The Pacific


Australia is a sovereign country in Oceania, which includes the Australian continent and Tasmania.  It is officially called the Commonwealth of Australia.  It is the sixth-largest country in the world.  Under the 1901 constitution, it is a federation of six states.  The constitution defines the powers of the federal government, with residuary powers remaining with each state.  The Queen is the head of state, represented by the Governor-General, who is appointed on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister. 

Indigenous Australians occupied the continent for about 65,000 years.  Aboriginal people in Australia are therefore custodians of one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world.  Indigenous culture is diverse and strong and makes a vital contribution to Australia’s national identity. 

Dutch explorers arrived in the early 17th century and called the land New Holland.  Then in 1770, the eastern half of the country was claimed by Great Britain, who initially settled New South Wales as a penal colony, the first arriving on 26 January 1788, the date of which is celebrated as Australia’s national day.   Convicts were brought over and treated with some respect, and on arrival were employed for their skills rather than penalized for their crimes.  Many stayed and made good lives.  There was a gold rush in the 1850s, by which time five more self-governing crown colonies had been established.  It was these six colonies that federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia with six states and ten territories.   

Australia is the flattest and driest inhabited continent.  It has developed into a country with the world’s thirteenth largest economy.  It is one of the original founding members of the Commonwealth, and also belongs to the United Nations, G20, the World Trade Organization and other such organisations. With a spectacular natural environment, high quality of life and great diversity, Australia is a sought-after destination for international tourists.  It has 10 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and a great number of its native plants and animals exist nowhere else on earth.  From tropical rainforests in the north to the red deserts of the centre, from the snowfields of the south-east to the Australian Antarctic Territory, it is a vast and varied land.  Australia has many World Heritage sites including the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Sydney Opera House. 

Australia has received many royal visits.  The first was by Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (who was shot and wounded on a beach at Clontarf on 12 March 1868, requiring recuperation for seven months).  In 1881 Prince Albert Victor and Prince George (later George V) visited while serving in Bacchante.  The Duke and Duchess of York (later George V and Queen Mary) came in 1901, the Duke opening the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne.  There were several visits by George V’s sons.  The Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor) toured in 1920, the Duke and Duchess of York (later George VI and Queen Elizabeth) opened the new Parliament building in Canberra in 1927, the Duke of Gloucester opened the Centenary celebrations of Victoria in 1934, and he and the Duchess of Gloucester lived in Australia between January 1945 and March 1947, when he was Governor-General.

The Queen is the first reigning British monarch to have visited.  She and the Duke of Edinburgh toured Australia as part of their Commonwealth tour between 3 February and 1 April 1954, again in 1963, 1970, 1973 (to open the Sydney Opera House), 1974, 1977 (for the Silver Jubilee tour), 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988 (for the Bicentennial), and 1992.  They made further visits in 2000, 2002, 2006, and a last visit in 2011.   Many other members of the Royal Family have visited Australia in the present reign.  The Prince of Wales opened the Commonwealth Walkway in the Gold Coast when he attended the Commonwealth Games there in 2018.  The Duke of York unveiled the Commonwealth Walkway in Fremantle in November 2018.  

A list of all our walks in Australia.