Western Australia, a British colony in Australia, comprising all of the continent W. of Ion. 129° E.; area estimated at 978,000 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, exclusive of aborigines, 24,785; estimated in 1875, 27,371. The coast, which is mostly flat, is about 3,000 m. long, and is indented by many bays and fringed with numerous small islands and coral reefs, inside of which is good anchorage. The principal inlets are Cambridge gulf, Admiralty gulf, York sound, Brunswick bay, Collier bay, King sound, Roebuck bay, Exmouth gulf, Shark bay, Geographe bay, Flinders bay, Tor bay, and King George's sound. The surface is mostly level and undulating, and is in great part covered with forests. The principal mountains are the Victoria, Herschel, and Darling ranges, which run parallel to the W. coast, at distances varying from 10 to 25 m. from it, and seldom exceed 2,000 ft. in height. Mt. William in Murray county, 3,600 ft. high, is one of the highest peaks in the colony. The chief rivers on the N. W. coast are the Glenelg, Fitzroy, De Gray, Sherlock, Fortescue, and Ashburton; on the S. W., the Gascoyne, Murchison, Irwin, Arrowsmith, Moore, Swan, Murray, and Collie; and on the S., the Blackwood, Frankland, Kalgan, and Pallinup. The Swan, with its affluents, the Canning, Avon, and others, drains several of the most important counties, and empties into a bay called Melville water, in lat. 32°. On its estuary are situated Perth, the capital of the colony, and Fremantle, the principal port.
There are no large lakes, but many shallow lagoons, most of which are salt. The largest are Austin, Moore, Great Salt, and Barlee. The W. coast has a sandy soil composed chiefly of the detritus of old coral reefs; inland is found a conglomerate of disintegrated granite stained with iron, and called ironstone, among which are granite, slate, quartz, trap, and pipe clay. Vast plains of sand, covered with spinifex and scrubby timber, but with no grass nor watercourses, are found in the interior; but there is much land suitable for sheep grazing and agriculture. The flora and fauna are similar to those of the other Australian colonies. Flowers, fruits, and vegetables from all parts of the world are easily acclimated, and deer, Angora goats, hares, and trout have been introduced. The mineral riches are very great, silver, lead, copper, iron, and plumbago being found in many places. In 1873-'4 valuable auriferous quartz lodes were discovered, and there are indications of coal and petroleum. The climate is very salubrious; in the southern part it resembles that of England, in the middle that of S. Italy, and in the north, though hot, it is generally dry and tempered with cool breezes. Severe droughts and heavy floods are unknown. Snow is never seen, and ice but seldom.
The principal industries are agriculture and stock raising. In 1874 there were 45,292 acres in crops, of which 23,427 were in wheat. Wine and silk are produced to some extent, the cocoanut is raised on the N. W. coast, and sugar cane has been introduced from Mauritius. Cotton thrives, but coffee is a failure. The live stock consisted in 1874 of 26,637 horses, 46,748 horned cattle, 777,861 sheep, and 13,290 swine. Large quantities of sandal wood and jarrah, or W. Australia mahogany, are annually cut and exported. The exports of sandal wood in 1874 amounted in value to £70,580. The pearl fishery on the N. W. coast is increasing in value yearly. In 1874 a fleet of 54 schooners and cutters and 135 small boats were engaged in it, and the estimated value of the pearls and pearl shells obtained was £74,162. The chief seats of the fishery are Port Cossack and Shark's bay. Malays are employed as divers. The colony has an Anglican and a Roman Catholic bishop, both of whom reside at Perth. The settled portion of Western Australia, a district nearly as large as France, is divided into 25 counties. The administration is in the hands of a governor appointed by the crown, who is assisted by an executive council. In 1875 steps were taken for the establishment of a constitutional government.
The total revenue for 1874 was £148,072, and the expenditure £143,266. The public debt in 1874 was £35,000, which has since been increased by a loan of £100,000, for the construction of a railway and telegraphs. The total value of imports during 1874 was £364,262; of exports, £428,836. The total shipment of wool was 2,874,982 lbs., valued at £215,624. In the same year 144 vessels, of 65,351 aggregate tonnage, entered the ports. Steam communication has been established between the chief ports on the W. coast and Albany in King George's sound, where the mail steamers for Europe and the eastern colonies call. - Western Australia was first taken possession of in 1826. In 1829 a settlement was made at Swan river, but the colony made little progress until after 1850, when convict labor was introduced. The transportation ceased in 1868, up to which time nearly 10,000 prisoners had been absorbed. During this period the colony made great material progress. In 1874 there were remaining 1,162 male convicts, 430 of whom were in confinement.