In making this unexpected announcement, Julia Gillard has relinquished one of the advantages of incumbency: the prerogative to select the election day but not reveal it until much closer to the time. Still, most expected the poll to come at the back end of the year, although no Australian prime minister has ever declared their intentions so early - 226 days beforehand.
Rather than embarking on the longest election campaign in history, Ms Gillard said that her intention was to allow businesses and consumers to better plan their year.
"The land down under" has always been a colloquialism dripping with inconsequentiality, and reaches back to a time when the tyranny of distance brought with it the felony of neglect.
It provides a fitting title for Bill Bryson's best-selling book on Australia, a portrait, sweeping in its broad brush strokes, which focuses on what the author perceived to be this country's sheer irrelevance.
How should white settlement be characterised in the wording of the Australian constitution? The question has been raised after Sydney City Council decided to change the preamble in its corporate plan to describe the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 as an "invasion" and "illegal colonization". It replaced the phrase "European arrival".
For many of the councillors, the issue was clear-cut. They thought it was simply historically dishonest to go on describing white settlement as anything other than an invasion, given that Australia was already home to the world's longest continuous living culture and that Aborigines were conquered and slaughtered by the British. After all, the first settlers routinely used words like "invasion," "warfare" and "enemies" when they spoke of the indigenous population.
A new arrival in Australia could reasonably be forgiven for thinking that there was some kind of constitutional requirement making it mandatory for political leaders to spend at least three days each week wearing either a fluorescent orange jacket or a white hard hat.
Virtually every morning, it seems, image-makers in the gainful employ of opposition leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard conjure up some kind of unimaginative photo-opportunity, where their leaders appear brandishing a blow-torch, a spade, a butcher's knife, an on-button or some kind of piece of light industrial machinery.
Few private companies engender quite the same sense of public ownership as Australia's national flag carrier, Qantas.
The airline has encouraged this, of course, with its sentimental advertisements featuring the Peter Allen hit, I Still Call Australia Home, and its sponsorship of national sports teams, like the Wallabies, the Socceroos and Australia's Olympians.
They descended upon Canberra with Aussie flags draped round their shoulders, "No carbon tax" stickers affixed to their shirts and wearing Akubra hats and baseball caps to guard them from the early spring sun: 4,000-5,000 protesters who had amassed on the lawns of Parliament House to vent their fury at plans for a carbon tax which they believe will increase fuel bills, wreck Australia's resources-dependent economy and do nothing to halt global warming.
Many, probably most, vehemently reject the science underpinning worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Imagine the outcry in America if a senior cabinet member in the Obama administration had announced she was about to have a baby with her gay partner.
I'm thinking protests from the Christian Right outside the Treasury Department. Fiery on-screen denunciations from some leading television evangelists. Perhaps one or two preachers might even have blamed America's demotion from AAA to AA+ status on the moral impoverishment of its financial officials. The unborn baby would have quickly become the latest proxy in America's ongoing culture wars.
The tagline was the invention of journalists rather than the Gillard government, but when ministers came up with the idea of sending asylum seekers to Kuala Lumpur, they hoped it would offer a "Malaysian Solution".
This was an emergency measure borne of a political and logistical dilemma. The country's detention centres are overcrowded and volatile. Julia Gillard has been hammered in the polls over one of Australia's most toxic political issues. No Labor leader wants to be portrayed as being soft on border protection. Indeed, Paul Keating pioneered the policy of mandatory detention.
Australia has not lifted the Rugby World Cup since John Eales was handed the Webb Ellis trophy by the Queen at the Millennium Stadium in November 1999 on the very day that his compatriots opted to retain her services as Australia's head of state - a day of two halves, I think you will agree, for rugby-loving republicans.
Indeed, not since 2003, when John Howard huffily awarded the cup to the victorious England captain Martin Johnson at Homebush, have the Wallabies come close to winning rugby's most illustrious prize.
Should David Hicks be allowed to profit from his memoir, Guantanamo: My Journey?
The book, published in October last year, provides an account of the five years that the "Aussie Taliban" spent as a detainee at America's controversial detention centre in Cuba, and details allegations of torture against his American captors.
By this time next month, my Australian posting will have come to an end, and I will have handed the reins to my colleague Duncan Kennedy, formerly of the Rome parish. Between now and then, there will be more than enough time for a few farewells and final thoughts, but first there's the more humdrum task of the handover.
No doubt I will be passing on various logistical tips and pointers. Getting a satellite signal out of Perth, for instance, can involve lying prostrate on the ground in the public park next to the CBD with a receiver dish in one hand and a microphone in the other, a bodily feat that requires the kind of physical contortions that might test a Byron Bay yoga instructor.
Travelling back on the train from a rugby match the other night, a young fella who had probably had more than a couple of medium-strength lagers decided to challenge the entire carriage to the Sunday Telegraph trivia quiz.
A real larrikin who was hilariously funny, he rattled off question after question as we all raced to be first with the answer.
There are times when I think that Australia should truly be known as the Lycra Country.
Get up early on virtually any morning of the week, and you will see packs of cyclists hurtling around the parks or thundering, Peloton-like, down the highways. Venture out a little later and you will often see them packing out cafes as they gather for a hearty post-ride breakfast.
I confess to being a complete sucker for those books that purport to tell you the history of western civilization through six glasses, 300 cheeses or a dozen different ways to cook potatoes.
Australia is ripe for such treatment, of course, for you could easily write a half-decent history of the country through the prism of its wine glasses, rum tumblers, coffee mugs, tea cups, schooners and stubbies.
Britons of a certain vintage will remember the question asked after election night in 1997: "Were you still up for Portillo?" - a reference to the Cabinet minister whose middle-of-the-night constituency defeat came to symbolise the end of 18 years of Conservative rule. Many Australians have been asking this morning: "Were you up for the pie?" and wondering perhaps whether the Murdoch era of media dominance has also come to an end.
The parliamentary hearings became a major television event here - an overnight sensation, in the most literal sense of all, because they unfolded at such a late hour. The Murdochs took their seats at 2330 Australian eastern standard time. The major networks carried the parliamentary hearings in full, with only SBS sticking to its scheduled programming. By strange coincidence, cycling fans tuning in were captivated by the performance of another Australian, Cadel Evans, who is going well in the Tour de France.
Nick served as a BBC correspondent in Washington and South Asia before arriving in Sydney in 2006.
In Washington, he covered the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, while in South Asia he reported from the sharp end of the Bush administration's war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He has filed from many of the world's most famous datelines, including the White House, the Kremlin, the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula, Downing Street, Ground Zero and Guantanamo Bay.
He has also reported from many trouble spots, including Kashmir, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Gaza, Iran and Rwanda.
A history graduate from Cambridge with a PhD in American politics from Oxford, he is the author of three books, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality and Adventures in Correspondentland.
He loves eating out, going to the movies, cricket, rugby, football, architecture, walking his dog Skip and rummaging through second-hand bookshops.
He is married to the Australian fashion designer Fleur Wood.
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