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Australia is the smallest continent on earth. Strictly speaking, Australia consists of the mainland of Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea the island of Seram, and neighboring islands. However, for the purposes of categorization, we will include the continent of Australia as well as Oceania, a designation that includes a much larger geographic region made up of Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Oceania spans the eastern and western hemispheres. In some respects, Oceania overlays the area generally known as the Pacific, except that it does not include Japan or Taiwan, although the original inhabitants of Taiwan had ties to the Pacific Islands. Australia and Oceania comprise a wide range of cultures, particularly when you consider the Aboriginal people as well as European settlers in Australia and New Zealand.

The Australasia region of Oceania is made up of Australia, New Zealand, and neighboring islands in the Pacific Ocean. New Guinea is sometimes considered to be part of Australasia, but it is more often deemed part of Melanesia. Melanesia is the subregion of Oceania that extends from New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific to the Arafura Sea, then eastward to Fiji. There is no general agreement as to the geographical boundaries of Melanesia, as some apply it only to the smaller islands. The people of Melanesia have established countries, are administered by France, or are currently engaged in independence movements.

For our purposes, Melanesia includes New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, Vanuatu, Fiji, and New Caledonia. Another subregion of Oceania, Micronesia is north of the equator and west of the international date line. Made up of thousands of small islands in the western Pacific, Micronesia includes the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Kiribati Islands. Politically, Micronesia is divided among several sovereign countries, including the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and Nauru, as well as three United States territories of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and Wake Island.

Reaching from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south, Polynesia is made up of over a thousand islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. Apart from Hawaii and New Zealand, Polynesia includes Tuvalu, Tokelau, Samoa and American Samoa, Tonga, the Kermadec Islands, Cook Islands, Society Islands, Austral Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu, the Mangareva Islands, Easter Island, Wallis, and Futuna. Given that Hawaii is a US state, it will be categorized with the other states in the North America section of the directory.

Australia and Oceania are the smallest continental grouping in terms of land area, and the second smallest by population, after Antarctica and the Arctic. It is believed that Australia, New Guinea, and the large islands were settled by Aboriginal people as long as 50,000 years ago, yet the region was not explored by Europeans until the 16th century.

Portuguese explorers reached the Tanimbar Islands, some of the Caroline Islands, and Papua New Guinea between 1512 and 1526. In the 1700s, James Cook came upon Tahiti, then followed the east coast of Australia. In 1770, Cook made the first direct observation of indigenous Australians at Brush Island near Bawley Point.

The islands of Australia and Oceania are of four basic types: continental islands, high islands, coral reefs, and coral platforms. The high islands were created by volcanic activity, and several of them still contain active volcanoes. Coral reefs are built on lava flows beneath the surface of the ocean. The most common religion in Australia and Oceania is Christianity, although a growing portion of the populations of Australia and New Zealand are claiming no religion. Traditional religions are mostly animist in nature. Other religions in the region are Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism.



American Samoa


Cook Islands

Easter Island

Federated States of Micronesia


French Polynesia



Lord Howe Island

Marshall Islands

Midway Islands


New Caledonia

New Guinea

New Zealand


Norfolk Island

Northern Mariana Islands


Pitcairn Islands


Solomon Islands







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