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Australia:
Geography

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Background
Definition
Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40,000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the 17th century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Capt. James COOK took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late 18th and 19th centuries; they federated and became the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The new country took advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop agricultural and manufacturing industries and to make a major contribution to the British effort in World Wars I and II. In recent decades, Australia has transformed itself into an internationally competitive, advanced market economy. It boasted one of the OECD's fastest growing economies during the 1990s, a performance due in large part to economic reforms adopted in the 1980s. Long-term concerns include climate-change issues such as the depletion of the ozone layer and more frequent droughts, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.
Location
Definition
Oceania, continent between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean
Geographic coordinates
Definition
27 00 S, 133 00 E
Map references
Definition
Oceania
Area
Definition - World rank and map
total: 7,686,850 sq km
land: 7,617,930 sq km
water: 68,920 sq km
note: includes Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island
Area - comparative
Definition
slightly smaller than the US contiguous 48 states
Land boundaries
Definition
0 km
Coastline
Definition
25,760 km
Maritime claims
Definition
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Climate
Definition
generally arid to semiarid; temperate in south and east; tropical in north
Terrain
Definition
mostly low plateau with deserts; fertile plain in southeast
Elevation extremes
Definition
lowest point: Lake Eyre -15 m
highest point: Mount Kosciuszko 2,229 m
Natural resources
Definition
bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum
Land use
Definition - World rank and map
arable land: 6.15% (includes about 27 million hectares of cultivated grassland)
permanent crops: 0.04%
other: 93.81% (2005)
Irrigated land
Definition
25,450 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources
Definition
398 cu km (1995)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)
Definition
total: 24.06 cu km/yr (15%/10%/75%)
per capita: 1,193 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards
Definition
cyclones along the coast; severe droughts; forest fires
Environment - current issues
Definition
soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development, urbanization, and poor farming practices; soil salinity rising due to the use of poor quality water; desertification; clearing for agricultural purposes threatens the natural habitat of many unique animal and plant species; the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, the largest coral reef in the world, is threatened by increased shipping and its popularity as a tourist site; limited natural fresh water resources
Environment - international agreements
Definition
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note
Definition
world's smallest continent but sixth-largest country; population concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts; the invigorating sea breeze known as the "Fremantle Doctor" affects the city of Perth on the west coast, and is one of the most consistent winds in the world


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