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is thecapital city of Australia. With a population of 381,488, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 280 km (170 mi) south-west of Sydney, and 660 km (410 mi) north-east of Melbourne. A resident of Canberra is known as a "Canberran".
The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation's capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities. It is unusual among Australian cities, being an entirely planned city outside of any state, similar to Washington, D.C. in the United States or Brasília in Brazil.
Arts and cultural festivals
Each capital city has a festival. Major festivals are:
Sydney Festival (January)
Each year the Sydney Festival offers a rich and diverse program spanning all art forms and including dance, theatre, music, visual arts, film, forums and large-scale free outdoor events. For three weeks in January the festival hosts around 80 events involving upwards of 500 artists from Australia and abroad. In any given year, it makes use of most of the main theatres across the breadth of the city and also has a commitment to the presentation of quality, large-scale outdoor events such as the iconic Domain Series.
National Multicultural Festival, Canberra (February)
The National Multicultural Festival is held over four days and features the very best in local, national and international music, dance, food and creative arts. Festival favourites include the Food and Dance Spectacular, the Greek Glendi, Carnivale, the International Concert and the Pacific Islander Showcase. The Festival Fringe complements the mainstream festival, and provides a place for artists who break traditional barriers to bring their work to a wider audience.
Red lotus flower floating in the reflection pool in front of Winthrop Hall, by Korean pop artist Choi Jeong Hwa for Perth International Arts Festival, March 2012. Image by Kathryn Wells.
Perth International Arts Festival (February–March)
The Perth International Arts Festival is the oldest annual international multi-arts festival in the southern hemisphere and is Western Australia's premier cultural event. The first Perth Festival was in 1953 and it now offers the people of Western Australia some of the best international and contemporary drama, theatre, music, film, visual arts, street arts, literature, comedy and free community events. Some other events in the festival include the Contemporary Culture program and the Perth Visual Arts Festival.
As well as these, there are satellite festivals surrounding the main festival which itself offers more than 30 Australian premieres. The Western Australian Indigenous Arts Showcase (WAIAS) is part of the Perth International Arts Festival, and has involved over 90 Indigenous singers and songwriters, musicians, actors and comedians from all over Australia's largest state.
Adelaide Festival of Arts (March)
The Adelaide Festival of Arts has created a strong tradition of innovation since 1960, inspiring, challenging and entertaining artists and performers across theatre, dance, music, visual arts, literature and more. Held in the warm South Australian autumn every year, this vital and prestigious celebration of art from around the globe has defined South Australia as the nation’s premier festival state.
Ten Days on the Island, Tasmania (March)
Tasmania's flagship celebration of island arts and culture, Ten Days on the Island, boasts a multitude of events in 50 locations across the island. Events and activities range across all types of music, dance, visual arts, theatre, literature, food and film. Individual artists and companies come from all corners of the globe, and a number of local artists also take part.
Darwin Festival (August)
Yilila, winners of 2006 NT Indigenous Music Awards. Courtesy of Yilila.
The Darwin Festival is an expression of the city's uniqueness, celebrating its multicultural community, youthful energy, tropical climate and great lifestyle. The cultural program provides a feast of local, national and international performances to excite, inspire and entertain. It includes opera, cabaret, dance, music, film, comedy, the visual arts and workshops – incorporating music and dance from Indigenous, Indonesian and Pacific Island communities. There is also a strong visual arts component, with traditional land owners guiding visitors through the many galleries exhibiting Indigenous art.
Brisbane Festival (September)
Brisbane Festival. Courtesy of Brisbane Festival.
Brisbane Festival is a major international arts festival that explodes onto the scene every September with a thrilling program of music, theatre, dance, opera, circus and major public events such as Sunsuper Riverfire. It endeavours to include the entire community in its program of activities by having intellectual rigour, international artistic credibility and an extremely broad grass-roots support base. Consequently, Brisbane Festival is about a lot more than just putting on shows. It encourages engagement and participation from everyone in the greater community across the wonderful city of Brisbane, the country and the globe.
Melbourne International Arts Festival (October)
Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty- external site was held at Fed Square in October 2012 as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Image by Kathryn Wells.
Melbourne International Arts Festival has a reputation for presenting unique international and Australian events in the fields of dance, theatre, music, visual arts, multimedia, and free and outdoor events over 17 days each October. First staged in 1986 under the direction of composer Gian Carlo Menotti, it became the third in the Spoleto Festival series – joining Spoleto, Italy, and Charleston, United States. Melbourne's Spoleto Festival changed its name to the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts in 1990. In 2003, the festival was renamed Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Major independent national festivals include:
Chinese New Year (February)
Australian Chinese New Year celebrations, image by Dan Peled for AAP. Courtesy ABC.
Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The new year begins on the first day of the Chinese calendar, which usually falls in February, and the festivities continue for 15 days. During Chinese New Year celebrations, people wear red clothes, give children 'lucky money' in red envelopes, and set off firecrackers.
Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival, where people hang decorated lanterns in temples and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon. The highlight of the lantern festival is often the dragon dance. The dragon can be as long as 30 metres and is typically made of silk, paper and bamboo. In Sydney, more than 500,000 people crowd the streets to celebrate the Lunar New Year and all things Chinese.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (February–March)
From a protest rally to one of the world's largest gay and lesbian festivals, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has come a long way. In 1978, a group of 1000 people marched down Oxford Street to mark International Gay Solidarity Day. This one-off event resulted in violent clashes with police and a determination to do it all again the following year, and so Mardi Gras was born. The event has continued to evolve, adding an arts festival in 1983, and it has grown to attract an audience of hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world. The festival forms a huge celebration and reflection on gay and lesbian life.
Exploring the geology, resources and landscapes of Australia, the book reveals how these have helped to shape this nation's society, environment and wealth.
Australia's highly variable rainfall and an absence of plentiful natural lakes has necessitated the construction of large capacity reservoirs.
Australia has some of the most recognisable rock formations in the world including Uluru in Central Australia which was laid down in an inland sea about 500 million years ago.
Australia's ten highest mountains are all located within six kilometres of one another.
Australia has some impressive 'high country' but it is in fact the lowest continent in the world with an average elevation of just 330 metres.
The mighty Murray River is Australia's longest but the Darling River and its upper tributaries is fractionally longer.
Australia is surrounded literally by thousands of islands, amongst them the world's largest sand island.
Spectacular waterfalls plunge hundreds of metres from Australia's mountain ranges and escarpments.
Ten deserts make up nearly 20 per cent of Australia and contribute to it being the second driest continent in the world.
Australia's landscape is very distinctive and unique. But it took many millions of years and some amazing climatic and geological processes to produce what we see today.
Satellite imagery can reveal distinctive patterns of land cover and land use over a wide area.
Things to do
The Great Ocean Road in Victoria is one of Australia’s definitive wonders, a dazzling, heart-stopping, 150-mile drive along the hemline of the continent. The climax is the Twelve Apostles, where the raging Southern Ocean has gnawed the limestone cliffs to leave tall pillars of more resilient rock stranded out at sea.
2 Towards the end-of-year dry season, the birds and reptiles of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory are crammed into ever shrinking wetlands. The most spectacular is Yellow Waters Lagoon, which becomes an open-air zoo. Sign up for a cruise, and expect close encounters with white egrets, brolgas, jabirus, sea eagles, jacanas, pelicans, snake birds, goannas and crocodiles.
3 Take a BridgeClimb to the dizzying heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a 360-degree panorama of the world’s greatest harbour. Wearing a special Bridgesuit, harness and communication gear, climbers ascend the bridge’s arch for the ultimate city view, 440ft above sea level.
4 A luscious, soul-stealing journey, the 120-mile drive between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia knits together national parks, vineyards and a coastline of extraordinary beauty in a showcase of Australia’s diversity. At its best in spring, when the landscape erupts with wild flowers, but the Margaret River wineries dazzle all year round.
5 Operated by the local Aboriginal community, the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk offers an indigenous perspective on the rainforest wonders of the dramatically beautiful Mossman Gorge in Queensland’s tropical north, a source of food, medicine and spiritual sustenance for the local Kuku Yalanji people.
6 Experience sunset in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Evening brings a crowd to the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna for a sunset that draws a multi-coloured curtain across the desert sky. The Prairie is known for its wicked humour, a menu that relies on “the feral mixed grill” and a clientele that ranges from cowboys to filmmakers in search of outback vérité.
7 The Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast is one of Mother Nature’s most dazzling creations, a labyrinth of coral cays, islands, lagoons, channels and caverns furnished with an amazing variety of marine life. All you need do is put on a mask and snorkel, lie face down in the water and remember to breathe.
8 Nothing distinguishes a city like a tram, and Melbourne's No 96 does it beautifully. In its nine-mile journey from the north of the city, across its heart and south to beachside St Kilda, the ride stitches together some of the city’s icons, including the Melbourne Museum, Exhibition Buildings, Carlton Gardens, State Parliament, the Bourke Street Mall and Luna Park.
9 Sunset over the rust-red flanks of Uluru in Australia's Red Centre is a magic moment, and better still when viewed from a camel’s back. Your mount can even deliver you to a Sounds of Silence dinner where you'll enjoy a romantic meal in a sea of darkness beneath a canopy of stars.
10 Breakfast at Bondi – Australia’s most famous beach is where Sydney sheds its clothes and most of its inhibitions. Get there early to see the workout tribes in action, stay for breakfast at one of the beachfront cafés and top it off with a swim, or even a surf lesson.
New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, was the site of Captain James Cook’s original landing in Australia, and the place where the first European settlement was established in 1788.
Australia’s biggest city, Sydney has approximately 4.4 million people and is built around one of the world’s most spectacular natural harbours, which has moulded and shaped the city since settlement.
Sydney also boasts other major attractions including its distinctive Opera House, Harbour Bridge, the historic Rocks area, and excellent beaches and national parks.
As host city for the Olympic Games in September 2000, Sydney underwent a metamorphosis that put its cityscape on a level with its natural beauty.
The harbour divides the city into northern and southern halves, with Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Harbour Tunnel joining the two shores.
The best way to experience the spectacular harbour with its many bays and beaches is to jump aboard one of the numerous ferries that carry commuters across the water.
Sydney suburbs stretch more than 20 km north and south. The suburbs north of the bridge are collectively known as the North Shore. The upper North Shore, an area generally regarded as housing the city’s middle class, features the graceful, stately ‘garden’ suburbs of Wahroonga and St Ives. The northern beaches peninsula boasts the exclusive enclaves of Whale Beach and Palm Beach.
East of the city centre are the colourful and cosmopolitan inner city suburbs of Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Paddington. Go further east and you will find the exclusive ‘Eastern’ suburbs of Double Bay and Vaucluse.
To the south-east are the beach suburbs of Bronte, Coogee and Australia’s famous Bondi Beach.
The flourishing western suburbs, encompassing the once separate settlements of Parramatta and Penrith, now cover about 50 km and reach all the way to the foothills of the scenic Blue Mountains.
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, is the second largest city, with a population of approximately 3.89 million.
Its birth and major period of development paralleled Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) and the city in many ways is a product of its formative era, both architecturally and socially.
Traditionally, it is a conservative city of elaborate Victorian era buildings, parks and gardens, and tree-lined boulevards.
Since World War II its social fabric has been transformed by thousands of immigrants, and the city has been greatly enriched by the influences of people and cultures from around the world.
Melbourne these days is a vibrant multicultural city, passionate about arts, food, wine and sport — particularly Australian Rules football. The city hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and plans are afoot to bid for the Olympic Games.
Its suburbs spread around the shores of picturesque Port Phillip Bay, with the city centre situated on the north bank of the Yarra River, about 5 km inland from the bay.
Its buildings are a blend of the soaring new and stately old.
One of the few cities in the world to retain complete tramway systems, Melbourne’s trams have become a celebrated tourist attraction in Australia and a popular means of transport to and from work for locals.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is the gateway to Australia’s favourite holiday playgrounds of the Gold and Sunshine coasts, two great getaway destinations, especially during the colder winter months in the south.
The city has often been viewed as something of an overgrown country town. That certainly isn’t the case today, if it ever was.
In the 1980s it hosted a string of major international events including the 1982 Commonwealth Games and Expo ’88, turning it into a lively cosmopolitan city.
Like other areas of Australia, Brisbane began as the subtropical holding pen for the more recalcitrant convicts from the colony of New South Wales.
Today, it has a population of approximately 1.94 million people, with an increasing influx of international and local students enjoying excellent educational facilities, warm weather loving tourists and retirees, and property investors exploring land value potential.
Although close to the surf of the Gold Coast, it is very much a river city, with the temperature rarely dropping below 20 degrees during the day.
On the downside, Brisbane generally gets over 400mm of rain from January to March.
Adelaide, the famed city of churches, has splendid natural rural settings. The city centre is surrounded by parkland and the metropolitan area is bounded by the hills of the Mt Lofty Ranges which crowd it against the sea.
The capital of South Australia, Adelaide is laid out on a grid and has several distinct civic squares.
Thirty minutes away, and part of the magnificent Mt Lofty Ranges, are the Adelaide Hills. In addition to the beauty of the hills themselves with their huge gum trees and their picturesque landscapes, there are more than 1000 km of bushwalking trails and many fascinating townships to explore.
With a proud agricultural heritage built on the production of wheat and wool, Adelaide is also known for producing some of the finest wines in Australia, from delicate Rieslings to the robust Shiraz.
The state of South Australia is sparsely settled with 73% of its population in the capital — which has a population of almost 1.2 million — and a handful of major rural centres.
Western Australia claims to be the sunniest state in Australia. Its capital, Perth, is thought to be the most isolated capital city in the world.
Western Australia takes up one third of the Australian land mass. About 74% of its almost 2.3 million people live in and around Perth.
A vibrant and modern city, Perth is situated on the Swan River with the port, Fremantle, just 20 km down-stream.
The city was founded in 1829 as the Swan River Settlement and grew slowly until 1850, when convicts were brought to alleviate a labour shortage. Some of the city’s finest buildings, such as government House and Perth Town hall, were built with convict labour.
More recently, the state’s mineral wealth has contributed to the city’s wealth and the resultant construction boom has spread into other suburbs.
The city centre is compact and situated on the sweep of the Swan River, which borders the city centre to the south and east and links Perth to its port, Fremantle.
The island state of Tasmania has a population of 507,600 making it the least populated state in Australia.
Its capital, Hobart, with a population of 214,700 is Australia’s second oldest city and its southern most capital. It straddles the mouth of the Derwent River and is backed by the towering Mt Wellington.
Hobart combines the benefits of a modern city with a rich colonial heritage. The beautiful Georgian buildings, the busy harbour and the easy going atmosphere make the city one of the most enjoyable and engaging in Australia.
This is in striking contrast with its past, when it was a location for penal settlements for convicts who re-offended on the Australian mainland.
Australia also has two territories — the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which is the home of the Federal Seat of Government, and the Northern Territory.
The ACT has a population of 358,600, of which the vast majority live in and around the capital, Canberra.
Some of the best modern architecture and exhibitions in Australia are here and the city is particularly interesting as, unlike so much of Australia, it is totally planned. As a place of government, and with few local industries, it has a unique atmosphere only found in dedicated national capitals.
The Northern Territory is the most barren and least populated area of Australia, with only 1% of the Australian population living in an area that covers nearly 18% of the country’s landmass.
It is in the centre — the Red Heart — untamed and sometimes surreal, from which the picture book Australia, emerges. The centre is not just Uluru, commonly known as Ayers Rock, but a unique mysterious landscape composed of ancient meteorite craters, spiritually charged canyons and waterholes, and lost valleys of palms teeming with native species. By contrast are the noisy festivals and rugged outback culture of Alice Springs.
At the other end of the track — the Stuart Highway, 1500km of roadway that connects Alice Springs to the north coast — is Darwin with a population of just 107,270 people.
There are several hundred Indigenous peoples of Australia; many are groupings that existed before the British colonisation of Australia in 1788. Within each country, people lived in clan groups: extended families defined by various forms of Australian Aboriginal kinship. Inter-clan contact was common, as was inter-country contact, but there were strict protocols around this contact.
The largest language group people today are the Anangu Pitjantjatjara who live in the area around Uluru (Ayers Rock) and south into theAnangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia. The second largest Aboriginal community are the Arrernte people who live in and around Mparntwe (Alice Springs). The third largest are the AnanguLuritja, who live in the lands between the two largest just mentioned. The Aboriginal languages and dialects with the largest number of speakers today are the Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri and Arrernte.