Australia is the most sparsely populated of the inhabited continents. Although it is home to roughly 20,000,000 people, the country is heavily urbanized. Around 85% of the population lives in cities, about two-thirds of these in the main cities of each state. A lot of Australia's population resides on the east coast, with a smaller number to the south and west, and very small populations in the centre of the continent.
Australia is the world´s smallest continent and sixth-largest country. With proportionately more desert land than any other continent, Australia has a low population density. Lying completely in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is bounded by the Indian Ocean on the west and south and by the Pacific Ocean on the east. These oceans merge on the north in the Arafura Sea between Australia and Indonesia and New Guinea, and on the south in the Bass Strait. The coastline length, estimated at 19,200 km (11,930 mi), is remarkably short for so large an area, a result of the relative lack of indentation. Major inlets other than the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Australian Bight are few. A self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Australia celebrated its bicentennial in 1988 (see Bicentennial, Australian). It is a federation of five mainland states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia) and one island state (Tasmania), as well as two territories (Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory). The country´s name derives from the Latin terra australis incognita, meaning "unknown southern land," which resulted from a confusion between Australia and Antarctica on early world maps. In many ways Australia is unusual among continents. It lacks major relief features and has a high proportion of dry land. The continent´s isolation from other landmasses accounts for its unique varieties of vegetation and animal life, and for the existence of a Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) culture among the Aborigines. Except for Antarctica, Australia was probably the last continent to be inhabited by humans and the last to be explored and settled by Europeans. It is the only continent comprising a single nation-state. Dutch explorers first sighted Australia in the early 17th century. Capt. James Cook explored the east coast in 1770 and claimed the land for Great Britain. In 1778 the first settlement (Sydney) was founded at an excellent harbor on the southeast coast. British convicts played an important role in the territory´s early history. The discovery of gold and other ores attracted immigrants, but Australia remained a primarily agricultural country until World War II. Subsequent industrialization has been rapid, and today Australia ranks as one of the world´s most economically developed countries, although vast areas of the interior, known as the Outback, remain all but uninhabited.
Growth of Sheep Grazing Australian soils and climate, with the recurrent droughts, were better suited for large-scale grazing than for farming, and the most successful and dramatic transformation of the Australian continent occurred in the 1830s and 1840s, as squatters established huge sheep runs. Paying only 10 pounds a year for a license, squatters could claim virtually as much land as they wanted.The expansion of sheep grazing resulted in the colonization of the Port Phillip district, which in 1850 became the colony of Victoria, with its capital at Melbourne (founded in 1836). To the north, graziers also gave the outlines to another colony, Queensland (with its capital at Brisbane), which was separated from New South Wales in 1859.From 1830 to 1850 wool exports rose from 2 million pounds to 41 million pounds. With new immigrants and the growth of the capital cities, each of which served as the major port for its region, the Australian colonies began to agitate for more control over their governmental systems.
The mining industry, long an important factor in the social and economic growth of Australia, holds great promise for the future development of the country. The gold discoveries of the 1850s were responsible for the first wave of immigration and for settlement of inland areas. Today, Australia is self-sufficient in most minerals of economic significance, and in a few cases is among the world's leading producers. Annual Australian production of coal, oil, natural gas, and metallic minerals was valued at about $12.4 billion in the early 1990s. Metallic minerals accounted for more than two-fifths percent of the total, with gold and iron ore the most significant components. Western Australia had the largest share of total mineral production, especially of metallic minerals.
Australia accounted for some 13 percent of the world's gold production in 1997......
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After World War II ended in 1945, the introduction of new industries and the development of existing ones caused substantial expansion of manufacturing activity in Australia. In 1998 manufacturing contributed 14 percent of the country's yearly gross domestic product. Principal branches of the manufacturing sector by value of production are metals and metal products, food products, transportation equipment, machinery, chemicals and chemical products, textiles and clothing, wood and paper products, and printed materials.
Manufacturing facilities are concentrated in New South Wales (especially in Sydney and Newcastle) and Victoria (primarily in the Melbourne metropolitan area). New South Wales is noted for the production of iron and steel, jet aircraft, construction equipment, synthetic fibers, electronic equipment, power cables, and petroleum and petrochemical products. In Melbourne, industrial activity includes the manufacture and assembly of machinery and motor vehicles and the production of food and clothing. Geelong, located near Melbourne, is known for its wool mills and motor works. South Australia, traditionally a pastoral and agricultural state, after 1950 developed several important manufacturing centers, including Adelaide and Whyalla. Brisbane and Townsville, in Queensland, have significant numbers of factories. Tasmanian industry, assisted by inexpensive hydroelectric power, includes electrolytic zinc mills, paper mills, and a large confectionery factory. Hobart and Launceston are the primary manufacturing centers in Tasmania.
The major cities of Australia are Sydney, a seaport and commercial center; Melbourne, a cultural center; Brisbane, a seaport; Perth, a seaport on the western coast ; and Adelaide, an agricultural center. Canberra, the national capital, is much smaller in population
Climate The climate of Australia varies greatly from region to region, but the continent is not generally subject to marked extremes of weather. The climate ranges from tropical (monsoonal) in the north to temperate in the south. The tropical region, which includes about 40 percent of the total area of Australia, essentially has only two seasons: a hot, wet period with rains falling mainly in February and March, during which the northwestern monsoons prevail; and a warm, dry interval characterized by the prevalence of southeastern winds. Many points on the northern and northeastern coast have an average annual rainfall of 1,500 mm (60 in); in parts of Queensland average annual rainfall exceeds 2,500 mm (100 in). On the fringe of the monsoonal region are the drier savanna grasslands, where the low, unreliable rainfall is supplemented by artesian water. In central and northern Australia average summer temperatures range between 27° and 29°C (80° and 85°F). The deserts of central and western Australia, making up more than two-thirds of the area, have an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm (10 in).The warm, temperate regions of southern Australia have four seasons, with cool winters and warm summers. Because Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, seasons there are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. January and February are the warmest months, with average temperatures varying between 18° and 21°C (65° and 70°F). June and July are the coldest months, with an average July temperature of about 10°C (about 50°F), except in the Australian Alps, where temperatures average 2°C (35°F). The eastern coastal lowlands receive rain in all seasons, although mainly in summer. The warm, temperate western and southern coasts receive rain mainly in the winter months, usually from prevailing westerly winds. Tasmania, lying in the cool temperate zone, receives heavy rainfall from the prevailing westerly winds in summer and from cyclonic storms in winter. Over the greater part of the lowlands, snow is unknown; however, in the mountains, particularly the Australian Alps in southern New South Wales and the northern part of Victoria, snowfall is occasionally heavy.All of the southern states are exposed to hot, dry winds from the interior, which can suddenly raise the temperature considerably. In most years, parts of the continent experience drought conditions and smaller localities are ravaged by floods and tropical cyclones. Southeastern Australia, including Tasmania, has among the highest incidences of serious bushfires in the world, along with California in the United States and Mediterranean Europe. In 1994, notably, bushfires swept through New South Wales and destroyed several hundred homes in suburban Sydney
Land and Resources: Australia lacks mountains of great height; it is one of the world's flattest landmasses. The average elevation is about 300 m (about 1,000 ft). The interior, referred to as the outback, is predominantly a series of great plains, or low plateaus, which are generally higher in the northeast..... Read more: Land Resources
Natural Resources Australia is rich in mineral resources, notably bauxite, coal, diamonds, gold, iron ore, mineral sands, natural gas, nickel, petroleum, and uranium. Readily cultivatable farmland is at a premium because much of the land is desert. Australia, however, has become one of the leading agricultural producers in the world by applying modern irrigation techniques to vast tracts of arid soil.