Australia's biggest attraction is its natural beauty. The landscape varies from endless sunbaked horizons to dense tropical rainforest to chilly southern beaches. Scattered along the coasts, its cities blend a European enthusiasm for art and food with a laid-back love of sport and the outdoors.
Visitors expecting to see an opera in Sydney one night and meet Crocodile Dundee the next will have to re-think their grasp of geography in this huge country. It is this sheer vastness that gives Australia - and its diverse population - much of its character.
In cities, visitors will experience a blur of fashion-festooned boutiques and plate-clattering restaurants, then lose themselves in a long fluid moment inside a beer or wine glass. In the interior, they might be harangued by the thump of rocks under their 4WD, only to be transfixed by a slow, silent swirl of outback dust. Around the coast, they'll take an endless breath in the depths of a rainforest, then slowly realise they have an entire beach to themselves.
Full country name: Commonwealth of Australia
Area: 7.68 million sq km
Population: 19.5 million
Capital City: Canberra
People: 92% Caucasian, 7% Asian, 1% Aboriginal
Religion: 75% Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Jewish
Government: independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Head of State: Governor General Michael Jeffery
Head of Government: Prime Minister John Howard
GDP: US$418 billion
GDP per capita: US$22,000
Annual Growth: 4%
Major Industries: Minerals, oil, coal, gold, wool, cereals, meat, tourism
Major Trading Partners: Japan, ASEAN countries, South Korea, China, New Zealand, USA, EU
Member of EU: No