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Australia

2010.02.28

 

 

The Geography of Australia

Australia is the world's smallest continent but the sixth-largest country in the world. The population of Australia is concentrated along the eastern and southeastern coasts. The geography of the country is extremely diverse, ranging from the snow capped mountains of the Australian Alps and Tasmania to large deserts, tropical and temperate forests.

Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the French dependency of New Caledonia to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast.

Australia is a country, an island, and a continent. It is located in Oceania between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. It is the sixth largest country in the world with a total area of 7,686,850 square kilometres (including Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island), making it slightly smaller than the contiguous 48 states of the United States and 31.5 times larger than the United Kingdom.

The Australian mainland has a total coastline length of 35,876 km with an additional 23,859 km of island coastlines. There are 758 estuaries around the country with most located in the tropical and sub-tropical zones. Australia claims an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of 8,148,250 square kilometres. This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia has the largest area of ocean jurisdiction of any country on earth. It has no land borders.

The western half of Australia consists of the Western Plateau, which rises to mountain heights near the west coast and falls to lower elevations near the continental center. The Western Plateau region is generally flat, though broken by various mountain ranges such as the Hamersley Range, the MacDonnell Ranges, and the Musgrave Range. Surface water is generally lacking in the Western Plateau, although there are several larger rivers in the west and north, such as the Murchison, Ashburton, and Victoria river.

The Eastern Highlands, or Great Dividing Range, lies near the eastern coast of Australia, separating the relatively narrow eastern coastal plain from the rest of the continent. These Eastern Australian temperate forests have the greatest relief, the most rainfall, the most abundant and varied flora and fauna, and the densest human settlement.

Between the Eastern Highlands and the Western Plateau lie the Central Lowlands, which are made up of the Great Artesian Basin and Australia's largest river systems, Murray-Darling Basin and Lake Eyre Basin.

Off the eastern coast of Australia is the world's largest coral reef complex, the Great Barrier Reef. The large and mountainous island of Tasmania lies off the southeastern coast of Australia.

Australia consists of six states, two major mainland territories, and other minor territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The two major mainland territories are the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

Australia also has several minor territories; the federal government administers a separate area within New South Wales, the Jervis Bay Territory, as a naval base and sea port for the national capital. In addition Australia has the following, inhabited, external territories: Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and several largely uninhabited external territories: Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.