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The Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the southern hemisphere comprising the mainland of the world's smallest continent, the major island of Tasmania, and a number of other islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.N4 The neighboring countries are Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia to the north-east, and New Zealand to the south-east.
The Australian mainland has been inhabited for more than 42,000 years by Indigenous Australians. After sporadic visits by fishermen from the north and then European discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, the eastern half of Australia was later claimed by the British in 1770 and initially settled through penal transportation as part of the colony of New South Wales, commencing on 26 January 1788. As the population grew and new areas were explored, another five largely self-governing Crown Colonies were established during the 19th century.
On 1 January 1901, the six colonies became a federation, and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. Since federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system and remains a Commonwealth realm. The capital city is Canberra, located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The population is just over 21 million, with approximately 60% of the population concentrated in and around the mainland state capitals of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.
Australia's 7,617,930 square kilometers (2,941,299 sq. mi) landmass is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the IndianN4 and Pacific oceans, Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas. Australia has 34,218 kilometers (21,262 mi) of coastline (excluding all offshore islands) and claims an extensive exclusive economic zone of 8,148,250 square kilometers (3,146,057 sq. mi). This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometers (1,250 mi). Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world's largest monolith, is located in Western Australia. At 2,228 meters (7,310 ft), Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland, although Mawson Peak on the remote Australian territory of Heard Island is taller at 2,745 meters (9,006 ft).
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid lands commonly known as the outback. Australia is the flattest continent, with the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest inhabited continent. Only the south-east and south-west corners of the continent have a temperate climate. Most of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of Rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps, and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.
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