Australia, the great island continent of the southern hemisphere, belonging to Great Britain until the 20th century. It is not known just when Australia was discovered, but it is found on a French chart of 1542. A Spaniard, in 1606, passed through the Torres Strait, to which his name is given; while early Dutch explorers made known Tasmania, called at first, in honor of the Dutch governor of the East Indian colonies, Van Diemen’s Land.
In 1664 the states-general gave to the western part of the continent of Australia the name of New Holland; it is known also to have been visited by the mariner William Dampier. It was not until 1768, however, that the country became really known to the English. It was visited in that year by an expedition under Capt. James Cook, who had taken soundings for General Wolfe in the St. Lawrence during the siege of Quebec.
This expedition was under the auspices of the English Royal Society, and was equipped for the purpose of taking observations on the transit (June, 1769) of Venus over the solar disc. Australia had its beginnings as a British settlement in 1788, when its coasts were utilized as places of banishment for criminals, Botany Bay being the first penal colony, in what became the colony of New South Wales.
The Moreton Bay district in Queensland was settled in 1825, but the colony was not organized until 1859. Port Philip district, settled in 1835, was erected into the colony of Victoria in 1851. The colony of Western Australia was founded in 1829, and South Australia in 1836. The population, which had been slowly increasing, was rapidly augmented by the influx of immigrants on the discovery of gold in 1851, and the country entered on a career of continued prosperity.
Geography & Description
It lies between latitude 10° 41' and 39° 11' south, longitude 113° 5' and 153° 16' east. It is washed on the west and south by the Indian Ocean, on the east by the South Pacific and on the north by the Timor, Arfura and Coral Seas. Its greatest length from east to east is 2,400 miles, and its breadth from north to south 1,970 miles. Its area, including Tasmania, is 2,972,573 square miles. Population, in 1909, 4,374,138.
The coast line is almost unbroken. Parallel with the east coast stretches for 1,200 miles the Great Barrier reef, offering but one safe opening for ships. The absence of rivers between the coast and the interior is remarkable, there being only one large river, the Murray, 2,345 miles long. The mountain ranges are on the east coast, divided into the Australian Alps, whose peak, Mt. Kosciusko, is the highest on the continent (7,308 feet); the Blue Mountains; the Liverpool Range; MacPherson Range; Herries Range; the dividing range of Queensland; the great dividing range of Victoria; the Grampians and the Pyrenees.
From the head of the Gulf of Carpenteria stretches a tableland westward. A large part of the interior is a barren tract of salt or mud plains. To the north of Spencer Gulf is an area of some thousand square miles, set with lakes, the Lake District of Australia. Eyre, Torrens, Gairdner and Amadeus to the northwest are the largest. These dead masses of salt water change as the season is wet or dry; now sheets of water and now almost grassy plains.
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Climate: The climate of Australia is healthful though subject to high temperature. The coast regions generally have a sufficient rainfall, but the interior is subject to extreme drought and large areas are practically arid.
Vegetation: Plant life is modified by the dryness of the climate; the trees have a scanty foliage and large areas are covered with scrubby bushes, and, in the arid regions, with a hard, coarse plant, called porcupine grass. There are forests which afford valuable timber trees, including gum, of which there are 150 species, and acacia or wattle 300 species. Palms, of which there are 24 species are found on the north and east coasts. Various fruits and vines have been introduced and produce well. There are also large areas which produce nutritious grasses, affording pasturage for immense flocks of sheep.
Minerals: Gold was discovered in Australia in 1851, attracting a rush of gold seekers. Since that time the mines nave produced more than $1,350,000,000. There are also rich deposits of silver, copper, tin, lead, zinc, etc.; also coal, iron, granite, marble, limestone and sandstone.
Australian Animals: The higher orders of wild animals found in other countries are almost wholly lacking in Australia, those here found being mostly marsupials, or animals which generally carry their young in an external pouch. Of these there are more than 100 kinds, of which the best known are the kangaroo, wombat, koala, bandicoot, wallabies and opossums. Birds are in great number and variety. The largest is the emu, which is nearly as large as the ostrich, reaching a height of six or seven feet. Eagles, falcons, hawks and owls are numerous; also many kinds of parrots and cockatoos of brilliant plumage. Other birds are the pelican, Australian goose, the magnificent lyre bird, with pigeons, ducks, geese, quail, etc. Reptiles include the crocodile, more than 60 species of snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.
Native Peoples: The natives are of a dusky, coffee-brown complexion. They are not much shorter than the average European, but are of a much slimmer and feebler build. They are mainly interested in hunting and getting food, at which they show great cunning, and they easily learn to chatter foreign languages; but outside of this limit all is blank to the Australian. His only idea of right and wrong is that each man’s property is his own, wives being one item in a man’s chattels. In summer they go naked; in winter they wrap themselves in kangaroo skins. They eat roots of the wild yam, the opossum, lizard, snakes, white ants, etc. The boomerang, their favorite weapon, is a flat stick, three feet long, curved at the middle, which, when thrown, jerks in a zigzag fashion and usually comes back to the thrower. They also have flint-pointed spears, shields, and stone hatchets. Before Europeans settled in the island, there were about one hundred and fifty thousand natives, but there are now less than 50,000.
Government of Australia
In 1901 the colonies of Australia, including Tasmania, were federated under the crown, somewhat after the fashion of the Dominion of Canada. These comprise New South Wales, which may be said to be the mother colony (area, 310,367 square miles; population 1911, 1,648,448); Victoria, (area 87,884 square miles; population, 1,303,387); Queensland (area, 670,500 square miles; population, 605,813); South Australia (area, 380,070 square miles; population, 408,808); Western Australia (area, 975,920 square miles; population, 282,114); and Tasmania (area, 26,215 square miles; population, 191,211).
The constitution bill was in June, 1898, submitted by means of the referendum to the people and passed upon; while in January, 1899, at a conference of premiers held in Melbourne, an agreement was come to on all matters in dispute, the British parliament ratifying the federation measure. The federation of Australia was inaugurated at Sydney, New South Wales, by representatives of the Crown, with Lord Hopetown as the first governor-general, in the summer of 1901. Legislative power is vested in a federal parliament, consisting of the king, a senate and a house of representatives, the king being represented by a governor-general. The constitution provides for a common tariff, for interstate free trade and for a common control over matters of national defense. Each of the colonies retains its own parliament to deal with purely internal affairs. Education in the new commonwealth is compulsory, and under state control and free; while there is no state church. The credit of effecting Australian federation is shared by the Rt. Hon. Geo. H. Reid, P. C., premier of New South Wales, and Sir John Forrest, first premier of Western Australia and president of the federal council of Australasia. New Zealand did not enter the commonwealth, though provision is made for so doing later on, should it desire to become federated with the six colonies of the neighboring continent. Future amendments to the federal constitution are provided for by means of a majority vote of both houses of the Australian parliament, followed by a referendum to the whole people.
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States of Australia
New South Wales
It was only by slow degrees that New South Wales emerged from the status of a convict colony. A good deal of the first rough labor was, however, done by exported criminals, in constructing public buildings, in making roads and in clearing the land. Early in the 19th century some fine breed of sheep was brought to the settlement, and as the pasturage was excellent and the climate favorable, the sheep did well and greatly multiplied. Assisted immigration in time brought numbers, and in 1841 the reception of convicts ceased. In the early fifties a great impulse was given to the colony by the inrush of miners and adventurers owing to the discovery of gold. In 1843 representative government was introduced, and twelve years later responsible rule was fully established, with a parliament consisting of two houses. Finally, education came under state control, and the University of Sydney was founded as the apex of the system. Technical education is also fostered and subsidized by the government. Sydney, the capital, has a population, including suburbs, of 605,900. The other chief towns are Newcastle, Bathurst, Goulburn and Parramatta. One third of the people are engaged in agricultural, pastoral and mineral pursuits. Over 40,000 are engaged in the mining of gold, silver, coal, etc. The value of the annual product of gold is nine million dollars. An equal value of silver-lead ore and metal is annually mined. Other exports include coal, hides and skins, leather, wool and meat preserved and frozen. New South Wales is the premier wool-producing colony, taken from the immense numbers of sheep pasturing on the western plains. Only one per cent., as yet, of the land is under cultivation, while twenty-five per cent. is under forest or brush.
Victoria, next to New South Wales, is the most densely populated colony in the new commonwealth. The capital is Melbourne, with a population of 591,830, or nearly two-fifths of that of the entire colony. The other chief towns are Ballarat (44,000), Bendigo or Sandhurst, as it is now called (42,000), and Geelong (28,880). In 1898 the exports of gold (inclusive of specie) amounted to nearly thirty million dollars; the other principal exports were of wool, cereals and flour, hides, skins and furs, leather and harness, butter and live stock. Half of the cultivated area is under wheat, the other crops being oats, barley, hay and potatoes. Since 1851 it is estimated that gold to the amount of 1,365 million dollars has been extracted from the mines. The educational institutions include, besides the state primary and technical schools, the University of Melbourne, with three affiliated colleges, The latter has both an examining and a teaching body, and by royal charter, granted in 1839, is empowered to grant degrees in all faculties save divinity.
Queensland comprises the whole northeastern area of the continent, with its adjacent islands in the Pacific and in the Gulf of Carpentaria. The northern portion of the colony was, prior to 1850, known as the Moreton Bay District. From its great area and climate, its products are many and diversified, including not only the staple cereals and grains, vegetables, etc., but sugar cane, oranges, pineapples, bananas, arrow-root, tobacco, coffee and cotton. The woods afford large supplies of fine timber, and bees are raised largely, as nearly all the forest trees flower and provide large supplies of honey and pollen; while the winters are so mild that the bees are not compelled to remain in the hives and consume their own stores, as in colder countries. Within the colony, it is estimated, there are 5,000 square miles of coal-yielding country, though scarcity of labor, it is said, hinders its mining development. Primary secular education is provided free by the state. There are also schools of art, where technical instruction is given. Brisbane, the capital, with two municipalities (Brisbane and South Brisbane), has a combined population (1907), of 130,000. The gold product for the year 1905, amounted to 592,620 ounces; other minerals mined include silver, copper and tin.
South Australia extends across the center of the continent from north to south, having Western Australia on the west and the other colonies (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) on the east. The capital is Adelaide, on the river Torrens, which has a university; its population is 184,393. It is the great emporium of the colony for its large exports of wool, wheat, hay, live stock and its minerals, silver and copper ore. In the northern territory of the colony large numbers of horses, cattle and sheep are raised. In 1911 it had 1,935 miles of railway open for traffic and nearly 6,000 miles of telegraph in operation, including the overland line running between Adelaide and Port Darwin (a distance of 2,000 miles) in connection with the British Australian cable.
Western Australia is the largest of the commonwealth colonies, though it is the most sparsely settled, except in the southwest corner around Perth, the capital (population 54,354). The other chief town is Fremantle (19,346), named after Captain Fremantle, who after the first settlement of the colony, in 1829, claimed possession of it in the name of George IV. The colony was then known as the Swan River settlement. In 1850 it became for a time a penal settlement of Britain; but in 1868 transportation of the criminal class was abolished. The chief difficulty in the interior is said to be want of water. The inland mining region around Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie is one of great industrial activity, especially since the railway has been constructed to these mining centers and on as far as Menzies. The chief exports are gold (the value of which, shipped, in 1904 amounted to $19,000,000), pearls and pearl-shell; sandalwood, timber, wool and skins. Along the river courses of the north and northeast are, it is estimated, about 20,000,000 acres of fairly well-watered country, affording good pasturage. Australian defense is maintained by subsidies granted by the separate colonies, including Tasmania and New Zealand. At Sydney, N. S. W., there is a first-class naval station, the headquarters of the British fleet in Australasia. The principal ports of the colonies are protected by fortifications, maintained at the expense of each colony.
The New Student's Reference Work (1914)