Which is it? Oceania or Australia
A continent is defined as “a large continuous area of land on earth.” This makes it easy to understand how North America is defined as a continent, as well as South America and Africa, but makes it a bit more confusing when we consider Australia. If Australia is a continent, what about when it is called a country? And more than that, what about all of the surrounding regions of Australia, which are island states, or even named as their own country?
And Along Comes Oceania…
Recognizing the contradiction within the definition of a continent and the existence of Australia, not to mention the existence of several surrounding countries and islands, which needed a more defined continental region, geographers coined the term Oceania. This is a region, which includes Australia, and it’s island state Tasmania, but which also includes the following countries:
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Marshal Islands
- Solomon Islands
In addition to including these established countries, there are also several dependent territories, which are islands off the coast of these countries. Many of these belong to another country of the world (such as France or the USA), but due to their location, are considered part of Oceania.
Country vs. Continent vs. Region
The argument and uncertainty between Australia and Oceania and which is a continent or country, still exists in part because Oceania is an artificial construct: it was created simply to be able to contain a large selection of island states and be able to include them all under one title based purely on their geographical location. At the root of it, many people argue, it does not meet the definition of a continent at all, as it is not a single landmass. Oceania is instead a region which encompasses a selection of several islands and selected countries. Why can’t we all just agree?
Where then, does that leave Australia? In many cases, you will regularly see the continent of Australia defined as “Australia/Oceania.” Fundamentally, Australia itself is both a continent and a country: Australia is a country that is part of a continent also called Australia, all of which is part of a region known as Oceania. Make sense? This region contains other island countries and states, including those listed above. While this may not eliminate the confusion when it comes to talking about Australia, it does offer a better understanding of what defines Oceania as well as explain how Australia can be known as both a country and continent.
As the Aussies say: crikey! As you can see, there is still not an agreement on whether Australia is a continent, or a country, or necessarily whether it even meets the definition of each. There is an understanding however, of the region of Oceania, and the country of Australia, and that may be enough. Because after all, if Australia is its own country and continent, shouldn’t that allow New Zealand to be the same? Yes, some say, and it is called Zealandia.
Looking for more? We’ve had some pretty in-depth discussion on it over in Sporcle Groups.
Derek Pharr is Vice President of Products at Sporcle and an occasional writer of random topics and bad jokes. He also has an odd addiction to Taylor Swift songs and hates white foods.