Australia

Driving Directions Australia

AUSTRALIA, the world’s smallest continental landmass, is a vast and sparsely populated country in the southern hemisphere, whose head of state is the British Sovereign. It consists of seven self-governing states: New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. The capital, Canberra, is situ­ated in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

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The country is divided into three main topographical regions: the high ground and plateau in the west, the interior lowlands in the central part of the country, and the mountain ranges in the east. The most mountainous region is the Great Dividing Range, which runs down the entire east coast. The majority of the country’s natural inland lakes are saltwater and are the remnants of a vast inland sea. The longest rivers, the Murray and the Darling, drain the southeastern part of the central lowlands. The Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast is approximately 2,000 kilometers or 1,250 miles long and is the largest coral formation known to the world. Because of its great size, Australia’s climates range from tropical monsoon to cool temperate with large desert areas.

Australia has tremendous diversity in its flora and fauna and has a monopoly on many species. Most native mammals are marsupials, such as the kangaroo, koala, and the Tasmanian Devil (a carnivorous burrowing species). The monotremes are a very primitive form of egg-laying mammals, represented by the platypus and spiny anteater. Reptiles are also found, with crocodiles in the northern coastal swamps, lizards, and numerous snake species, many of which are venomous. Other animals include the dingo, possum, and wombat, and there are many exotic birds – cockatoos, parrots, kookaburras, and the emu. The plant life is equally varied, and the predominant tree is the eucalyptus, of which there are several hundred species.

Australia’s wealth of resources led to its becoming a vital world economic player, and it now occupies an essential role in the region. Much of Australia’s wealth comes from agriculture, with huge sheep and cattle stations extending over large parts of the interior known as the Outback. Australia is the world’s leading producer of wool, particularly Merino wool. The cereal growing dominated by wheat. Mining continues to be an essential industry that produces coal, natural gas, oil, gold, and iron ore, and Australia is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. The country’s manufacturing industry produces mainly consumer goods, such as foods and household articles.

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Australia has one of the flattest terrains of any country in the world. Erosion over thousands of years has rounded and flattened Australia’s mountains so that only 6 percent of the land is over 610 meters (2,000 feet) above sea level. The country may be divided into regions according to topography (description of the land’s surface).

The Eastern Highlands (also called the Eastern Uplands) encompasses the eastern portion of the country, stretching from the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland south through New South Wales and Victoria. The average elevation in this region is about 152 meters (500 feet). The country’s highest peak, Mount Kosciusko – at 2,229 meters (7,314 feet) – is found in the southeast corner of the mainland between Melbourne and Canberra.

The Western Plateau is a large desert region, covering approximately the western two-thirds of the country. The Western Plateau rests on an ancient rock shield or foundation, and the average elevation throughout is 305 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level. The Western Plateau has one mountain range (Hamersley) at its western edge, and three mountain ranges (Macdonnell, Musgrave, and Petermann) stretch to its eastern border. From these ranges southward, the Western Plateau is generally a flat tableland, with dramatic outcroppings of granite or sandstone. Four deserts are situated on the Western Plateau. The dry central part of the Western Plateau is popularly referred to as the “Outback.” The Darling Range, also known as the Darling Scarp, is found along the plateau’s southwest coast.

Several bodies of water surround Australia. Along the northern coast lie the Timor Sea (northwest of Darwin) and the Arafura Sea (directly north of Darwin between Australia and the neighboring nations of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea). The Coral Sea lies east of the Cape York Peninsula along the northeast coast. Stretching directly east is the Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies along the southeast shore of mainland Australia northeast of Tasmania Island. (Tasmania and the Tasman Sea are both named for the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who arrived in Tasmania in 1642.) Finally, the Indian Ocean surrounds the southern and western coasts of mainland Australia.

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A river system comprises a principal river and its tributaries (the rivers that flow into it). A river system begins with rainfall drainage and ends in a large water body, usually an ocean. After a rainstorm, rainwater – called runoff – drains downhill until it eventually accumulates at a low point and begins to flow. As the water flows from higher to lower elevations, two or more small rivers join together to form a larger river. This larger river – usually the one that gives its name to the river system – continues to flow. Sometimes several other smaller rivers, called tributaries, join with the main river as it flows toward a larger body of water such as a lake or ocean. The point at which a river flows into the ocean is called its mouth. A river system begins at a place called the source or headwaters. The source is the point farthest away from the mouth where the water begins to flow. Ports – cities that support shipping activity – often develop at a river’s mouth. Ports have docks and roads to allow goods to be transported by ships and other vehicles into and out of the country.

The Outback is a popular term that refers to the country’s interior, especially the dry center of the Western Plateau and the northern plains. Australians use the term “the bush” to refer to rural areas, mostly wilderness. Life in the Outback may be compared loosely to the rough cowboy lifestyle of the historical American West. “Outback” was first used to describe remote areas far away from civilization. However, “Outback” refers to a broader picture – a place where men and women struggle to live and work in a challenging environment; “the bush” describes the geographical areas located far from cities and towns.

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