Australia, the largest of the islands of the world, lies wholly south of the equator, and is really a continent within itself, its greatest length, from Cape Byron to Steepe Point, being 2,400 miles, and its greatest breadth, from Cape York to Cape Wilson, 2,000 miles. The island is divided into the following provinces: Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and West Australia (since the Federation West-ralia).
The surface is generally a level plateau, with a mean elevation of 1,180 feet above the sea-level. The interior, especially in the west, consists largely of sandy and stony desert. The mountainous region is almost exclusively confined to the eastern and southeastern coasts, comprised in a belt about 150 miles wide. The only great river is the Murray, 1,550 miles long, and with its tributaries draining an area of 270,000 square miles. A characteristic feature of the continent is also its inland salt lakes, the principal ones of this character being Lakes Eyre, Gairdner, Amadeus and Torrens. A part of Queensland and North Australia lie in the torrid zone, and have a mean temperature of 78 degrees. Extremes of cold and heat prevail in the temperate zone.
The vegetation of the continent is remarkable. Several varieties of trees not found elsewhere grow here, and, instead of being in dense forests, are scattered about like parks. The foliage of most of the shrubs and trees is evergreen. The animal life of the island is also unlike that of any other part of the world. There are no beasts of prey ; the swans are black instead of white, and a fish, called the climbing perch, ascends trees by the aid of its fins and catches insects. The island has practically no singing birds.
New South Wales is the oldest of the Australian colonies, with an area of 310,700 square miles, and a population of about 1,500,000.
The population is estimated at 1,250,000, with an area of 87,884 square miles.
The population approximates 500,000, with an area of 668,224 square miles.
South Australia embraces 903,690 square miles, with a population of about 400,000. The name of this province would imply that the colony is confined to the south of the continent; on the contrary, it extends to the farthest north, and is popularly known under the name of the Northern Territory.
Western Australia (or Westralia) is the largest of the Australian states, including all that portion of the continent situated to the westward of 129 degrees east longitude. Its area is 978,300 square miles. Its population is very sparse, numbering only about 40,000.
Prior to 1901, the government of all the colonies comprised the Executive, consisting of a governor appointed by the British Crown, assisted by a cabinet of ministers, and the Legislative, consisting of a Parliament and a Legislative Assembly. The number of the Executive Council of Ministers varied in the different provinces, as did also the number of members in the two legislative bodies.
On the first day of the year 1901 all of the colonies entered a federation, under the title of "The Commonwealth of Australia," composed of six states, five of which are above mentioned, occupying the mainland of Australia, the sixth being the island of Tasmania, which lies off the southern end of the great island, separated from it only by a narrow strait. As will be seen by the above statistics, two of these states, Westralia and South Australia, are about four times as large as the State of Texas. The Australian organization is the first federation of British colonies to be governed under a constitution entirely framed by its own people. This constitution more nearly resembles that of the United States of America than any other, but it has some important differences. The Governor-General is appointed from time to time by the British Cabinet, to represent the King, but he will be guided entirely by the advice of a Cabinet of Ministry, consisting of members of the Federal Parliament, who are able to command a majority of the votes in the Chambers, particularly the Chamber of Representatives, which controls the finances of the commonwealth. The legislative power rests with the Parliament, consisting of two chambers, denoted respectively, the Senate, with thirty-six members, six from each state, without reference to population ; and the Representative Chamber, consisting of seventy-two members, elected for three years, by the people of the states, in proportion to their population. The Senators are elected by the people of their respective states (not, as in America, by the State Legislature), and they hold office for six years.
Religion in Australia (with the exception of the aborigines, who still practice fetictiism to a certain extent, and Judaism, which follows the Semitic race into all countries), is entirely Christian, divided between the Protestant sect and the Roman Catholic, in the proportion of about five to two.
Education is fostered with the characteristic industry of the English-speaking colonists everywhere. Public schools prevail throughout Australia. There are large universities at both Sidney and Melbourne. In some of the provinces education is made compulsory. Melbourne is the commercial centre of Australia and the largest city in Oceania. Sidney is the capital and metropolis of New South Wales. Brisbane is the capital of Queensland, Adelaide of South Australia, and Perth of Western Australia.