The previous all-time temperature record was 50.7ºC, reached in South Australia in 1960.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says this is the first time Australia has ever recorded five consecutive days of temperatures above 39ºC (102ºF). Nationwide average temperatures on each of the first six days of 2013 were among the top 20 hottest days on record.
This is also the year with the most record days in Australia since 1910, when national records began:
The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang provides the meteorological background:
How did the heat wave start? During the final week of 2012, a high pressure system developed in the state of Western Australia. The sprawling heat dome then expanded eastward, which directed extremely hot air out of the Australian interior into coastal areas less accustomed to high temperatures.