It's often easy enough to know that Sydney and Melbourne are cities in Australia. And, no, despite its prominence among the cities of the world, Sydney is not the capital of Australia. That honor belongs to Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory.
And where exactly are Australia's capital cities and to which state or territory do they belong?
Here are the capital cities of Australia's six states and two major mainland territories:
Adelaide, South Australia
The capital of South Australia, Adelaide, is on the Gulf St Vincent which leads through Investigator Strait to the Southern Ocean. As with most major Australian cities, a river runs through the city, and in Adelaide, this is the Torrens. The larger, longer Murray River empties into Lake Alexandrina and into the ocean southeast of Adelaide on the eastern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Adelaide city center has streets laid out in a grid surrounded by parklands. Adelaide is named after Queen Adelaide, German-born consort of England's King William IV.
Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, is located on the southeastern side of the state, just north of the Gold Coast. The city has grown alongside the meandering Brisbane River with the city's eastern suburbs fronting Moreton Bay on the western side of the Pacific Ocean. In population, Brisbane ranks first in Queensland and third among Australia's cities after Sydney and Melbourne. Brisbane is named after the river which snakes through the city. The river itself is named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825.
Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory is Australia's national capital. Geographically, the Australian Capital Territory is within, but not a part of, the state of New South Wales, in much the same way that the District of Columbia, where the US capital of Washington is located, is part of neither the states of Maryland nor Virginia. As the seat of national government, the Australian Parliament and the nation's central federal offices are located in Canberra, as are the nation's national galleries, museums, and library. Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin was created when the Molonglo River was dammed in the early 1960s.
Darwin, Northern Territory
It's Australia's northernmost capital city in the region commonly referred to as the Top End. It's a city that's suffered the brunt of war and natural catastrophes but has seemed to rise stronger than ever before. As the Australian capital city closest to Southeast Asia, it is a melting pot of peoples and cultures, from Aboriginal and Islander Australians to the descendants of European settlers and Asian wayfarers and migrants. The city is named after evolutionist Charles Darwin who sailed on the HMS Beagle in the early 1800s, although Darwin was not on the Beagle when the ship sailed into Darwin Harbour in 1839.
Hobart, Australia's southernmost state capital, is located on the southeastern side of island-state Tasmania. It has grown on the banks of the Derwent River and is the end point of the annual sea classic, the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, which starts on Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day. The ruins of the Port Arthur convict penitentiary and the historic village of Richmond are but two popular Hobart day trip destinations. The main island of Tasmania is no more than 62.5 square kilometers and most Tasmanian attractions can be reached in a day from Hobart or the northern city of Launceston.
Ah, Melbourne. It's one of my favorite cities, and always a pleasure to visit. Getting around Melbourne to view and experience its many city attractions is easy and pleasant with its free City Circle tram. Catch either of these two visitor-friendly vehicles and get off at places that interest you and then get back on and head to your next destination. And feel the throb of this city. It's alive in its streets, its trams, its sights, its arts and entertainment venues, its restaurants and bars, and its day-to-day activities.
Hemmed in by the Indian Ocean in the west and the treeless Nullarbor Plain in the east, Perth is easily the most isolated state capital in the world. By road it's some 2750 kilometers from the nearest Australian state capital, Adelaide in South Australia, and nearly 4000 kilometers from Sydney on the east coast. But this is a city of the future, with a burgeoning population, new housing developments, and riches from the state's mineral resources. For the visitor, Perth is not just a destination but also an accessible gateway to the state's beaches, wine regions, habitats of marine life, World Heritage sites, and striking natural landscapes.
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is Australia's first city, having grown from the first European settlement in 1770 on Sydney Cove into the vibrant metropolis that it is today. It is a city of many attractions and a popular first destination for visitors to Australia. It is the city of the iconic Sydney Opera House, yachts, and ferries on Sydney Harbour, a string of white-sand beaches, galleries and museums in the heart of the city, restaurants and fine dining, and a variety of many other city attractions.