Official name: Commonwealth of Australia

Official name: Commonwealth of Australia

Population: About 18,000,000

Size: Australia is the world's sixth largest country, covering an area of 7,682,300 square kilometres. This makes it about 250 times larger than Belgium.

Environment: The island continent ranges from desert to tropical jungle (though mostly desert). It has 500 national parks, which enclose important areas of rainforest, dune, mountain and the celebrated Great Barrier Reef. The "outback", although popular for bushwalking tours, is largely comprised of stony desert and dry lake (with names like Lake Disappointment).

Best monument: Ayers Rock, in Uluru National Park south-west of Alice Springs, competes with Sydney Harbour (the bridge and the opera house) for the honour of being Australia's best-known icon.

Most famous citizen: Contenders include the veteran of drag and chat, Dame Edna Everage (aka Barry Humphries) and the onetime Queen of Pop, Miss Kylie Minogue. Germaine Greer, Rod Laver and Ned Kelly are also in with a shout.

National dish: Meat pies, the barbie and a six-pack.

Best moment in history: In 1901, the separate Australian states were drawn into a federation, the new nation was proclaimed and a national capital was created.

Worst moment in history: In the 19th century, Aboriginals, inhabitants of Australia for more than 50,000 years before European settlement, were forced off their ancient lands, treated like vermin and in areas such as Tasmania, hunted down and systematically killed.

Essential accessory: Sunblock, surfboard and portable BBQ.

How to behave: Do not walk around in the sun without a silly hat and fluorescent sunblock smeared across the bridge of your nose. Australians are extremely aware of the dangers of skin cancer - you may look like a "dag" but at least you will be safe.