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12.2: Australia

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Summarize the colonial exploitation and development of Australia.
    2. Understand the basic characteristics of Australia’s physical geography.
    3. Outline how the core-periphery spatial relationship applies to Australia.
    4. Describe the country’s general cultural attributes.
    5. Summarize the methods used for the country to gain national wealth.

    Physical Geography

    There is an international attraction to the island continent of Australia, and the attraction has grown in intensity in the past few decades. Tourism is now the number one economic activity in Australia. Just slightly smaller in physical area than the continental United States, Australia is a large country with many resources but few people relative to its size. The Tropic of Capricorn runs right through the middle of this country. Australia hosts many unique species of plants and animals, including marsupials and a host of poisonous snakes and insects. With the advent of European colonialism, new species were introduced to the country, which regrettably caused the extinction of some of the native species but also gave Australia a wide diversity of organisms and natural conditions.

    Australia is a relatively low-lying island with low relief. It is the flattest of all the continents. The various highland ranges are pronounced, but are not high in elevation. The Great Dividing Range is a mountain chain extending from Melbourne in the south to Cape York in the north. This low-lying range of highlands averages about four thousand feet and reaches an elevation of just over seven thousand feet at its highest peaks in the south. The largest river in Australia is the Darling-Murray River system that starts in the highland of the Great Dividing Range and flows inward through New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia.

    The great interior of the country is home to the massive outback. Extending west from the Great Dividing Range, the outback encompasses most of the interior. This region receives less rainfall than along the coast and its terrain consists of deserts and semiarid plateaus with rough grasses and scrublands. The outback is sparsely populated, but is home to a number of aboriginal groups. Many of the school-age children in the outback have traditionally received their school lessons through television or radio broadcasts because of their isolation. Mining and some agricultural activities can be found in the outback. Alice Springs is located in the center of the continent and has been given the designation of the middle of nowhere, or the center of everything.

    Figure 12.4 The Ghan (Train) Waiting at Alice Springs Station before Continuing North to Darwin


    The remote town of Alice Springs is located at the center of the Australian outback.

    Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 3.0.

    The deserts of Australia’s interior make up a large portion of the continent. Western Australia has three large deserts: the Gibson Desert, Great Victoria Desert, and Great Sandy Desert. The Simpson Desert is located in the border region between the Northern Territory, Queensland, and South Australia. These deserts are not all sand; course grasses and various species of spinifex, a short plant that grows in sandy soil, also grow in the deserts. The Great Artesian Basin on the western edge of the Great Dividing Range receives very little rainfall. It would be classified as a desert but for its underground water resources, which support extensive farming operations. Large livestock businesses exist in Australia’s interior with massive herds of cattle and sheep. The grassy plateaus and scrublands provide grazing for domesticated livestock and even wild camels.

    The Great Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the world, extends for 1,600 miles off the northeastern coast of Australia. It is home to a host of sea creatures and fish that draw millions of tourists each year. The reef attracts scuba divers and water enthusiasts from around the world. The reef is a main tourism attraction and brings income to the Australian economy. The Great Barrier Reef has been designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site. Brisbane is located on the Gold Coast, which gets its name from the beautiful sandy beaches. The beaches attract an important tourism market for the country.

    Figure 12.5 Aerial view of Uluru (Ayers Rock), Located in the Interior of Australia near Alice Springs


    The rock rises 1,142 feet above the outback and is 2.2 miles long. The site is sacred to the Aborigines and is a major tourist attraction. It is listed as a World Heritage Site.

    Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

    A couple of large physical features of interest and significance to Australia are the two largest monoliths in the world. In western Australia, more than five hundred miles to the northeast of Perth, is Mt. Augustus National Park, which features the rock known as Mt. Augustus. It is considered to be the largest single rock in the world. Mt. Augustus rises 2,352 feet above the desert landscape. The single structure is about five miles long. Mt. Augustus is more than twice the size of the most famous Australian monolith of Uluru (Ayers Rock). Uluru is located about two hundred miles southwest of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and is a well-known tourist attraction. Uluru rises 1,142 feet above the outback and is about 2.2 miles long. Both rocks hold significant cultural value to the aboriginal populations in Australia. They both have ancient petroglyphs, and both are considered sacred sites. Uluru has been more popularized through tourism promotions.

    Climate Regions

    Central and western Australia are sparsely populated. Large areas of the Northern Territory and the desert regions are uninhabited. Approximately 40 percent of Australia’s interior is desert, where Type B climates dominate. The large land mass can heat up during the summer months, triggering high temperatures. Low humidity allows heat to escape into the atmosphere after the sun goes down, so there is wide temperature variation between day and night.

    Along the northern coastal region there are more tropical Type A climates. Closer to the equator and with the sea to moderate temperatures, the northern areas around Darwin and Cape York have little temperature variation. Temperatures in Darwin average about 90 °F in the summer and 86 °F in the winter. Spring monsoons bring additional rainfall from February to March.

    Tasmania, Victoria, and the core region of the southeast have a more moderate and temperate Type C climate. The main cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, are within this area. It is not surprising that there is a direct correlation between Type C climates and the major population areas. The Tropic of Capricorn cuts across the continent, indicating that the cities are not that far south of the tropics. Average winter temperatures in June and July do not usually fall below 50 °F and average summer temperatures in January and February remain around 70 °F. Since the seasons are reversed from that of the Northern Hemisphere, many Australians go to the beach for Christmas.

    Figure 12.6 Australia’s Provinces and Territories and Their Respective Major Cities


    The two core areas, where most of Australia’s population resides, are also noted. Not unexpectedly, the core areas have a dominant type C climate, following the general principle that humans gravitate toward type C climates.

    Updated map from Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 3.0.