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At a glance

OFFICIAL NAME: Commonwealth of Australia.

POPULATION: More than 18.7-million.

CAPITAL: Canberra, which is southwest of Sydney.

SIZE: About 3-million square miles (the United states is about 3.6-million), making it the smallest continent but the sixth largest country. The interior land is known as the Outback. Few people live in the Outback.

HISTORY: The first Australians arrived about 40,000 years ago, well before European influence. Their descendents are the Aborigines, who now make up less than two percent of the population. Captain James Cook claimed Australia for Great Britain in 1770, and many of the first colonists were prisoners who were banished from England. Australia gained its independence in 1901, but it still recognizes Queen Elizabeth as chief of state.

THE OUTBACK: The huge interior area of the country is flat and dry. The few who live there generally work on huge cattle and sheep ranches. Many children in the Outback don't attend school, learning through two-way radio hookups with teachers. Medical care is provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service with airplane clinics and ambulances.

_ Compiled by Mike Stephenson.