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Photo: Wikipedia.com

Australia is the smallest continent in the world but also happens to be the world’s sixth-largest nation by area. While the British didn’t colonize Australia until the late 1700s, the indigenous Australian population has inhabited the landmass for over 40,000 years. With such a long history, there’s an encyclopedic amount of interesting information about the country.

Check out these 17 things you might not know about Australia and see for yourself.

1. Used to be the richest city in the world

Thanks to the discovery of gold in the state of Victoria, the city of Melbourne experienced a rapid economic boom in the second half of the 19th century. In 1861, it became more populous than Sydney, and in 1880, it was reportedly the richest city in the whole world. However, the golden era ended eleven years later when Melbourne’s economy got struck by a severe depression.

2. The longest fence in the world

Running from Queensland to South Australia, the Dingo Fence, or Dog Fence, is the longest fence in the world, measuring 3,488 miles. As the name suggests, it was meant to keep predator dingoes out of livestock pasture.

3. Birthplace of the word Selfie

Australia is the birthplace of the word selfie. While it was American photography enthusiast Robert Cornelius who took a picture of himself in 1839, the term selfie was first used in 2002 to describe a self-portrait photograph on an Australian internet forum (ABC Online).

4. The Australian Alps get more snow than the Swiss Alps

While many people visit Australia for its brilliant beaches and year-round sunshine, the Australian Alps, straddling New South Wales and Victoria, are a mecca for skiing enthusiasts. Snow usually falls between June and September, meaning Australia is the perfect place to get your skiing fix during the northern hemisphere summer.

5. Beach paradise

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Phtoo: FodorsTravelGuide

Australia’s coastline stretches almost 50,000 kilometres and is linked by over 10,000 beaches, more than any other country in the world. More than 85 per cent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast, making it an integral part of our laid-back lifestyle. If you were to visit a new beach in Australia every day, it would take you over 27 years!

6. 2.5 km of Uluru is underground

The vast rock of Uluru sits in the red centre of Australia, surrounded by scrubland and sacred to various Aboriginal tribes in the area. It is one of the few places on the earth to be listed twice as a UNESCO World Heritage site, both on the cultural and natural lists. Amazingly around 2.5km of the rock is thought to be underground connected to the Olgas, where the rock emerges again 16 miles away.

7. Not an island, but a continent

Australia is over three times larger than Greenland, which is considered the largest island in the world. Australia is typically omitted from island rankings because it's a continent as well.

8. 90% of Australians live on the coast

The large deserts of central Australia mean that the vast majority of the population live on the shores of this enormous country. The large cities of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne are iconic places to visit, with buzzing centres and a multitude of beaches, from the sands of Bondi to the surf of Trigg. Outside of the major hubs, there are hundreds of smaller beach towns where you can appreciate Australia's beautiful coastline.

9. Australian English

Australians have a unique colloquial language – a combination of many long lost cockney and Irish sayings of the early convicts with words from Aboriginal languages. We often abbreviate words and then add an ‘o’ or ‘ie’ on the end as in ‘bring your cossie to the barbie this arvo’. We also like reverse nicknames, calling people with red hair ‘bluey’, saying ‘snowy’ to someone with dark hair, and tagging ‘lofty’ to someone who is small in stature. We tend to flatten our vowels and end sentences with a slightly upward inflection.

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.

Unfortunately, the Great Barrier Reef faces some tough ennvironmental 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.

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Photo: SBS.com

11. The Great Barrier Reef is also the largest eco-system in the world

The Great Barrier Reef is the pride and joy of Australia, made up of nearly 2,500 individual reefs and visible from space. It stretched halfway down the eastern coast of the country, meaning there are plenty of places to use as jumping-off points to explore the kaleidoscopic coral. Snorkelling and diving amongst the colourful fish and turtles that make the Great Barrier Reef their home is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Australia.

12. 80% of the animals are unique to Australia

The animals of Australia are some of the most interesting in the world, from cuddly marsupials to a huge variety of birds. There are so many opportunities to experience the wildlife of the country, from zoos and parks to spotting these unique creatures in the wild.

13. Australia has over 60 separate wine regions

You can't go to Australia and not try the wine! With such a huge variety of wine regions, it's hard to choose between them. The majority of the wine regions are in New South Wales and Victoria so if you fancy discovering a few of them a road trip between Sydney and Melbourne would be a great way to go about it.

14. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world

The sandy shores of Fraser Island are a highlight of any trip to Queensland. Hervey Bay is the jumping-off point for exploring the island, so hop on a boat and discover the delights of this island paradise - the clear blue waters of Lake MacKenzie surrounded by the white sand shore and the serenity of Champagne Pools, where you can swim in the shallow pools at the edge of the ocean. There are 150 dingoes on the island so it is a great opportunity to spot one of Australia's famous wild dogs but keep your distance as they are wild animals and can be aggressive if approached.

15. Indian Pacific train has the longest straight section of train track in the world

Australia boasts a number of spectacular rail journeys. Between Sydney and Perth lies the Indian Pacific, the railway that snakes its way across the country through the stunning Blue Mountains into the outback towards the mountainous Flinders Ranges. Riding the Indian Pacific is a wonderful way of seeing the varied landscapes of Australia whilst enjoying the luxury services of the train.

16. The Great Ocean Road is the world’s largest war memorial

The Great Ocean Road is one of the most famous drives in Australia, with stunning views and scenic vistas along the route. Built by returning soldiers after World War One, the road was dedicated as a memorial to those who died fighting and was designed to connect the isolated communities that clung to the edge of Victoria's rugged coastline.

17. Tasmania has the cleanest air in the world

The island of Tasmania is the ideal spot to experience the great outdoors - with air as clean as Antarctica, around one-third of the state is a national park or World Heritage protected. It is a walkers paradise, with trails and walkways winding over the whole island, where the coastal paths reveal impressive views over Wineglass Bay and the Bay of Fires.

If walking isn't your cup of tea, enjoy kayaking, mountain biking and exploring the island's caves. The wildlife is an extension of the unique animals of Australia, where the Eastern Quoll, now considered extinct on the mainland are commonly sighted in the fertile farmland of Tasmania.

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