Sydney in 2012 the Autumn equinox was Tuesday 20 March, the Winter solstice was Thursday 21 June, the Spring equinox is on Sunday 23 September, and the Summer solstice is on Friday 21 December. This is the opposite of the Northern hemisphere.

Australia has six states, Queensland (QLD), New South Wales (NSW), Victoria (VIC), Tasmania (TAS), South Australia (SA), West Australia (WA) and two territories, Northern Territory (NT), Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and administers a number of small islands in the surrounding oceans, plus a chunk of Antarctica.
New Zealand is not part of Australia but has close economic, cultural and sporting ties. New Zealand has its own version of spoken English.
The Australian national seat of government since federation in January 1901 is in Canberra ACT.  As of August 2012, the estimated population of Australia was 22.69 million, not counting illegal immigrants, with most of the population living along the coastal fringe. The bulk of inland Australia is arid or semi-arid and cannot support large towns. Agriculture areas along major river systems often rely on irrigation, but this can virtually stop the rivers flowing if there is an extended dry period. Australia is a land of floods and droughts, some farmers and communities cope, others perish.
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!”
From ‘My Country’ by Dorothy Mackellar, first published 1908
According to the major supermarket chains Australia produces more than 90% of the fresh fruit and vegetables sold. The supply of some items, like bananas, can be affected by cyclones destroying the crop. Beverages like tea, coffee and cocoa are grown and Australia could be self sufficient in these if the need arises. Salads are always in season because of the huge range in climate across the country during the year. Most if not all of the popular tropical and temperate fruits and berries are grown, with some growers producing superior product for export only. The climate in the southern states is particularly good for wine grapes and a great deal of quality wine is made and exported.

For some strange reason 70% of Australia’s fish is imported. It is still possible to buy fresh Australian fish like barramundi and prawns (shrimp) plus various species of farmed fish like salmon. Much of the quality high value fish and crustaceans like abalone are exported to take advantage of the higher prices. The fresh barramundi in the NT tastes the best.

Meat and poultry are produced in all states for local consumption and for export. Some Australian animals are available, kangaroo and emu are popular, with crocodile and other species available for the gourmet palate. Much of the prime beef and lamb is selected for export, with live cattle and sheep popular with Muslim countries.

Australia also exports grains, oil seeds, wool and cotton, but the biggest exports at the time of writing are iron ore, coal and gas. Some miners seem to be determined to export large chunks of WA and QLD to China and Japan as fast as possible.

There is a well serviced tourist industry with accommodation for backpackers and more discerning travellers depending on wealth or lack of it. The places on many people’s bucket list include: Uluru (Ayres Rock) in Kata Tjuta National Park, Kakadu national park both in NT; the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of QLD and Castle Hill in Townsville, QLD; the Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park, WA; Kangaroo Island and Coober Pedy the world’s opal capital, both in SA; Port Arthur, TAS; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Opera house and Harbour Bridge all in Sydney, NSW. If sun, surf and fun are more to your liking, then the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise will suit you, with beaches, clubs with live entertainment, pubs and a casino.

The train traveller will be delighted to find that two long distance train services exist. The Ghan operates between Adelaide, Alice Springs, and Darwin, with luxury and backpacker carriages. The Indian Pacific operates between Perth, Adelaide and Sydney, with luxury and backpacker carriages.

There are some safety precautions to take: Always swim between the flags on patrolled beaches to avoid being caught by dangerous ‘rips’; Beaches may be closed because of sharks, jelly fish or dangerous seas, closed means closed; Do not go rock fishing in severe weather, the foolish fishermen usually drown; Bush walking in bad weather is fun, but many walkers become lost or injure a limb and have to be rescued, stay on the tracks; A sacred Aboriginal site is protected, stay out unless escorted; Don’t start a bush fire, it can run faster than you.

The main spectator sports are footy in the winter and cricket and soccer in the summer. There are a few codes of footy with AFL and NRL being the most watched. My personal favourite is AFL, otherwise known as Australian Rules; it is a very fast game. Most sports are represented in capital cities although some sports seem to be in decline.

The performing arts are well represented with ballet, opera and orchestra recitals. The performing arts companies often tour the outback to the great delight of the communities visited.

The electricity supply is 240VAC and the 3 pin plug is unique. There are six national free to air TV channels (PAL system) and pay TV is available from FOXTEL, SelecTV, Telstra and AUSTAR. Digital TV and digital radio is being introduced nationally over the next few years.

The above summary hardly scratches the surface and a lot of information and pictures can be found at the websites listed. For an academic view of the states Google the states by name. I invite people to comment on what their favourite Australian destination is as long as it's not Christmas Island :-)

Guide to Australia 
Australia official tourism website
Territory Discoveries
Queensland Holidays
Destination NSW
Visit Canberra
Visit Victoria
South Australian Visitor Information Centre
Western Australia
Discover Tasmania
Australian slang
AFL football
NRL football
Cricket Australia
Christmas in July
Winter in Australia

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