Australia is the largest island in the world. It is also the smallest continent in the world, covering just under 3 million square miles and supporting a population of 23 million people, 80 percent of whom live near a coastline.
66 percent of the land area of Australia is made up by the Western Plateau, a large, flat and dry landmass. Other natural features of Australia include the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland and Lake Eyre, Australia's largest lake, lying at the edge of the Simpson Desert.
Australia's political system has three levels of government: the national government, governments of the six states and two territories, and city governments. The current commonwealth of Australia is made up of six states and two territories: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory, West Australia and Tasmania. Australia is classified as a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom as its head of state.
Australia was originally home to native inhabitants who arrived in Australia from Southeast Asia over 50,000 years ago. When explorer James Cook arrived in Australia in 1770, he claimed its east coast for Great Britain, and in 1788 the first British settlement was established for prisoners and convicts in present-day Sydney.