Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Australia. Extent, Configuration, Islands. - . Australia, the smallest of the continents and the largest of the islands of the world, has an area of 2,946,153 miles, and is, therefore, of about the same size as the United States of North America, if the vast lake surface of the latter be left out of the computation. The estimated population of Australia at the end of 1890 did not, however, exceed 3,150,000, inclusive of the aborigines, who are rapidly dying out, and who do not now, in all probability, number a hundred thousand souls. The general outline of the island is that of an irregular half-moon, with the concave side, formed by the Great Australian Bight, facing to the south. The distance between the extreme north at Cape York (lat. 10 40' S.) to the extreme south at Wilson Point (lat. 39 10' S.) is about 1,930 miles; and between the extreme east at Cape Byron (long. 153 35' E.) to the extreme west at Steep Point (long. 113 15' E.) about 2,450 miles. The coast is not very irregular or deeply indented, except on the north, and the estimated length of coast-line does not exceed 10,000 miles. The islands - if Tasmania, which lies to the south, and is separated from the continent by Bass Strait, 130 miles wide, be excluded - are neither numerous nor important. On the east they include Prince of Wales Island, Albany Island, the Cumberland Islands, the Northumberland Islands, Great Sandy Island, and Moreton Island; on the south, King Island, Kangaroo Island, Nuyt's Archipelago, Recherche Archipelago, and Eclipse Island; on the west, Peel Island, Rottnest Island, the Abrolhos or Houtman Rocks, Dirk Hartog Island, Barrow Island, Dampier Archipelago, and Expedition Island; and on the north, Bathurst Island, Melville Island, Goulburn Island, Wessel Island, Groote Eylandt, the Sir Edward Pellew Islands, and the Wellesley Islands. The chief bays are the Great Australian Bight, with its deepest inlet, Spencer Gulf, on the south; King's Sound, Collier Bay, and Cambridge Gulf on the west; and the Gulf of Carpentaria on the north. Along the northern part of the east coast, and at a distance from it of from fifty to two hundred miles, runs the Great Barrier Reef, which forms a coral breakwater over 1,200 miles long, with a deep and well-sheltered, though somewhat intricate, channel between it and the shore. The most important peninsulas are those of Cape York and Arnhem Land, on the north, and Eyria and York, on the south.

Physical Features. - Australia, although much of it may be described as hilly, is, as regards great summits, the least mountainous, as it is also the least well-watered, of the continents. The elevated tracts lie chiefly in the eastern half, much of the interior of the western half being a sandy and almost waterless plain, known in its northern part as the Great Sandy Desert, and in its southern as the Great Victoria Desert. Most of the coast, nevertheless, is hilly, the hills being generally topped by plateaux. The chief ranges or groups are the South Australian Highlands, in Victoria and New South Wales, including the Interior Ranges (Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Lyell, 2,000 ft.), the Great Dividing Chain, the Muniong Range (Mount Kosciusko, 7,308 ft.), the Australian Alps (Bogong, 6,500 ft., Hotham, 6,100 ft., The Twins, 5,575 ft.), the Grampians, the Pyrenees (Mount William, 5,600ft.), and the Blue Mountains; the mountains of South Australia, including the Lofty Range (2,334 ft.) and the Flinders Range (3,000 ft.); the Coast Range of Queensland (5,000 ft.); and the mountains in the north-west of Western Australia (Mount Labouchere, 3,400 ft., Mount Bruce, 3,800 ft.). In the south-eastern part of South Australia, near the Victorian frontier, are several extinct volcanoes.

Geology. - Australia, which geologically shows signs of vast antiquity, is, over great part of its area, extraordinarily rich in the valuable and useful minerals, in asbestos and the porphyries, in coal, and in precious stones. Gold is found largely in nearly all parts of New South Wales, over at least one half of Victoria, in Queensland almost everywhere, and to some extent in the other colonies. Valuable veins of silver exist on the confines of New South Wales and South Australia. Enormous quantities of tin are found in New South Wales (where the stanniferous area is estimated at 5-1/2 million acres), in the beds of the tributaries of the Yarra-Yarra in Victoria, and elsewhere. Copper occurs most plentifully in South Australia, in metamorphic and palaeozoic rocks, and in Queensland, where a peculiarly fine malachite abounds. Antimony, in the form of oxide, sulphuret, and sulphide, generally enclosed in quartz, abounds in New South Wales and Victoria. Iron, chiefly in the form of haematite, is also worked in the same colonies. Coal of all kinds, including kerosene shale, which yields upwards of 150 gallons of crude oil per ton, is found over a wide area of New South Wales, and in Queensland. Opal is freely met with in Queensland, in trachytic conglomerate and sandstone. Fine diamonds have been found in all the colonies except South Australia and Western Australia. New South Wales also possesses galena, sulphuret of mercury, bismuth, and zinc, with rubies and sapphires; Victoria - osmium, zinc, cobalt, manganese, kaolin, gypsum, bitumen, and molybdenite; South Australia - bismuth and bitumen; Queensland - cobalt, nickel, cinnabar, zinc, sardonyx, agates, sapphires, garnets, topazes, porphyries, slate, and basalt; and Western Australia, zinc. There are many fine marbles and building. stones.

Hydrography. - Much of Australia is very indifferently watered, and the whole continent is singularly lacking in navigable rivers of any considerable size. The chief river, the Murray, is one of the few exceptions. Rising in the Muniong Range, it receives on its right bank the waters of the Murrumbidgee and Darling, has a length of about 1,300 miles, and drains nearly 270,000 square miles of territory, or about three-quarters of New South Wales and Victoria. It is the principal drainer of the south-eastern portion of the continent. The central southern section is mainly drained by such more or less intermittent streams as the Diamantina, Alberga, and Cooper, into the large land-locked evaporating basins of South Australia. Most notable of these are Lakes Torrens, Eyre, Gairdner, Frome, Gregory, and Blanche. The south-western section of the continent has no rivers of importance, and the Swan river is the only stream which is really navigable. The north-western section is a little better off; but most of the rivers there are sometimes dry. The chief are the Ashburton, the De Grey, and the Fitzroy. The northern section contains the more permanent rivers, Roper, Adelaide, and Victoria, the first of which is navigable for a distance of over 100 miles. The north-eastern section is drained chiefly into the Gulf of Carpentaria, whither flow the Mitchell, Staaten, Gilbert, Norman, Flinders, Leichhardt, Albert, and other rivers; but, to some extent also, into the Pacific, into which the Brisbane and several smaller streams empty themselves. Speaking generally, the eastern third of the continent drains either southward or northward into the sea; the central half drains into lakes, or gets rid of most of its moisture by evaporation; and the western sixth drains westward into the Indian Ocean. Many minor rivers, which would otherwise be navigable for a short distance inland, have their mouths choked by sandbanks.

Climate. - About two-fifths of the Australian continent lie within the tropics. The remainder, including the whole of Victoria and New South Wales, enjoys one of the most pleasant and salubrious climates in the world - a climate which bears a general resemblance to that of South Italy, though, owing to the greater extent of the territory, the mean temperature is more varied. In New South Wales the mean heat in summer is about 80 F., but near the coast this is agreeably tempered by the sea-breeze, which usually blows all day, a land-breeze following at night. On the inland plains, however, the mercury in summer often rises as high as 130 in the shade, and mounts almost daily to 100 during that season. In winter, nearly everywhere south of Sydney there is occasional hoar-frost and snow. In the hills snow is common; and there are places, such as Kiandra, where the mean annual temperature falls as low as 46, and where the thermometer sometimes falls to 5. The air is exceptionally dry and pure; perhaps owing to the depression and aridity of large tracts in the interior, perhaps to the influence of the trade winds. The annual rainfall is very unequally distributed. At Sydney it is about 80 inches; at Melbourne, 40 inches; at Adelaide, 21 inches; at Perth, 31 inches; on some of the interior plains, almost nil; and in parts of the hilly districts, enormous. Nearly all the lowlands are liable to long-continued droughts at uncertain periods. The streams then disappear in the parched earth; the herbage turns brown; and the cattle die of thirst, or of exhaustion consequent upon their unavailing efforts to struggle through the mud to the waters of some fast-vanishing pool. With these droughts come the terrible hot winds, which feel like a blast from a furnace. Happily, the hot winds are rare, occurring only in summer, and then lasting not more than two or three days; but while they last life is almost unbearable. They lull, however, at night. On the interior plains a fire is the almost invariable accompaniment of the hot wind. Often this fire reaches phenomenal proportions. One, in 1851, devastated half the settled portion of what is now the colony of Victoria, caused immense loss of life and stock, and even threatened Melbourne. On February 6th, the day of this fire, the thermometer stood at about 119, but fell rapidly at night to 80. In the northern parts of the island there are, as in most tropical climates, regular wet and dry seasons. The Government Observatory at Sydney prepares elaborate meteorological statistics relating to the entire continent, and receives daily reports from stations in all districts and in New Zealand and Tasmania. It also publishes a daily weather-chart of Australasia, as the British Meteorological Office does of Europe.

Flora. - The natural flora of Australia is strangely suited to the peculiarities of the climate. The great plains are largely covered with grasses, the roots of which have the power of lying dormant during protracted droughts, and of reviving in response to the first shower or heavy dew. Where the droughts are less frequent there is magnificent forest vegetation. Among the most notable trees and shrubs which are indigenous are many myrtaceae, including the Eucalyptus globulus, or blue-gum; the Xanthorrhaea, or grass-tree; the tea-tree, the yellow-wood, the ironwood, certain cedars, the sago-palm, the cabbage palm, many mimosas and other leguminosae, and numerous orchideae, figs, bananas, yams, etc.; but in one part or another of the vast island almost everything will thrive, and the whole flora of tropical and temperate lands has been successfully introduced.

Fauna. - The fauna of Australia differs in nearly every respect from that of any other region on the world's surface. Monkeys, Carnivora, and Ungulates are replaced by Marsupials and Monotremes; the rodents are modified forms of rats and mice; the bats alone possess no special interest, as they are forms common to the whole Eastern hemisphere. There are many characteristic birds, of which the chief are the Lyre-birds, the Scrub-birds, various parakeets, the Mound-birds, the Cassowaries, the Frog Mouths, the Black Swan, etc. There are many poisonous snakes, and thirty-six genera of lizards are peculiar to Australia. There are three peculiar genera of fresh-water turtles, but no tailed Amphibia, though frogs and toads are numerous. The most remarkable fish is Ceratodus (q.v.). Australia is poor in butterflies; richer in beetles, the longicorus abounding throughout the region.

Population. - The aboriginal population is a dark-coloured branch of the Melanesian stock. The people are very rapidly dying out, and are not now supposed to number more than 100,000 souls, of whom about 70,000 are in Queensland. The non-aboriginal population is principally of British ancestry or birth (about 91 per cent.), of German ancestry or birth, and of Chinese birth. The number of Chinese on the continent is estimated at 22,000.

Geographical Exploration and Progress. - The mainland of Australia, though it was seen by De Gonnerville, a French navigator, as early as 1503, seems to have been first touched at in 1606 by the Dutch yacht Duyfhen, which, returning from an exploring expedition along the coast of New Guinea, made the land somewhere near the mouth of Batavia river on the east shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Godinho de Eredia had sighted Cape Van Diemen, on Melville Island, in 1601, and parts of the coast of the new continent, then known as New Holland, were traced by English, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish navigators in 1605. In 1606, also, De Torres passed through the strait which now bears his name, and sighted Cape York. These discoveries were followed up in 1616 by the Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog, in the ship Endraaght. He visited the west coast, and left an inscribed plate on what is now Dirk Hartog Island, near the mouth of Shark's Bay, Western Australia. In 1618 Zeachen, another Hollander, discovered Arnhem Land on the north, and, as some say, part of Van Diemen's Land on the south of the continent. The discovery of the Great Barrier Reef, by Harris, followed in 1619; and of long stretches of the north coast by the Dutch vessels Leeuwin and Arnhem, in 1622 and 1623. In 1627 Pieter Nuyts followed the south coast for a thousand miles; in the next year the Dutch ship Vianen was off what is now Port Essington; and in 1629 Pelsart, in the ship Batavia, was wrecked on the west coast. Abel Janszoon Tasman, commissioned by A. van Diemen, governor of Batavia, to explore the extent southwards of the new land, sailed from Batavia on August 14, 1642, in the yacht Heemskirk, with the tender Zeedhen, and discovered Tasmania, which he named Van Diemen's Land, as well as New Zealand, which he named Staten Land. Thenceforward exploration languished for more than half a century, but in 1663 Thevenot published his chart of the west coast of "Hollandia Nova," and in 1688 Dampier fell in with the northern part of the continent; while in 1696 Willem de Vlaming visited the north and south-west coasts, and sailed a distance of 18 leagues up the Swan river. Exploration was resumed with vigour by Dampier in the Roebuck in 1699; by the Dutch in 1705, when much of the north coast was charted; and by Roggewein, with a Dutch squadron, in 1721-22. Captain Cook, with the Discovery and Resolution, examined much of the east coast in the course of his voyages; and in 1786 it was determined by Parliament to establish a penal settlement at Botany Bay, whither, in the following year, the first convict fleet of six transports, two men-of-war (the Sirius, 20, and Supply, 8), and three storeships sailed under the command of the first governor, Commodore Arthur Phillip, R.N., with Captain John Hunter, R.N., as his captain. The squadron arrived on January 18th, 1788; a few days later two French vessels, the Boussole and Astrolabe, under La Perouse, also arrived. The coasts were further explored by these expeditions, and by that of Bass and Flinders, who named the continent "Australia," in 1798-99. The last year of the eighteenth century witnessed Grant's survey of all the coast, from Bass Land to Cape Northumberland. From that time forward the exploration of the interior began. In 1810 there were 10,454 Europeans in Australia, one-fifth of them being convicts and 1,100 soldiers. Three years later the first successful attempt was made to cross the Blue Mountains. They had until then been considered impassable, not so much by reason of their height, which is inconsiderable, as by reason of the steepness of their summits, which seem not to have been traversed even by the natives. In 1817 Oxley traced the Lachlan river, and in 1818 the Macquarie river, and constructed the first map of Australia. In 1821 the first stage-coach was running, and the population stood at 29,783. In 1824 Messrs. Howell and Hume made many new interior discoveries; by 1826 three newspapers were being published in the colony; and in 1829 Sturt began his first exploring expedition on the west. In the next year he began his second, and in 1831 Mitchell discovered the Peel and Darling rivers. Up to about this time the settled part of the colony was, with the exception of the small settlement on the west, under a single government, the successive governors being Phillip, 1788-92; Grose, Paterson (as locum tenentes), Hunter, 1795-1800; King, 1800-06; Bligh, 1806-08; Macquarie, 1810-21; Brisbane, 1821-25.; Darling, 1825-31; Bourke, 1831-37; and Gipps, 1838-46; but in 1833, by Act of Parliament, the continent was divided into West and South Australia; and South Australia was actually proclaimed a separate colony on December 28, 1836. The erection of other separate colonies followed, as is shown below. In the meantime, exploration was continued by Mitchell in 1835; by Hesse and Gellibrand, who perished, and by Mitchell again, in 1836; by Earle, Eyre, Strelecki, and Ross in 1841; and by Landor and Lefray in 1843. Leichardt's trans-continental expedition left Sydney in October, 1844, and reached the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria in November, 1845. It returned to Sydney in March, 1846, and contributed immensely to the general knowledge of the interior. Other important inland expeditions have been those of Stuart, 1860-61; Burke, 1860; Howett, 1861; Walker, 1861; M'Kinlay, 1862; Macintyre, 1864-66; Giles, 1872; Forrest, 1869-75; and Warburton. Much of the west central portion is still, however, unknown.

Political Divisions. - The whole of the Australian Continent forms part of the British Empire, and so much of it as was settled formed, until 1829, a single colony. The colonies, and dates of their separate establishment, are now - New South Wales (the original colony); Western Australia, 1829; South Australia, 1836; Victoria, 1851; Queensland, 1859. Each of these is treated under its proper head.

The aborigines of Australia form a tolerably homogeneous division of mankind, whose nearest affinities are with the Melanesian or Dark peoples of the Oceanic world. But they are distinguished from all other Negro or Negroid races especially by the combination of a black or nearly black complexion with wavy hair, never woolly, and a full beard. Some writers distinguish two types, and within given limits certain differences are observed, some being tall, stout, and vigorous, others of low stature, feeble, and debased. But these differences may be sufficiently explained by the more or less favourable environment of the several groups, some occupying the well-watered and productive region of the Murray-Darling basin, others roaming over the arid steppe lands on the verge of the desert, their whole existence devoted to the quest of a poor and scanty supply of food. The substantial unity of the race seems to be further established by a community of traditions, social usages, weapons, and implements, and especially by their common speech, all the Australian idioms possessing the same phonetic and structural systems and being apparently derived from one original stock language. They scarcely any have radical terms for the numerals above two; thus, three is 2 + 1; four 2 + 2, and so on, from one end of the continent to the other. The state of culture indicated by this fact is shown also by the rites practised on the youths at the age of puberty; by the prevalence of infanticide and in many places of cannibalism; by the character of the dwellings, often little more than screens of foliage set up to windward; by their omnivorous diet, ranging from grubs and vermin to snakes and human flesh; lastly by their peculiar marriage customs and their treatment of the women, who are the merest drudges with no rights or privileges, and condemned to spend their lives in ministering to the wants of their masters. The most prevalent weapons are spears, clubs, and darts with bone or flint heads; the characteristic boomerang, or returning throwing-stick, is limited to certain districts, and not used in warfare. Tattooing of a rude description, consisting of a few scarifications or incisions artificially raised to permanent welts, is generally practised, and supplemented by painting the body with white, black, red. or yellow ochre, according to the various funeral, festive, or warlike occasions. There is no political organisation of any kind, nor are there any so-called "kings" or even hereditary chiefs, as is commonly asserted. The tribe regulates its affairs by a council of elders, each head of a family retaining almost absolute control over the domestic group. The natives appear to believe in the immortality of the soul, but not in a presiding deity. The universe is full of spirits, some good or benevolent, some harmless and even feeble, others malevolent, to be conjured or thwarted by the charms and spells of the wizard or medicine man. The most comprehensive works on the Australian race are J. R. Brough Smyth's Aborigines of Victoria, London, 1878, and E. M. Curr's Australian Race, Melbourne, 1887.