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AUSTRALIA.—POSITION, EXTENT, COAST-LINE, HISTORY.
1. Australia is an island so large that it is often called the “island continent.” As its name implies, it lies to the south of the great mainland of Asia. The Indian Ocean washes its western and southern shores, and on the east the wide Pacific stretches away for thousands of miles. On the north the Arafura Sea and Torres Straits connect the two great oceans.
2. The coast line, which measures about 8,000 miles, is but little indented. The Gulf of Carpentaria on the north, and the Great Australian Bight, and Spencer Gulf on the south, are the chief openings. The chief points are Cape York in the north, Cape Howe in the south-east, Cape Leeuwin in the south-west, and the North-West cape.
3. The islands are very few in number. Melville, off the north coast, and Tasmania, separated from the south-east point by Bass Strait, are the most important. The most remarkable physical feature of the coast-line is the Great Barrier Reef of coral rocks, which skirts the north-eastern coast for a length of 1,200 miles. Its distance from the mainland varies from 12 to 150 miles, and throughout its entire length presents but very few safe openings for ships. On this great coral reef the swell of the Pacific breaks continually, forming a long line of white foam, while within the reef the water is calm and still.
4. The area of this vast island is nearly three millions of square miles, or about fifty times the extent of England and Wales. But, as we shall see in another lesson, its importance is not in proportion to its extent, for a very large part is uninhabited and uninhabitable for want of water. The total population, excluding the natives, who are not numerous, is only about two millions.
* Austral south.
5. The whole country may be roughly divided into three great regions, Western, Central," and Eastern Australia, each consisting of about a million acres. The central district is a great slice cut out from the middle by lines drawn from north to south. This is called “South Australia.” The eastern portion is divided into Victoria on the south, New South Wales in the centre, and Queensland in the north. Thus there are five great provinces-New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.
6. It was in the sixteenth century, when the first settlements were being made in India, that Australia was discovered. The first distinct reference to it is in a book printed in 1598. “ The Australis Terra * is the most southern of all lands, and is separated from New Guinea by a narrow strait. Its shores are hitherto but little known, since after one voyage and another that route has been deserted, and seldom is the country visited, unless when sailors are driven there by storms.'
7. The country was no doubt first visited by the French and Portuguese. The Dutch and Spaniards followed; but the English did not make their appearance till Dampier, in 1688, spent some weeks on the northwest coast. Nearly a century later (1770) Captain Cook, in his voyage round the world, skirted the whole length of the east coast. Other explorers followed, but it was not until 1843 that our knowledge of the outline of the great southern island was complete.
8. At this time the interior was still partially or wholly unknown. Even yet vast tracts remain unexplored as regards their capabilities for settlements, though we may safely say that the great physical features are pretty well known.
9. At first Australia offered but slight temptation for settlements. There were no spices, no marketable slaves, and the precious metals had not been discovered. Hence the earlier discoverers formed no trading stations, and claimed no portion of the land. 10. The first British settlement was made at Port
* South land.
Jackson in 1788, and was the beginning of the flourishing colony of New South Wales. West Australia was founded in 1829, and South Australia was established as a separate colony in 1834. Victoria and Queensland were separated from New South Wales, Victoria, in 1850, and Queensland in 1859. Each colony has a separate and independent Government, consisting of “Houses of Representatives" or Houses of Parliament, the Governor in each case being sent from England.
11. Probably no country in the world has progressed in importance with such rapid strides as Australia. Three generations ago its shores had scarcely been touched by civilised man. Now some of its provinces are more powerful and wealthier than some of the old-established European states. In thirty years the population and trade have both increased ten-fold.
-SURFACE AND WATER-SYSTEM.
1. The surface of Australia as a whole is flat, and much of it, especially in the vast central regions, is but little raised above the sea-level. The only really mountainous district is in the east and south-east, where a chain of mountains runs parallel with the coast from north to south almost throughout the entire length of the island. This mountain system stretches out to a width of 150 miles, and the uplands and plains between the mountains and the sea vary from twenty to a hundred miles in width. The peaks are from 2,500 to 4,500 feet in height. The highest point yet discovered is Mount Kosciusko, in the south-east, which rises to a height of more than 7,000 feet.
2. The west and south-west coast also has its parallel mountain chain, but the heights are inferior to those on the east, and generally lie nearer the sea. In the great Australian Bight, or Bay, they form sea-cliffs from