Australia – the land down under

1. Facts about the smallest continent

1.1 General Facts

The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth largest (nearly 7.7 million km²) nation of the world after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil, but it is the only nation to govern an entire continent with its outlying islands. Australia has an estimated population of 22,669,623 (2011), which is rather small in comparison to its size. However, it is one of the most important economies in the world.

Australia’s political system is a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The monarch is Queen Elisabeth II; head of state is Julian Gillard. The Australian federation consists of six States (Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) and two Territories (Australia Capital Territory and Northern Territory). Most inland borders follow lines of longitude and latitude. Australia lies between 10° and 39° South latitude. The highest point is Mount Kosciusko in New South Wales, only 2228 metres. The lowest point is 15 metres below sea level at Lake Eyre in South Australia.

The largest State, Western Australia, is about the same size as Western Europe. Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised countries, with about 70 % of the population living in the 10 largest cities. Most of the population is concentrated along the Eastern seaboard and the South-Eastern corner of the continent. The capital of Australia is Canberra; the most known cities are Sydney, the largest city, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.

The longest rivers are the Darling River and the Murray River. Since Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, water is very important. Its interior has one of the lowest precipitations (rainfalls) in the world. Australia offers extreme variations in climate, from tropical to temperate. From November until March, the European winter, it is generally hot everywhere. The North is tropical with high temperatures in summer and Wet Season, including heavy rain and cyclones, from January on. From April till September there is occasional rain in the South which can be particularly heavy. From June until August and early September it is winter season. In the South-East there is even snow in the mountains. However, most Australians have never seen snow in their lives.

1.2 History

Australia’s national day, Australia Day, on 26 January, marks the date in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip (British Royal Navy) commanding a fleet of 11 ships, sailed into Port Jackson. Phillip formally took possession of the Eastern part of the continent for England and established a settlement, known as Sydney today. Before the arrival of European settlers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples inhabited most areas of the Australian continent. Each peoples spoke one or more of hundreds of separate languages, with lifestyles and cultural traditions that differed according to the region in which they lived in. Their complex social systems and highly developed traditions reflect a deep connection with the land and environment.

The first recorded European contact with Australia was in March 1606, when Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon (c.1570 - 1630) charted the West coast of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Later that year, the Spanish explorer Luís Vaz de Torres (c. 1565; 1607) sailed through the strait separating Australia and Papua New Guinea, which is now known as the Torres Strait. Over the next two centuries, European explorers and traders continued to chart the coastline of “New Holland”.

In 1688, William Dampier (c. 1651 – 1715), buccaneer and scientific observer, became the first British explorer to land on the Australian coast. It was not until 1770 that another Englishman, Captain James Cook (c. 1728 – 1779), aboard the Endeavour, took a scientific journey to the South Pacific in order to check the East coast of Australia and claim it for the British Crown.

Soon, Britain decided to use its new outpost as a penal colony; the First Fleet of 11 ships carried about 1500 people — half of them were convicts. The fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26 January, 1788. This date is celebrated annually as Australia Day. About 160 000 men and women were brought to Australia as convicts from 1788 until the end of transportation in 1868. They were joined by free immigrants from the early 1790s on. The wool industry and the gold rushes of the 1850s were a huge incentive for free settlers to migrate to Australia.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 through the federation of six states under a single constitution. The non-Indigenous population at the time of Federation was 3.8 million. The founders of the New Nation believed they were creating something new and were concerned to avoid the pitfalls of the Old World. They wanted Australia to be harmonious, united and egalitarian, and had progressive ideas about human rights, democratic procedures and the value of a secret ballot.

The First World War had a devastating impact on Australia. In 1914 the male population of Australia was less than 3 million, yet almost 400 000 of them volunteered to fight in the war. As many as 60 000 died and tens of thousands more were wounded. During the Second World War Australian forces made a significant contribution to the allied victory in Europe and in Asia and the Pacific. Today, Australia is one of the most cosmopolitan, tolerant and dynamic societies in the world. English is the main language but more than 200 languages are spoken in Australia. Australian English differs in many ways from BE and it can be rather difficult for tourists to understand the Australian accents.

1.3 Aborigines

The Aborigines are the largest group of the so-called Indigenous Australians, including the Torres Strait Islanders. The Aboriginal society is not a single entity but has different modes of subsistence, cultural practices, languages, and technologies. They are the original inhabitants of Australia, having lived there for around 40,000 years. There are a large number of different tribes among Aborigines and numerous languages are spoken. However, their spiritual values are based on the reverence for their land.

When the British Colonisation began in Sydney in 1788, many Aborigines died within a few weeks because of epidemic diseases brought in by the British. The second consequence of the British settlement was the appropriation of land and water resources. The combination of disease, loss of land and direct violence reduced the Aboriginal population by an estimated 90% between 1788 and 1900. Today, the Indigenous population is slightly increasing annually.

They have to face a lot of problems, partially implicated in the racial inequality: low income, poor education, and substance abuse (smoking, alcohol, illicit drugs). Furthermore, remote communities suffer from poor access to health services, including immunisation. Urbanised Aborigines are exposed to violence and discrimination, and face social pressures which prevent access to health services. Indigenous students as a group leave school earlier, and have a lower standard of education, compared to their non-indigenous peers, although the situation is slowly improving. As a result, an Aboriginal Australian is almost three times more likely to be unemployed than a non-Aboriginal Australian.

1.4 Economy

The Australian Dollar is also the official currency of the Christmas Islands, Cocos Keeling Islands, and Norfolk Island as well as some Pacific Island States. Australia has had one of the most outstanding economies of the world in recent years. It has a high-growth and low-inflation economy with a low rate of poverty. There is an efficient government sector, a flexible labour market, and a very competitive business sector. It is more vibrant than ever before. Australia has enjoyed a high standard of living since the nineteenth century. It has made large investments in social infrastructure, including education, training, health and transportation. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters for coal, wool, sheep and mineral sands, and is also important in exports like lamb, beef, cereals and nickel. Japan remains Australia's largest single export market.

1.5 Immigration

Australia's culturally diverse society includes its Indigenous peoples and settlers from countries all around the world. Australia’s lifestyle reflects mainly Western origins, but is also a multicultural society which has been enriched by over six million settlers from almost 200 nations. Four out of ten Australians are migrants or the first-generation children of migrants, half of them from non-English speaking backgrounds.

1.6. School System

Australia is one country and one nation, but the education systems vary greatly across different states and territories. In the Australian Capital Territorychildren go to Primary School if aged 5 or turning 5 on or before 30th April of that year. Primary School includes Years 1 to 6. Secondary School begins in Year 7 and ends after Year 12. Secondary students who continue through the post-compulsory years will receive a Year 12 Certificate which lists all subjects and results achieved. For those eligible there will also be a Tertiary Entrance Statement.

The system of the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland differs. Children must be four years old by the last day of December in the year before they enter Primary School. A child can be placed on waiting lists at a Preschool during the year the child turns three. Preschool aims to ease the transition into Primary School using active learning techniques. They will continue from Year 8 to Year 12 at Secondary School. School is generally compulsory only until Year 10; some pupils find employment others continue until year 12.

In South Australia Pre-school starts from the ages of 3 or 4 depending on the date of birth and the level of development. During the two senior post-compulsory years (year 11 and 12) students will be encouraged to strive for the South Australian Certificate of Education. In Tasmania one can send a child to Kindergarten if that child turns 4 on or before January 1st in the year they start. A child that turns 5 on or before the 1st January must start school that year. Here, children start in the Preparatory Year. Primary School is from Year 1 to Year 6. High School takes place from Years 7 to 12. Students who want to continue education will take subjects that contribute to the Tasmanian Certificate of Education.

Home Schooling is available to all children across all States and Territories of Australia. Home Schooling offers parents and guardians an alternative to state or private schooling. Parents take on the primary responsibility for their child's education. This should not be mistaken with distance education, in which children are educated by an educational institution.

1.7 Famous sights

Ayers Rock
One of the most famous sights of Australia is “Uluru”, the Ayers Rock. It is a large sandstone rock formation in the Northern Territory. To the local Indigenous Australians it has a great spiritual significance. For other Australians and tourists it is a popular attraction.

Aborigines request that visitors do not climb the rock. This is partly due to the path crossing a sacred traditional track, and also to a sense of responsibility for the safety of the visitors. The Aborigines believe they have a spiritual connection to Uluru, and feel great sadness when a person dies or is injured whilst climbing.

Sydney Opera House

The Danish architect Jorn Utzon designed the building. Lying of the first stone was in 1959; years before all designs were finished. By 1962 the designs were completed and construction began. It took 14 years in total to build and was officially opened on the 20th of October, 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. The Sydney Opera House is a fascinating building and it is the heart of the city's cultural life. It opened with a concert hall, an opera theatre, a drama theatre and a recital hall, as well as restaurants and bars. A fifth theatre was added in 1998.

To mention all of the many famous sights would go beyond the scope of this introduction.

(Words: 1958)

2. Vocabulary 






gemäßigt (Temperatur)


Zyklon, Wirbelsturm

to chart




penal colony






to avoid




secret ballot

geheime Wahl







epidemic disease











Exposition, etwas ausgesetzt sein


besonders, herausragend


gesetzlich, vorgeschrieben



to ease



Übergang, Wechsel

to contribute to sth.

zu etwas beitragen

to strive

anstreben, sich bemühen

to request

anfragen, bitten

due to &

aufgrund, infolge, wegen

3. Questions on the text

1) In the first passage you get a lot of facts about the land down under. Sum up these facts in your own words and try to find some more general information about the State by means of the internet.
2) Would you like to live in Australia? Discuss the pros and cons.
3) Try to find out more information about the living conditions of the Aborigines nowadays. Then write about it and describe your own attitude towards these people.
4) Try to compare the Australian School System with the German School System. Is there any state or territory that has a similar School System to the German one?
5) Would you like to be taught by your parents?
6) Find out more about Australian sights and describe them.
7) “Emus and kangaroos cannot walk backwards, and are on the Australian coat of arms for that reason.” Comment on this phrase! What does it tell you about the Australian mentality?

4. How to write a comment

Useful words and phrases

My reaction to what I just read is (that) . . .

Meine Reaktion auf das, was ich gelesen habe,

In my opinion

Meiner Meinung nach …

I think (that)

Ich denke, dass

The way I see it

Nach meiner Einschätzung…

It seems that

Es scheint, dass

Because of

Wegen / Aufgrund

In addition,

Außerdem / Ferner

For example, for instance&

Zum Beispiel/ beispielsweise


Überdies / Darüber hinaus


Allerdings / Aber / Hingegen


Schließlich / Zum Abschluss

In conclusion,

Als Folgerung / Als Endergebnis

To come to a conclusion, to sum up

Zusammenfassend, Als Folgerung …

Here are some tips how to write a comment:

  • Prewriting
    • Read the phrase or article you want comment on and make notes.
    • How do you feel about what was said?
    • Do you agree or disagree?
    • Have you had any own experiences?
    • Have you read or heard anything that applies to what is said?
  • Organizing
    • Write the thesis statement first (agree/disagree).
    • Develop your ideas by giving examples, quotations, and details.
    • Do not repeat ideas and sentences!
    • Make sure your writing supports your thesis!
    • Write your introduction and summary.
    • Reread the entire text paying attention to language, spelling and logic of your text.

5. Describing photos

Somewhere in Australia! Write a story around a typical Australian photo of your choice.

You can describe the mood, the colours, and the people and so on.

Useful words: to travel – holiday – friends – camp – excited – happy – frightened – mood – scenery – landscape – beach – mountains – differences – culture – food – adventures – trip – sightseeing

Useful phrases:

On the right/left hand side

Auf der rechten/linken Seite

In the front

vorne (in Bild)

In the back

hinten (im Bild), im Hintergrund

The first impression

der erste Eindruck

After looking at the photo

Nach der Betrachtung des Bildes

The people in this picture

Die Menschen auf diesem Bild

6. Getting Information

Sometimes it can be difficult to sum up the information of a text. Try to stay calm when you have to write a summery. First have a look at the headlines and – if possible – at the photos, so that you get a first impression of what the text may be about! Then read the entire text carefully. It is better to read it twice. Do not look up every new word in the dictionary – try to understand the sense of the text as a whole. It is advisable to underline the most important facts, and then sum them up in your own words.

If you have to write your own texts you often will have the feeling that you MUST use a German-English dictionary because you do not know how to express certain things in English. Try to write without the use of a dictionary, if possible. Do not translate directly from German into English. Try to find different words or describe a term if you do not know the English word. For example: if you do not remember the word for “cook” you can write “he/she works in a kitchen”.


There are always a lot of possibilities to translate a certain word. You have to find the best one according to the context. Pay attention to the prepositions because they are often different in English!

7. Translation

About Australia ->

Australia is twice as large as Western Europe but with only twenty-two million people.

The ten biggest cities are all along the coast.

\"Aboriginals\" were the first people in Australia.

They have been there for about 40,000 years.

They were driven from their land by the European settlers who came in 1788.

Today a lot of Aboriginals live in towns and cities.

But some can still be found in the Northern and central parts of the Outback where they can keep to the old Aboriginals traditions.

The first settlers were convicts. The British government took them to Australia because the British prisons were overcrowded. In 1829 the first free settlers arrived.

When in 1850 gold was found more and more people came from many different countries.

The climate is very dry; most of Australia is wilderness, bush and desert.

The aeroplane and the helicopter play a big role for the people living in the bush. They are used by farmers and especially by the Flying Doctor Service.

8. Lösungshinweise

About Australia
Über Australien

Australia is twice as large as Western Europe but with only twenty-two million people.
Australien ist zweimal so groß wie Westeuropa, aber es leben nur 22 Mio. Menschen dort.

The ten biggest cities are all along the coast.
Die zehn größten Städte liegen alle an der Küste.

\"Aboriginals\" were the first people in Australia.
Die „Aboriginals“/Ureinwohner waren die ersten Bewohner Australiens.

They have been there for about 40,000 years.
Sie haben dort seit mehr als 40.000 Jahren gelebt.

They were driven from their land by the European settlers who came in 1788.
Sie wurden von ihrem Land von den europäischen Siedlern vertrieben, die im Jahre 1788 ankamen.

Today a lot of Aboriginals live in towns and cities.
Heute leben viele „Aboriginals“/Ureinwohner in Groß- und Kleinstädten.

But some can still be found in the Northern and central parts of the Outback where they can keep to the old Aboriginals traditions.
Aber einige kann man noch immer in den nördlichen und zentralen Teilen des “Outbacks” finden, wo sie ihre Traditionen aufrecht halten können.

The first settlers were convicts. The British government took them to Australia because the British prisons were overcrowded. In 1829 the first free settlers arrived.
Die ersten Siedler waren Straftäter. Die britische Regierung brachte sie nach Australien, weil die britischen Gefängnisse überfüllt waren. Im Jahre 1829 kamen die ersten freien Siedler an.

When in 1850 gold was found more and more people came to Australia from many different countries.
Als im Jahre 1850 Gold gefunden wurde, kamen mehr und mehr Leute aus vielen verschiedenen Ländern nach Australien.

The climate is very dry; most of Australia is wilderness, bush and desert.
Das Klima ist sehr trocken, daher ist der größte Teil Australiens Wildnis, Busch und Wüste.

The aeroplane and the helicopter play a big role for the people living in the bush. They are used by farmers and especially by the Flying Doctor Service.

Flugzeug und Hubschrauber spielen eine große Rolle für die Menschen, die im Buschland leben. Sie werden hauptsächlich von Farmern und vor allem von dem fliegenden Ärzte Service genutzt.

Fragen & Antworten

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