Australia was the last of all the continents to be discovered, and this was due to its remoteness.
Australia is the largest island and smallest continent in the world. It is the only continent that completely occupies a single country. It has diverse in unique flora and fauna. Now let us explore the continent.
Australia was discovered by Captain James Cook, an English Seaman in 1770.
Location and Size:
Australia extends from 10°4' south to 39º 08' south latitudes and 113º 09' east to 153º39' east longitudes. The Tropic of Capricorn cuts the continent almost into two equal halves. Area of the country is about 7.68 million sq km.
There are six states and two Union Territory in Australia 1) New South Wales 2) Queensland 3) South Australia 4) Tasmania 5) Victoria 6)Western Australia 7) Northern Territory 8) Capital Territory (Canberra). Each state has its own state constitution. Canberra is the capital ofAustralia. Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Darwin are the other important cities of Australia.
Australia has 8,222 islands. Rottnest Island, Magnetic Island, Fitzroy Island, Fraser Island, Phillip Island, Lord Howe Island, Kangaroo Island and Whitsunday Islands are the major islands.
It is the continent with very low irregularities in topography. Based on the nature of topography, it can be divided into three physical divisions namely:
1. The Great Western Plateau
2. The Central Low lands
3. The Eastern High lands
The Great Western Plateau
The Western Plateau is Australia's largest physical division. It incorporates one third of the continent. Its area is about 2,700,000 square kilometers. It is an arid land covering large part of Western Australia, Southern Australia and the Northern Territory.The flat surface is covered by sandy and rocky features.
Ayers rock or Uluru is the largest monolith rock in the world. It is found in the central part of this arid region. It is 863 meters high above the sea level. It is one of the natural wonders of Australia. The pointed limestone pillars called Pinnacles are common in this region.
The McDonnell and Musgrave ranges are located in this plateau the treeless region of Nullarbor Plain is located in the southern part of this plateau. The Great Victoria Desert is the largest desert in Australia located in Western Australia and South Australia.
The Central Low lands
The central lowlands extend from the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north to Indian Ocean in the south. In the centre of these low lands lies the large inland drainage basin of Australia. Lake Eyre is the largest salt lake lies in this region. The Murray–Darling River system lies in the south-eastern part of the central lowlands. Beneath the central lowlands, huge artesian basins are found.
The Eastern Highlands
The eastern highlands extend for about 3860 km along the eastern edge of Australia. It stretches from Cape York in the north to Tasmania in the south. They are also known as the ‘Great Dividing Range’ as it separates the west and east flowing rivers.
Australian Alps mountain range is the highest mountain range of Australia. It is covered with ice. The highest peak of this range is Mt. Kosciuszko (2230m) and is located in the New South Wales.
Australia has two important natural features that have enriched the country. They are
1. The Artesian Basin
2. The Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Artesian Basin
The Artesian Basins are regions on the earth’s surface where water gushes out like a fountain. The great artesian basin in Australia is the largest and deepest basin in the world. The artesian basin is located in the west of the Great Dividing Range. It is found in the arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory. It extends for 1.7 million square km and it is also a major source of water in this region.
Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef is located in the North East of Australia along the East Coast of Queensland in the Pacific Ocean. It is formed by the tiny coral polyps. It is about 2300 kilometers long. It is one of the natural wonders of the world.
Australia receives low average rainfall. Being a hot dry country, the rate of evaporation is high in this country. So, there is a very little amount of water left to flow as river to the seas. The River Murray and its tributary are the main rivers and a major drainage basin of Australia. This drainage basin is found in the interior part of the lowlands of Australia. It covers more than one million sq km which is about 14 per cent of area of Australia.
Bourke is the place in Australia where the highest temperature is recorded (53°C). It is located in the central low lands. The lowest temperature of the country is recorded in Canberra, the capital of Australia (-22°C).
River Murray is the longest river in Australia. It runs 2508 km from Australian Alps to the Indian Ocean. Darling, Alexandria, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Swan are the other important rivers of this continent.
Australia contains the second largest area of extremely arid land in the world. The Tropic of Capricorn divides the Australia into two equal parts. The Northern half is in the warm tropical zone and the southern half is in the cool temperate zone. The north coastal region experiences monsoon type of climate and there is a heavy rainfall during summer. The east coastal region receives good rainfall from south east trade wind. The hot desert climate extends from central lowlands to western shores. The rainfall in this region is less than 25cm per annual. Mediterranean type of climate prevails in the southern tip of Australia in the region around Perth and Adelaide. Tasmania gets rain throughout the year from westerly winds.
Flora and Fauna
Australia is a semi-arid region. Hence, the vegetative cover is not mainly composed of trees but of scattered shrubs and herbs. Bird’s eye view of Australia would reveal a very simple vegetation pattern. The plants and trees in Australia are adapted to dry conditions and can survive for long period without water. They are called Xerophytes. Eucalyptus is the most common tree in the west as it can withstand long period of drought. Forests and woodlands together represent about 16 per cent of the area of Australian continent. Eucalyptus, Acacia and Melaleuca (swamp forests) are the major trees of Australia.
About 80 percent of animals in this country are not found in the other parts of the world. Australia has almost 400 mammal species and about 140 species of marsupials. These are the animals that carry their young ones in their pouches. Kangaroo is the national animal of Australia. Koala, platypus Wallaby and Dingo are the other important animals of Australia. The bird species like the laughing kookaburra, emu, and rainbow lorikeet are the major birds of Australia.
The people who work in the sheep stations in Australia are known as Jackaroos. Aborigines are the indigenous people of the Australia.
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, trade and services are the major economic activities of Australia. Wheat is the chief grain crop of Australia. Rice, sugarcane Mediterranean fruit like grapes, oranges and apricots are produced around Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. Tasmania is known as the Apple Island. Rice, tobacco and cotton are grown in the northern parts of Tasmania. Sheep rearing is carried out along with cultivation in the regions of warm climate. Oats, maize and barley are also cultivated to some extent. Australia is well known for Vineyards and Orchards. Cattle rearing is common in the tropical savannas and sheep farming in the temperate grassland. Merino sheep are rearing in southern Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales. Dairy cattle are reared in farms close to the cities of east and south coast. Among dairy cows Illawarra, Jersey and Ayrshire are the most popular in Australia.
Fishing is also a major economic activity of Australia. Marine fishing is popular in the entire coastal regions of the country. Inland fishing is very limited. Forest resources are also very limited in the country.
The sheep industry is well developed in Australia. The wool is described as the ‘Cash Crop’ of Australia.
Minerals are the largest export item of Australia. It contributes about 10 percent of country’s GDP. Australia is the world’s leading producer of bauxite, limonite, rutile and zircon, the second largest producer of gold, lead, lithium, manganese ore and zinc, the third largest producer of iron ore and uranium and the fourth largest producer of black coal .The coal belts of the country stretches from New Castle to Sydney on the south eastern coast. Iron ores are found mainly in southern and Western Australia.
Bauxite is mined around the gulf of Carpentaria, perth and Tasmania. Petroleum and natural gas is obtained from Bass Strait and west of Brisbane. Uranium is mined in northern territory at Ram jungle and Queensland. Gold is mined in the western desert at Kalgoorlie and Koolgarlie. Lead, Zinc, Silver, Manganese, Tungsten, Nickel and copper are also mined in parts of Australia.
Food and beverage manufacturing industry is the primary industry in Australia. Finance, ship building, information and technology, mining, insurance, aviation and telecommunication industries are the other important industries.
ACTIVITY : There are eight deserts in Australia. List them out with the help of Atlas.
i. Central Desert
ii. Gibson Desert
iii. Great sandy Desert
iv. Great Victoria Desert
v. Little Sandy Desert
vi. Simpon Desert
vii. Strzelecki Desert
viii. Tanami Desert
The temperate grass land of Australia is known as 'Downs'.
Many form of transports are available in Australia. This country is highly dependent on road transport. There are more than 30 airports with paved runways. Passenger rail transport includes widespread commuter networks in the major cities with limited intercity and interstate networks.
As of 2019 the population of Australia is about 25.2 million. It constitutes only 0.33% of the total world’s population. The population density of Australia is 3 persons per sq km. Urban population of the country is about 85.7 percent. Southeastern part of Australia is the densely populated region.