Australia: Country or Continent?

In an previous video of mine, I talked about ‘America’… and how this could refer to both a country or a continent. In English, it generally refers to the country: the United States of America. But in other languages (Spanish, for example), it refers to the continent. However, in English, these are 2 separate continents, part of the 7-continent model: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, and the topic of this video: Australia.

So… is Australia a country or a continent? Well, Australia is one of the 193 member of the United Nations. Although, just because a country is a member of the UN, doesn’t necessarily mean that all other members agree that that country… is a country. For example, North and South Korea don’t recognise each other, both believing themselves to be the legitimate government of all of Korea.

Turkey doesn’t recognise Cyprus because of the situation with Northern Cyprus. Even the most populated country in the world, the People’s Republic of China, isn’t recognised by 22 UN members, who recgonise the Republic of China is the legitimate government of China, confined to the island of Taiwan.

And the least recognised UN member, with 32 fellow members not recognising them as country… Israel, because of the… minor issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict. But anyway… this is no such issue for Australia. Gaining independence from the British Empire in 1901, and with a population of more than 23 million.

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.. everyone agrees – Australia is a country. Of course, saying Australia is a country is kind of stating the obvious. That was never really in dispute. The real issue is when it comes to the Australian continent. Like I said, there are 7 continents in the English-speaking world. And while there’s disagreement in the Western Hemisphere about whether it’s ‘America’ or North and South America.

.. there’s also disagreement down under as well. First of all, the word ‘Australia’ in the context of a continent, has no official definition. The border between Australia and Asia is not clearly defined. East Timor may or may not be part of the Australian continent. Although generally speaking it’s usually considered part of South-East Asia.

The most common definition of the Australian continent is: mainland Australia, Tasmania, and the island of New Guinea, which is comprised of the independent country of Papua New Guinea, as well as two Indonesian provinces. The reason for this, is that all these islands lie on the same continental shelf.

But this 7 continent model is flawed. Because… what continent is New Zealand part of? And what about the other 11 independent countries in South Pacific? Well, technically, they’re not part of any continent. So one of two things tends to happen… either they’re incorrectly included as part of Australia, or there are countries that don’t belong to any continent.

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The problem is, the word continent has no clear definition. The continents of the world are by convention, and not by any strict criteria. In fact, if you look up the word ‘continent’ in a dictionary, usually you’ll just find some vague definition and a list of the 7 continents. So with the 7 continent model, 12 countries are not counted as part of any continent.

Now, you might think this sounds logical. I mean, if a country is in the middle of an ocean, it’s really not part of any land-mass, right? Well, this doesn’t seem to be a problem for other continents. Iceland, for example, is considered part of Europe, despite being an island country hundreds of miles away from the rest of Europe.

And what about Madagascar? It’s considered part of Africa despite being on a totally different continental shelf. And what about Seychelles, for the matter? No where no any land-mass, yet also considered part of Africa. So the definitions of the Australian continent are limited to the continental shelf, yet other continents are much less strict about what countries are part of that continent.

For convenience, the term ‘Oceania’ refers to all countries and islands in the general South Pacific region. Oceania is split into 4 different subregions: Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The term ‘Australasia’, however, is a bit redundant. See… while the other 3 subregions are clearly defined, Australasia is not.

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And even with its most limited definition, causes over-lapping between the subregions. Australasia may simply refer to Australia and New Zealand. In fact, in the years 1908 and 1912, Australia and New Zealand teamed up and competed in the Olympics together as ‘Australasia’. Wider definitions may include the island of New Guinea, and possibly even the whole of Melanesia.

But even if we just take Australasia to mean just Australia and New Zealand. That still puts New Zealand as part of 2 different subregions of Oceania. Oceania though, is not a continent. It is instead classed a geographic region. Well… in English that is. In other languages, Oceania is one of the continents of the world.

Which makes sense: all countries are part of a continent and there’s also no name confusion between Australia the country and Australia the continent. But in English, Australia is both a country and a continent, although they mean different things. The United Nations Geo-scheme, which divides the world into different regions, uses Oceania.

And one of the subregions is simply called ‘Australia and New Zealand’. So… to sum up: there are 7 continents of world. This is Australia, the country, this is Australia, the continent. Both of which are part of the wider geographic region known as Oceania, which itself is divided into 4 subregions: Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia.

Thanks for watching.

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