Australia, by far the largest island on the earth's surface, and with or without adjoining islands, reckoned one of the continents, lies between 10° 39' and 39° ll 1/2' S. lat., and between 113° 5' and 153° 16' E. long. It has a length from west to east of about 2400 miles; and a breadth from north to south of 1971 miles; with a total area of 2,944,628 sq. m., about one-fourth less than that of Europe, or more than twenty-five times that of Great Britain and Ireland. By the shortest route, its nearest point is 11,000 miles distant from England. It is separated from New Guinea by Torres Strait, 90 miles broad, and from Tasmania by Bass Strait, 140 miles wide; on the NW., W., and S., it is washed by the Indian Ocean; and on the E., by the South Pacific. This island-continent is, above all other continents, exceedingly compact, with an almost unbroken outline on the east and west. Parallel with the east coast, at a distance of about 60 miles, stretches for 1200 miles the Great Barrier Reef. The name Australia in its present signification was suggested by Captain Flinders, and came into use about 1817.

The island is mainly a plateau with a precipitous face outwards, and at most places bounded by a strip of lower-lying land between that face and the sea-coast. The eastern edge of the plateau averages 2000 feet in height, the western but 1000 feet; while there is in all directions an inclination towards a central depression somewhat south and east of the actual centre of the continent. One great river, the Murray, Australia's only great river, drains by means of its many large tributaries - Darling, Murrumbidgee, etc. - the whole of the south portion of the eastern half of the plateau, most of Victoria, New South Wales, the south of Queensland, and the east of South Australia; and in the SE. corner is the principal mountain range, the Australian Alps (highest points Mount Town-send, 7350 feet, and Mount Kosciusko, 7308) continued northwards into New South Wales by the Blue Mountains, the Liverpool Range, etc. There is no drainage into the interior in the western part of the plateau, which is but slightly inclined: and here the slight and irregular rainfall collects in salt marshes, which sometimes in flood greatly extend their area. Next to the Murray, the most important rivers are the Fitz-roy and the Burdekin in Queensland. By far the best part of the continent for European settlement and European agriculture is the southeast - Victoria, New South Wales, and part of South Australia - both on and outside of the plateau. Queensland is rich and fertile, but tropical and sub-tropical. The northern coast strip is largely covered with tropical forests. A portion only of Western Australia is available for agriculture or pastoral occupation. Considerable areas of the interior are hopeless, irreclaimable, almost impassable sandy desert; but much of the interior area, covered with scrub and prickly plants, might under irrigation become available for human occupation.

The foundation of the plateau is granite, sometimes replaced by palaeozoic slates and schists inclined so as to stand almost on edge. Above both are in east and south-east coal-bearing areas, of both mesozoic and palaeozoic age. The central depression is of cretaceous age. The higher edges of the plateau are all volcanic, craters, ash cones, and ash beds being still very conspicuous in many places. Gold, discovered in New South Wales in 1851, has since been found in all the Australian colonies, especially Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales. In 1851-91, Australia produced about 100,000,000 oz. valued at over 350,000,000. Of late years the gold produce has much fallen off. There are rich silver-mines in New South Wales, copper-mines in South Australia, and tin-mines in Queensland. There are great coal-fields in New South Wales and Queensland; and iron has been found in several colonies. Lead, bismuth, antimony, diamonds, and various kinds of precious stones form part of Australia's mineral wealth.

In proportion to its size, Australia, lying mostly within the temperate zone, enjoys on the whole an equable climate, although subject to great occasional irregularities; in general, hot and dry, and remarkably salubrious. Within the tropics, it has its rainy season in summer (November to April); south of the tropics, almost exclusively in winter. The principal mountains, both for extent and height, lying to the east or windward side, receive by far the heaviest tribute of moisture brought by the winds from the Pacific; and, as a rule, the amount of rainfall on the east side is in inverse proportion to the distance from the east coast. The west side has far less rain than the east, and there the rainfall is proportionate to the proximity to the west coast. What moisture is left in the winds after their passage across the highlands, the intense heat rising from the central plains tends to dissipate, instead of allowing it to condense into rain. South Australia, Victoria, and in a less degree, New South Wales, are exposed to hot winds from the interior which rapidly raise the temperature of the lands they visit to 115° or higher, and are followed by an equally sudden fall. Melbourne has a mean temperature of 58°; Sydney, 63°; Adelaide, a little higher; Perth, about the same as at Sydney. Captain Sturt found the mean temperature of the interior for three months over 101° F. in the shade, and the drought such as to unloosen the screws of his boxes, split his combs into thin laminAe, make the leads drop out of his pencils, and his fingernails become brittle as glass; the season was, however, an exceptional one, and good pastoral country exists within a short distance of what he described as the 'stony Desert.' The east highlands have a greater proportion of snow than their latitude and height would argue. At 5000 feet of altitude, in certain situations, snow lies all the year round, and many of the higher mountains are covered with snow all the winter.

The worst feature in the climate of Australia is the total uncertainty and inequality of the rainfall in all parts of the continent, menacing the whole country with almost equally distressing alternations of drought and flood. Droughts sometimes completely wither up vegetation over large tracts of land, to the destruction of many thousands of cattle. The ordinary drought itself renders almost all the rivers of Australia, with the exception of the Murray proper, merely intermittent; shrunk for months together into straggling water-holes, with or without some connecting thread of stream. As rivers, they really cease to exist for a longer or shorter period every year. Even the Murray is only navigable at certain seasons of the year. The rainy season, on the other hand, swells these pools into terrific floods, inundating the country, and often most seriously m destroying property. Most successful irrigation colonies have been established at Mildura in Victoria, and Renmark in South Australia, both utilising the waste waters of the River Murray. Water for the use of stock in summer is extensively stored in dams, and large tracts of country with no surface-water have been made available for settlement by sinking wells. In some districts where the conformation is favourable, artesian wells have proved a success.

The vegetation of Australia is altogether unique, standing at a long interval from that of all other quarters of the globe; but it is exceedingly abundant in species. These, it is calculated, number about 10,000 - considerably more than are to be found in all Europe. A peculiarity of Australian vegetation is the abundance of 'scrub' - the 'mallee,' 'mulga,' etc. The highlands are rich in wood, such as that of the gum-trees of the genus Eucalyptus, growing to a height of 250 feet, with a girth of 12 to 20 feet; one felled giant measuring as much as 480 feet. Then in the south and west, and even a little into the interior, though less abundantly there, are the valuable shea-oaks, beef-woods, or Casuarinas. The ' wattles' or acacias, abounding everywhere in the country, and comprising over 300 species, are also a most characteristic feature of Australia, with lovely yellow blossoms, and generally fragrant. The Australian bush is fragrant all the year. Australia affords so wide a variety of climate and soil that most European trees and plants have been successfully introduced. The Scotch thistle has become a serious nuisance.

The zoology of Australia is even more peculiar than its botany. The mammalia of other lands are totally wanting here, except some rats and mice, and the dingo or wild dog, while the marsupials or pouch-bearing mammalia of Australia have but the opossums of America to represent them in any other part of the world. The largest of the marsupials are the kangaroo, hare kangaroo, and rat kangaroo. The fruit-eating bat, or flying-fox, is found. Then there are opossums and phalangers. The wombat is the largest of the marsupials, next to the kangaroo. The ant-eater of Western Australia is of the size of a squirrel. The ornithorhynchus, platypus, duck-mole, or water-mole, having no teeth or marsupial pouch, has broad webbed feet, a horny mandible like a duck-bill, and is oviparous. Australia favours the acclimatisation of animal as well as plant life, and the rabbit has proved so prolific as to require special public efforts for its suppression. The camel has done excellent service in the work of exploration.

The birds, if not quite so unique and strange a feature of Australia as are its mammalia, excel those of all other temperate lands for beauty of plumage and fineness of form. Passing over the splendid parrots and cockatoos, we note for their singularity of figure or brilliancy of feather, the regent-bird, rifle-bird, fly-catcher, and lyre-bird. Notable are also honey-suckers, brush-turkeys, the bower-birds, the emu and cassowary, and the Podargi, of enormous mouth - 'more-porks,' as they are called, from their singular cry. Altogether, Australia has 650 distinct species of birds to muster against Europe's 500. Of reptiles, Australia has no less than 140 different kinds, its largest lizard measuring from 4 to 6 feet. Nor does Australia want for snakes. Though destitute of both the vipers and pit-vipers, it makes up for this by the Elapidse (a family including the Indian cobras), constituting twothirds of the snakes of Australia, all poisonous, though only five kinds are fatally so. The black snake of Australia measures from 5 to 8 feet long. Australia abounds, moreover, in insects, beautiful and peculiar. English singing and game birds have been largely introduced. The common sparrow has multiplied to such an extent that it has become a pest. Axis deer and Angora goats have been acclimatised.

Almost as much as its botany and zoology, the human natives of Australia are isolated and peculiar, separated by a wide remove from the Papuans, the Malays, and the Negroes. Of a dark coffee-brown complexion, rather than actually black, the Australian stands not much short of the average European in height, but is altogether of much slimmer and feebler build; his legs, in particular, are very lean and destitute of calves (a defect common to dark races). His head is long and narrow, with a low brow prominent just above the eyes, but receding thence in a very marked degree. The nose, proceeding from a narrow base, broadens outwardly to a somewhat squat end. The face bulges into high cheek-bones. The mouth is big and uncouth, the upper jaw projecting over the lower, but with fine white teeth. The whole head and face, and indeed the whole person, is covered with a profusion of hair, which, when freed of its usually enclogging oil and dirt, is soft and glossy. The intellect of the Australian, directed almost exclusively to the means of procuring food, operates wholly within the range of the rudest bodily senses; but inside that elementary sphere, displays no little nimbleness and skill. He is unsurpassed in tracking and running down his prey; and his weapons, though of the most primitive kind, are well adapted to assist him in that purpose, whilst his rude culinary and domestic apparatus manifests equal skill. His language, within its very circumscribed sensuous sphere, is fairly expressive and complete; and in the facility with which he learns to chatter foreign languages is noteworthy. Outside this circle, however, all is blank to the Australian. In summer the natives roam about naked, and sense of shame seems almost wholly undeveloped in them. Morality is entirely reduced to the notion of property, wives being one item in a man's chattels the stealing of which has a definite punishment attached to it. Yet the 'black fellows' are capable of loyal affection and gratitude. Without doubt they have often murdered Europeans, but in many cases this was but more or less legitimate reprisal for prior atrocities committed by the convicts or other reckless Europeans. None of them have fixed habitations; caves may be taken advantage of, but usually the best habitation they have is a screen of twigs and bushes, covered with foliage or turf; sometimes, however, logs of wood and turf serve for a few days' or weeks' shelter. By way of food the Australian devours the kangaroo, emu, opossum, wombat, lizards, snakes (of which the head is rejected), frogs, larvae, white ants, moths, which are usually roasted, fire being produced by rubbing together two pieces of stick. His boomerang is an ingenious throw-stick, and is skilfully used even for knocking down birds on the wing. There is no government among this people outside that of the family, and no laws except traditionary rules about property. In the way of religion they have little save their terror of ghosts and demons, and some superstitious traditional rites applicable to certain epochs in a man's life, more particularly at his burial. Their marriage customs are curious, the fundamental principle being exogamy, the custom which prohibits a man from marrying a woman of his own tribe. They cannot usually count beyond five. Like almost all other savages, the native Australians are rapidly vanishing before the advance of civilisation. In the settled districts some of them are usefully employed as shepherds and stockmen, but the majority prefer nomadic habits. The intermittent use of European clothing induces consumption, while the diseases and vices they acquire from Europeans are another potent factor of their destruction. The lowest estimate of their number, prior to European settlement among them, gives over 150,000; they are now calculated at less than half that figure.

Some old 15th and 16th century maps show, where the north of Australia is, a territory of various outline named Java Major, or Java the Greater; and it seems probable that after Magellan's death his followers sighted Western Australia in 1522. The present Torres Strait refers to the presence of Torres there in 1606. Dirk Hartog Island in the west carries us back to Dirk Hartog and the year 1616. Arnhem Peninsula is a reminiscence of the Dutch vessel Arnhem, which in 1618 explored the coast of that land. The Dutch ship, Guldene Zeepaard, in 1627 sighted a large part of the south coast from Cape Leeuwin eastwards. The Gulf of Carpentaria was named, probably by Tasman, after Carpentier, governor of the Dutch Indies, 1623-27. All the early explorers brought back a forbidding report of desolate shores thinly occupied by brutal savages. In 1688 Australia was first seen by British eyes in the person of Dampier, who gives name to an archipelago in the NW. Near a century later (1770) we find Captain Cook at this island-continent, on his course of circumnavigation of the globe, exploring the whole eastern coast from Gipps Land on the SE. (in Victoria) to Cape York; and the exploration of the whole coast of Australia was completed by the Beagle (in which Charles Darwin sailed), 1837-43.

Inland exploration began with the first British occupation of New South Wales in 1788, but for the first twenty-five years was confined inside the Blue Mountains, to a district of some 50 miles inland. In 1813, however, that barrier was passed, and the valley of the Fish River and Bathurst Plains were brought within the limits of civilisation. Two years later (1815) the Lach-lan River (tributary of the Murrumbidgee) was lighted on. Important later explorations were those of Hume and Sturt (1819-28), Mitchell (1835), Eyre (1839-40), Sturt (1844-45), Leichardt (1843-46), M'Donall Stuart (1862, across the continent from south to north), Burke and Wills (disastrous, same date), Gregory (1861), Jardine (1864). Later still, using the trans-continental telegraph of 1872 as a basis, were the expeditions of Giles, Warburton, and Forrest; and those of Hodgkinson, Giles, Favenc, Hann, Crawford, Stockdale, Carrington, Lindsay, Tenison-Woods, Milman, and Tietkins. These expeditions seem to demonstrate that much of the interior of Australia, between the west of the overland telegraph line and the east of the narrow hilly border of Western Australia, is little better than desert - unmitigated sand, dense scrub, or porcupine grass. A considerable area in the east of Western Australia is yet unexplored; as also are the adjoining parts of the Northern Territory of South Australia, and the interior of Cape York Peninsula.

The first European settlement in Australia was made in 1788 at Botany Bay under Captain Phillip, but was almost immediately transferred to the adjoining Port Jackson, close to where Sydney now is; it comprised in all 1030 persons, of whom 757 were convicts. In 1825 Moreton Bay (now Queensland) was settled as a part of New South Wales, attaining in December 1859 the position of a separate colony. The settlement of Western Australia (the Swan River Settlement, as it was then called) dates from 1829. It continued to be a penal settlement from 1851 to 1868. Port Phillip (now Victoria), then a part of New South Wales, was first colonised in 1835, and on 1st July 1851 was constituted an independent colony. The colonisation of South Australia by British emigrants dates from 1836.

Especially after the discovery of gold in 1851, Australia advanced in all departments of material well-being at a rate surpassing that of any other country on the globe. In 1801 the settlement at and about Sydney had increased to 5547 persons; in 1835 the European settlers of Australia (including Tasmania) amounted to 80,000. By 1851 the population had risen to 350,000. The discovery in that year of the gold-fields caused a sudden and enormous inrush of immigrants from all parts of the world; now Australia alone has over 3,800,000, and Australasia 4,600,000. The population is, of course, almost all of European origin, the predominating element being British. The British-born are no longer the most numerous element in the colonial populations, the native-born being now over three-fourths. Chinese and Germans number about 30,000 and 38,500 respectively; there are many Polynesians ('Kanakas') in Queensland; not to speak of Scandinavians, Americans, and French. The largest cities are Melbourne, capital of Victoria; Sydney, of New South Wales; Adelaide, of South Australia; Brisbane, of Queensland; Ball-arat, in Victoria, and Sandhurst, also in Victoria.

The Commonwealth of Australia, comprising the five Australian ' states' (heretofore colonies) and Tasmania, was sanctioned by the British Parliament on July 9, 1900, and proclaimed in Sydney on January 1,1901. The Executive is vested in the Governor-general (representing the sovereign), assisted by an Executive Council of seven ministers of state, who must be members of the Federal Parliament. The Legislature consists of the Governor-general, a Senate, and a House of Representatives. The Senate, corresponding to the House of Lords in Britain, has 36 members (6 from each state) elected for six years, half of them being renewed every three years; in certain circumstances it may be dissolved by the Governor-general and entirely re-elected. The House of Representatives, corresponding to the British House of Commons, has 75 members elected for three years, and apportioned among the separate states according to population - New South Wales sending 26; Victoria, 23; Queensland, 9; South Australia, 7; Western Australia, 5; and Tasmania, 5. Members of both Houses receive 400 per annum.

The Federal Parliament legislates on all matters affecting the Commonwealth as a whole, such as commerce, railways, shipping, finance, defence, postal and telegraph services, emigration, etc, leaving more local matters to be dealt with by the state parliaments. Each state has a governor, a Legislative Council, and Legislative Assembly. See the separate articles.

There is no state church in Australia. In respect of numbers, Episcopacy is the dominant form of religion, Roman CatholiC3 come second, Presbyterians third, and Methodists fourth. Education has of late been rapidly diffusing itself. In all the colonies education is either free and compulsory, or the primary schools are all so liberally endowed by the government as to place elementary instruction within the reach of all classes; while libraries, museums, botanical gardens, schools of art, mechanics' institutes, etc, are multiplying in all the colonies under the liberal patronage of the several governments. There are universities in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide, and also well-equipped astronomical observatories.

Literary enterprise in Australia is mainly absorbed in journalism, as may well be believed when it is mentioned that in the Australasian colonies, including Tasmania and New Zealand, some 800 newspapers, magazines, and periodicals are published, many of them dailies. The current book literature is of course mainly that of the old country; and of the literature produced in the colonies, by far the greater part is still the work of men born and bred in Britain. In literature proper, there are but few outstanding names - those of Lindsay Gordon, Marcus Clarke, Henry Kendall, P. W. Hume, Mrs Campbell Praed, and ' Rolfe Boldrewood,' being perhaps the best known.

The chief and most general staple produce of Australia, for which the country is peculiarly adapted, and which constitutes its largest export, is wool. Over all the highlands and the river-lands of the sea-border - wherever, in fact, there is water - sheep thrive remarkably, except perhaps within the tropics, and the wool is of the finest quality, realising the highest prices in the English market. The exports of wool from Australia have an annual value of from 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 (New South Wales alone sending to the amount of from 7,300,000 to 11,300,000 a year in 1882-91). The cereals of Europe and maize have been introduced into the island-continent with the happiest success. Potatoes everywhere yield abundantly. The vine is extensively cultivated. Sugar is a very important product of Queensland; tobacco, cotton, arrowroot, and bananas are also largely grown.

The trade of Australia exhibits a remarkable development, the average of trade per inhabitant being about five times that of Europe, and nearly five times that of Canada. The imports of Australia have risen from 35,557,716 in 1874, to 68,129,455 in 1901; the exports in the same period from 36,724,866 to 75,026,787. It has not escaped the influence of the wave of depression which has affected the whole of the civilised world during recent years, followed by many financial disasters, including the stoppage of many of the banks. The borrowing powers of the various governments have been much too freely used, and many of the public works are unproductive, and the public debt has become burdensome. The exports consist principally of wool, frozen meat, preserved meat, tallow, skins of all kinds, hides, wheat, cotton, sugar, and wine. New South Wales, alone of all the divisions of Australia, has (since the governorship of Sir Hercules Robinson, 1872-79) adopted the principle of free-trade. A heavy protective tariff prevails in Victoria, and the example of this colony has been followed by South Australia.

Since 1870, railways and telegraphs have been increasing rapidly; there is railway connection from Adelaide, via Melbourne and Sydney, to Brisbane, communication having been completed in 1888; and there are shorter lines in the several colonies. At the end of 1902 the railway lines of the Commonwealth already working measured 13,821 miles,and 1065 miles were in course of construction. Telegraphically, the colonies are now all linked together with Tasmania and New Zealand, and with the mother-country via Java and India.

Manufactures suitable to the country are rapidly developing. Magnificent lines of steamers maintain frequent communication with Europe and America, between the various colonies, and with the Fiji Islands and New Caledonia. Mails have been delivered in Adelaide in twenty-nine days from London via Brindisi, and the sea-passage between Adelaide and Plymouth may be covered in about thirty-five days. Mails have been delivered at King George's Sound in less than twenty-four days from London. The length of the voyage in sailing-ships ranges generally from severity to one hundred days.

The following are some of the statistics of the Australian colonies, as shown in the official tables for the census year 1901. For comparison those of New Zealand are added.

Statistics - 1901.


Area in

Sq. Miles.

Pop. in


Pop. in


Revenue in 1901.

Public Debt in 1901.

Imports in 1901.

Exports in 1901.

Acres under crop in 1901.‡










New South Wales


















South Australia..









West Australia..



























New Zealand....









Grand Total..









* Exclusive of aborigines.

† Exclusive of Maoris (43,143 in 1901).

‡ Including sown grasses and hay.

See also the articles Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and those on the great cities, etc, of Australia; the Australian Handbook and other annuals; The Australian Encyclopœdia, edited by G. C. Levey, C.M.G. (1892); A. Trollope, Australia and New Zealand (1873); A. R. Wallace, Australasia (1893); historical works by Bonwick (1882), Rusden (1883), Allen (1882), Sir Henry Parkes (1892), and Greville Tregarthen (' Nations' series, 1893); a history of exploration by Favenc (1888); R. Wallace, Rural Economy and Agri-culture of Australia and New Zealand (1891); works on the aborigines by Dawson (1881) and Curr (1888); and D. B. W. Sladen's Australian Poets and A Century of Australian Song (1888).