Australia is both the smallest and oldest continent in the world, and it is the only country that is also a continent.  It is an island located between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, just south of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. At 2,941,299 square miles, Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world and only about 150,000 square miles (about the size of Montana) smaller than the continental United States. Its interior land is a flat and sparsely populated desert, but as you move outward the climate changes to grassland, subtropical, tropical, and even temperate in the southeastern region.  While more than 70% of Australia is arid, the rest includes a variety of rich environments including flood plains, rainforests, and tropical beaches. 
Australia is comprised of 6 states (Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania) and 2 mainland territories (Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory), as well as several smaller territories that do not figure in the official count. 
Western Australia and parts of the Northern Territory are home to the Western Plateau, by far the largest region in Australia. It consists of miles of flat desert land, unoccupied and broken only by a few mountain ranges and rivers. This desert plateau turns into rolling hills on the western shore, which is home to the bustling city of Perth. Perth is the fourth largest city in Australia and is one of the most isolated cities in the world. 
Northern Australia includes the Northern Territory and Queensland and is home to the city of Brisbane and popular attractions like Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland is known for its wet tropics climate where rainforests are abundant. For the most part the Northern Territory is arid desert and is mostly uninhabited. Southeastern Australia is home to the Australian Alps and has Australia’s highest point at Mount Kosciusko at 2,228 meters.  The southeast is also home to Australia’s largest cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, and the capital city of Canberra. 
At least 50,000 years ago native Aboriginals arrived by sea from Asia and settled in Australia. The Aborigines inhabited Australia for tens of thousands of years before the British came, and upon their arrival there were more than a million aborigines living in over 300 clans.  During the 17th century, many European explorers sailed the coasts of Australia, but it was not until 1770 that Captain Cook claimed it for Britain and named the colony New South Wales.  Due to the loss of the American colonies, the British needed a penal colony for its prisoners and decided to use this new land for that purpose. Carrying roughly 800 prisoners each, in 1788 the first ships arrived in Sydney, and the settling of current day Australia began. By 1801 an Englishman Matthew Flinders had circumnavigated the whole continent and much of southern Australia and Tasmania had been charted. At this time many free settlers came looking for a better life, and as a result convicts and settlers founded Brisbane in 1825, Perth was settled by an Englishman in 1829, and in 1835 a squatter settled the present location of Melbourne. 
The development of Australia took off in 1851 with the discovery of gold, which brought immigrants and people of all types rushing to get a piece of the wealth. By 1877, Sydney and Melbourne were both feeling the effects of gold and the new wool industry, and had grown into large cities with ornate architecture. On January 1st, 1901, the six colonies formed the country of Australia and 13 years later participated in World War 1. After the war in the year 1929, Australia took a major economic blow and by 1931 a third of the country was unemployed. The condition remained below average until after the 2nd World War when Prime Minister Robert Menzies came into power, and the economy began to flourish. By 1975 Australia was on the...