Australia Day celebrations this year will take a decidedly solemn turn as residents around the country reflect on the devastating bushfires that have stunned the nation and the world. Each year, Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the first fleet of British ships and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove in 1788. The celebrations are typically a balance between festive, commemorative and respectful, but at many celebrations this year, fireworks shows will be scrapped and more reflection will be on tap.
In Sydney, for example, firefighters will take center stage. An expected 50 firefighters and their families will join New South Wales Governor Margaret Beazley on board the HMAS Canberra for a 21-gun military salute in Sydney Harbour.
“We want to maintain a spirit of optimism, but also absolutely acknowledge the volunteers and all those who have served in different ways, particularly in the last few difficult months,” Australia Day Council NSW chair Andrew Parker was reported as telling the Sydney Morning Herald.
Fun facts about Australia
In commemoration of Australia Day, and in recognition of the devastating losses from ongoing bushfires, we’ve put together a list of facts you may not already know about Australia. It’s a vast and fascinating country with a complicated past. Known for its stunning natural features and entrancing wildlife, many natural wonders remain unknown. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Blue Mountains and beyond, there’s nowhere in the world quite like the land down under. Here are 43 fun facts about Australia you may not have known.
1. It’s home to the oldest humans outside Africa
Aboriginal Australians have been in Australia for more than 50,000 years. They may even have migrated over from Africa as much as 70,000 years ago. They are considered the oldest population of humans living outside Africa.
2. There are 250 indigenous languages
Aboriginal Australians currently have more than 250 distinct languages spread throughout Australia.
3. It’s an island, a country and a continent
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world, going by physical size, and the largest island. In fact, it is the only country in the world that is also an island and a continent.
4. Kangaroos outnumber humans
As of 2017, there were twice as many kangaroos in Australia as humans. Their numbers have likely been significantly impacted by the recent bushfires, though.
5. Australia is very sparsely populated
Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with an average population density of 3.1 people per square kilometer. However, individual cities are super densely populated. Melbourne has an average population density of 17,500 people per square kilometer. Even still, not a single Australian city breaks the top 50 of the world’s most densely populated cities.
6. It was first called New Holland
Australia was called “New Holland” by the 17th century Dutch navigators who first landed there. The name “Australia” was first suggested in 1803 by English explorer Matthew Finders. Australia derives from the Latin australis meaning southern.
7. It’s hot … and getting hotter
January 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded in Australia, with a mean temperature exceeding 30C (86F). There were even five days in mid-January that topped 40C (104F) across the country.
8. You’re unlikely to see all the beaches
Australia has more than 10,000 beaches, surpassing every other country in the world. You could spend 27 years trying to visit Australia’s beaches (one per day) and still not see them all.
9. Most people live on the country’s perimeters
Most of Australia’s population is concentrated near those beaches, with more than 85% of Australians being within 50 kilometers (roughly 31 miles) of a coastline.
10. The Great Barrier Reef is the only living thing visible from space
One of Australia’s best known natural wonders is the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China. It’s so large that it can be seen from space, the only living thing visible from that far away.
11. The Great Barrier Reef is home to more coral than anywhere else …
The Great Barrier Reef is an important ecosystem in and of itself. It hosts more coral than anywhere else in the world (more than 400 different kinds) and is home for more than 1,500 species of tropical fish. There are even 20 types of reptiles living on the reef.
12. … but that is rapidly changing
Unfortunately, the Great Barrier Reef faces some tough environmental threats. Scientists observing the reef say that coral coverage has fallen by almost 50% from 1985 to 2012. Some factors include coral bleaching, invasive species and tropical cyclones.
13. More than 8,000 islands surround Australia
While Australia itself is an island, it is also surrounded by more than 8,000 other islands that fall within its maritime borders.
14. There’s no bill of rights
Among liberal democracies, Australia stands apart as the only one with no formal bill of rights.
15. Australia owns the biggest chunk of Antarctica
Australia owns the largest portion of Antarctica, with Argentina, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom also owning pieces.
Melbourne was nearly named “Batmania” as a tribute to John Batman, one of the city’s founders.
17. Larger than Israel
A single cattle station in Australia, the Anna Creek station, is larger than the entire country of Israel. At more than 5.85 million acres, it is the largest working cattle station in the world.
18. Highway 1 is the world’s second longest roadway
Highway 1 is more than 9,000 miles long and rings the entire country. The longest is the Pan American Highway, a series of roadways linking Buenos Aries in South America to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in North America.
19. Wild camels roam Australia
Australia has the largest feral camel population in the world. In 2009, 6,000 wild camels showed up at Docker River in Australia, searching for water. Camels aren’t indigenous to Australia. They were brought in by settlers in the 19th century and are now considered a menace requiring annual culling in many parts of the country. In some instances, they are used as tourist attractions.
20. Opera house architect
The original architect behind the Sydney Opera House, Jorn Utzon, resigned after the government refused to pay him during the project. He never returned to Australia. The structure was ultimately completed by an Australian architectural team headed up by Peter Hall.
21. Australian science agency claims to have invented Wi-Fi
The Australian national science agency, CSIRO, is adamant that it invented part of the technology behind Wi-Fi and even sues companies using the technology without a license.
22. Melbourne is home to the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece
Behind Athens and Thessaloniki, Melbourne, Australia, has the largest Greek-speaking population in the world.
23. There are a lot of deadly snakes
Australia has a lot of snakes, 140 different snake species, to be exact. Out of the 25 deadliest snakes in the world, 20 live in Australia.
28. They put a lot of stuff on their burgers
If you order a burger in Australia, you will almost certainly get pickled beets on it. Australians almost always put “beet root” on their burgers and sometimes add a pineapple slice and a fried egg.
25. Bushfires aren’t the only threat to koalas
Australia’s koalas are in dire straits, suffering two decades of population losses and earning classification as a threatened species. While bushfires are believed to have further decimated populations, especially in New South Wales, chlamydia has played a huge factor in reducing population numbers over the years. Roughly half of Australia’s koalas are believed to be infected with chlamydia.
26. Tasmanian devils can get a transmittable cancer
Another species, Tasmanian devils, have also been under threat from a disease. Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a transmittable cancer, has been found by researchers to actually be less dire than previously thought as devils’ immune systems are actually changing to fight the disease.
27. There’s a mountain that’s been burning for 6,000 years
Mount Wingen, commonly referred to as Burning Mountain, has been burning for more than 6,000 years because of a coal seam. Even stranger, the seam moves about one meter every year, meaning that the smoldering coal has moved about 6.5 kilometers in the past 6,000 years.
28. There’s also a pink lake …
There is a pink lake in Australia. Lake Hillier is bright pink, and scientists have no idea why.
29. … so of course there’s also a forest growing on a ship
Just outside Sydney lay four abandoned freighter ships in a contaminated former trading port. One of the ships, the SS Ayrfield, now boasts a forest of mangrove trees that have miraculously sprouted from the wreckage.
30. There’s a very rare honey produced in Tasmania
Leatherwood honey is considered one of the finest and rarest honeys in the world, and is a distinctly Australian delicacy. It’s also incredibly difficult to produce. The leatherwood trees themselves need 70 years to reach maturity and even then the bees who feed on them have to be brought in via helicopter to reach stretches of inaccessible forest where the trees grow.
31. There are ants that carry emergency food rations
Among Australia’s many interesting critters are honeypot ants, which carry an entire community’s emergency food supply on their tiny backs. They engorge themselves with nectar until they swell to the size of grapes.
32. Any chance for a barbie, even election days
There’s no chance you’ll get hungry while voting in Australia. During Australian elections, you will often find “democracy sausages” outside polling places. They’re often offered for free or for a small fee to help raise money for local causes.
33. A ‘goon sack’ is a practical necessity
In Australia, a “goon sack” is a four liter inflatable bag for wine (often called a wine bladder in the United States and other parts of the world). But Australians use the bags for far more than wine, turning them into pillows, rafts and more.
34. You can visit a tunnel illuminated with glow worms
A railroad tunnel built in the 1880s in Helensburgh, New South Wales, and since abandoned has become a tourist attraction because of a colony of glowworms who moved in and made it their home. Now, the worms illuminate the tunnel in blue and green.
35. There’s a Magnetic Hill that will mess with your perceptions
Magnetic Hill, near the townships of Pekina and Peterborough in rural South Australia, is truly strange. If you drive up the hill, then set your car in neutral, instead of rolling back down, you will roll uphill thanks to a combination of strange topographic anomalies.
36. There are a lot of spiders … but they probably won’t kill you
Many people have a phobia of Australia’s venomous spiders, but spiders rank below snakes, sharks and even bees in terms of how many times they’ve actually killed someone.
But the Sydney funnel-web, shown here, is considered the deadliest spider in Australia (and maybe the world) because of its highly toxic venom and large fangs.
37. If the snakes, sharks & spiders don’t get you, the plants might
Australia has many poisonous plants, including stinging trees that grow in rainforests in Queensland. The Dendrocnide moroides, commonly called Gympie Gympie, is a member of the nettle family, and you want to avoid touching it at all costs. One victim described it as “the worst pain you can imagine — like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time.”
38. There’s no telling how many undiscovered species there are in Australia
Australia’s biodiversity is so vast and complex that about 75% of it remains unknown, according to government agencies.
39. Protecting the penguins is very important
In 2009, when a colony of about 120 endangered penguins were threatened by foxes, Australia used snipers to protect the colony.
40. There’s a zero-emission energy station
Australia found a way to harness the motion of the ocean to create a zero-emission energy station, the CETO 5.
41. There’s a town where people live mostly underground
Coober Pedy is a truly unique place. The temperature swings are so extreme — freezing in winter, scorching in summer — that people live primarily underground. So why bother? It’s Australia’s opal capital. With more than 70 opal mines, it’s the largest opal mining area in the world. The aboriginal name Coober Pedy translates to “white man underground” in English.
42. Pineapple … it’s not just for burgers
Remember how we said earlier Aussies put beets and pineapple on their burgers? Well, pineapple isn’t just for burgers. It’s also the second most popular type of pizza, right behind Margherita. We haven’t seen any beet pizzas … yet.
43. Australia was once home to wild turkeys
It turns out Australia once had giant flying turkeys? Scientists found the bones of the unusual turkeys in 2017.
Want more fun tidbits? Here are 75 of the world’s weirdest facts.
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.
Main Image Credit: Deposit Photos