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Geography of Australia

Coordinates: 27°S 144°E / 27°S 144°E / -27; 144
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27°S 144°E / 27°S 144°E / -27; 144

Geography of Australia
ContinentOceania (continent)
Coordinates27°00′00″S 144°00′00″E / 27.000°S 144.000°E / -27.000; 144.000
AreaRanked 6th
 • Total7,688,287[1] km2 (2,968,464 sq mi)
 • Land98.21%
 • Water1.79%
Coastline59,681 km (37,084 mi)
Highest pointMount Kosciuszko
2,228 m (7,310 ft)
Lowest pointLake Eyre,
−15 m (−49 ft)
Longest riverMurray River,
2,375 km (1,476 mi)
Largest lakeLake Eyre
9,500 km2 (3,668 sq mi)
ClimateMostly desert or semi-arid, south-east and south-west corners: temperate, north: tropical climate, varied between tropical rainforests, grasslands, part desert, mountainous areas: subantarctic tundra
TerrainMostly low plateau with deserts, rangelands and a fertile plain in the southeast; mountain ranges in the east and south-east.
Natural resourcesMinerals, coal, and timber
Natural hazardsCyclones along the northern coasts, severe thunderstorms, droughts, occasional floods, heat waves, and frequent bushfires
Exclusive economic zone8,148,250 km2 (3,146,060 sq mi)

The geography of Australia encompasses a wide variety of biogeographic regions being the world's smallest continent, while comprising the territory of the sixth-largest country in the world. The population of Australia is concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. The geography of the continent is extremely diverse, ranging from the snow-capped mountains of the Australian Alps and Tasmania to large deserts, tropical and temperate forests, grasslands, heathlands and woodlands.

The countries that govern nearby regions include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and the French dependency of New Caledonia to the east; and New Zealand to the southeast.

Physical geography[edit]

Physical map of Australia
Australia on the globe with Australia's Antarctic claims hatched

Australia is a country and an island located in Oceania between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. It shares its name with the country that claims control over it. Properly called the Commonwealth of Australia, its territory consists of the entire continent and smaller outlying islands. This makes it the sixth-largest country in the world by area of jurisdiction, which comprises 7,686,850 km2 (2,967,910 sq mi) (including Lord Howe Island and Macquarie Island), which is slightly smaller than the 48 states of the contiguous United States and 31.5 times larger than that of the United Kingdom.

The Australian mainland has a total coastline length of 35,821 km (22,258 mi) with an additional 23,860 km (14,830 mi) of island coastlines.[2] There are 758 estuaries around the country with most located in the tropical and sub-tropical zones.[3] A recent global remote sensing analysis suggested that there was 8,866 km2 (3,423 sq mi) of tidal flat area in Australia, making it the third-ranked country in terms of how much tidal flat occurs there.[4] Australia has the third-largest exclusive economic zone of 8,148,250 km2 (3,146,060 sq mi). This EEZ does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory (an additional 5,896,500 km2 (2,276,700 sq mi)).

Australia has the largest area of ocean jurisdiction of any country on Earth.[5] It has no land borders. The northernmost points of the continental mainland are the Cape York Peninsula of Queensland and the Top End of the Northern Territory, but the northernmost point of the country lies in the Torres Strait Islands.

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 centre. 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 rivers.

The Eastern Highlands, or Great Dividing Range, lie 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 lies the Central Lowlands, which are made up of the Great Artesian Basin and Australia's largest river systems, the Murray-Darling Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin.

Off the north-eastern coast of Australia is the world's largest coral reef complex, the Great Barrier Reef. The large and mountainous island of Tasmania, also a State of Australia, lies south of the south-eastern corner of the Australian mainland. It receives abundant rainfall, and has highly fertile soils particularly in comparison to the mainland.


Basic geological units of Australia

Australia is the lowest, flattest, and oldest continental landmass on Earth[6] and it has had a relatively stable geological history. Geological forces such as the tectonic uplift of mountain ranges and clashes between tectonic plates occurred mainly in Australia's early prehistory, when it was still a part of Gondwana. Its highest peak is Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 m (7,310 ft), which is relatively low in comparison to the highest mountains on other continents.

Charles Rowland Twidale estimates that between 10% and 20% of Australia's modern landscapes formed during the Mesozoic when the continent was part of Gondwana.[7]

Australia is situated in the middle of the tectonic plate, and therefore currently has no active volcanism. Minor earthquakes which produce no damage occur frequently, while major earthquakes measuring greater than magnitude 6 occur on average every five years.[8] The terrain is mostly low plateau with deserts, rangelands and a fertile plain in the southeast. Tasmania and the Australian Alps do not contain any permanent icefields or glaciers, although these may have existed in the past. The Great Barrier Reef, by far the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast.


IBRA version 7 map

The Australian continental landmass consists of six distinct landform divisions.[9] These are:

  • The Eastern Highlands—including the Great Dividing Range, the fertile Brigalow Belt strip of grassland behind the east coast, and the Eastern Uplands
  • The Eastern alluvial Plains and Lowlands—the Murray Darling basin covers the southern part; also includes parts of the Lake Eyre Basin and extends to the Gulf of Carpentaria
  • The South Australian Highlands—including the Flinders Range, Eyre Peninsula, and Yorke Peninsula
  • The Western Plateau—including the Nullarbor Plain
  • The Central Deserts
  • Northern Plateau and Basins—including the Top End


Relief map showing major rivers and lakes
Map of major drainage basins as defined by the Bureau of Meteorology

Much of Australia's interior is arid; the low average annual rainfall and high temperatures mean interior rivers are often dry and lakes empty. The headwaters of some waterways are located in tropical regions where summer rains create a high rate of discharge. Flood events drastically alter the dry environment; thus the ecology of central Australia has had to adapt to the boom and bust cycle.

The Great Artesian Basin is an important source of water, the world's largest and deepest fresh water basin. Access to water from the basin has led to the expansion of grazing into areas that were previously far too dry for livestock. Towns and cities across the country sometimes face major water storage and usage crises in which restrictions and other measures are implemented to reduce water consumption. Water restrictions are based on a gradient of activities that become progressively banned as the situation worsens.

Billabong is the Australian name given to the oxbow lakes that can form along a meandering river's course. In a worldwide comparison of height, Australia's waterfalls are relatively insignificant, with the longest drop ranked 135th according to the World Waterfall Database.[10]

Political geography[edit]

PerthAdelaideMelbourneCanberraSydneyBrisbaneDarwinHobartTasmaniaAustralian Capital TerritoryAustralian Capital TerritoryWestern AustraliaNorthern TerritorySouth AustraliaQueenslandNew South WalesVictoriaTasmaniaGreat Australian BightTasman SeaIndian OceanCoral SeaIndonesiaPapua New GuineaGulf of CarpentariaArafura SeaEast TimorTimor SeaGreat Barrier Reef
A clickable map of Australia's states, mainland territories and their capitals

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. Western Australia is the largest state, covering just under one third of the Australian landmass, followed by Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales.

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 seaport 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, and Heard Island and McDonald Islands. Australia also claims a portion of Antarctica as the Australian Antarctic Territory, although this claim is not widely recognized.

Human geography[edit]

Australians have settled in several capital cities and their suburban satellites at various points along a vast coastline. A significant immigrant population occupied these places with relatively little dispute and few inner city ghettoes.[11] Australia’s mean population density is 3.3/km2, one of the lowest in the world.[12]

Sport plays an important social and cultural role in Australia with more than 90% of adults having an interest in sport.[13] English is the most common language in Australia. Australians enjoy a very high rate of private property ownership.[11] Australians have a preponderance to engage in gambling, experiencing the largest per capita losses in the world.[14]


Climate map of Australia

By far the largest part of Australia is arid or semi-arid. A total of 18% of Australia's mainland consists of named deserts,[15] while additional areas are considered to have a desert climate based on low rainfall and high temperature. Only the south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern part of the continent has a tropical climate: part is tropical rainforests, part grasslands, and part desert.

Rainfall is highly variable, with frequent droughts lasting several seasons thought to be caused in part by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Occasionally a dust storm will blanket a region or even several states and there are reports of the occasional large tornado. Rising levels of salinity and desertification in some areas is ravaging the landscape.

Australia's tropical/subtropical location and cold waters off the western coast make most of western Australia a hot desert, with aridity a marked feature of the greater part of the continent. These cold waters produce little moisture needed on the mainland. A 2005 study by Australian and American researchers investigated the desertification of the interior, and suggested that one explanation was related to human settlers who arrived about 50,000 years ago. Regular burning by these settlers could have prevented monsoons from reaching interior Australia. The outback covers 70 percent of the continent.

Natural hazards[edit]

Cyclones along the northern coasts, severe thunderstorms, droughts, occasional floods, heat waves, and frequent bushfires are natural hazards that are present in Australia.[citation needed]


Whitehaven Beach in Queensland in October

Current environmental issues include: soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development, urbanization, and poor farming practices; soil salinity rising due to the use of poor quality water; desertification (partly as a result of the introduction by European settlers of rabbits); introduced pest species; 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; and threats from invasive species.

International agreements:

Lake Hillier, a saline lake on the edge of Middle Island off the south coast of Western Australia
Tropical forest, grassland and mountain ranges in Queensland
Mount Kosciuszko in the Alps of southeastern Australia
Megalong Valley in the temperate Blue Mountains region of New South Wales
Arid parts of the Outback in Chambers Pillar, Northern Territory

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Area of Australia - States and Territories". 27 June 2014.
  2. ^ "Border Lengths – States and Territories". Geoscience Australia. Commonwealth of Australia. 2004. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  3. ^ Dennison, William C.; Abal, Eva G. (1999). Moreton Bay Study: A Scientific Basis for the Healthy Waterways Campaign. Brisbane: South East Queensland Regional Water Quality Management Strategy Team. p. 220. ISBN 0-9586368-1-8.
  4. ^ Murray, N.J.; Phinn, S.R.; DeWitt, M.; Ferrari, R.; Johnston, R.; Lyons, M.B.; Clinton, N.; Thau, D.; Fuller, R.A. (2019). "The global distribution and trajectory of tidal flats". Nature. 565 (7738): 222–225. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0805-8. PMID 30568300. S2CID 56481043.
  5. ^ Non-Fisheries Uses in Australia's Marine Jurisdiction National Marine Atlas. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
  6. ^ Pain, C.F., Villans, B.J., Roach, I.C., Worrall, L. & Wilford, J.R. (2012): Old, flat and red – Australia's distinctive landscape. In: Shaping a Nation: A Geology of Australia. Blewitt, R.S. (Ed.) Geoscience Australia and ANU E Press, Canberra. pp. 227–275 ISBN 978-1-922103-43-7
  7. ^ Rowland, C.R. (1994). "Gondwanan (Late Jurassic and Cretaceous) palaeosurfaces of the Australian craton". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 112 (1–2): 157–186. Bibcode:1994PPP...112..157T. doi:10.1016/0031-0182(94)90139-2.
  8. ^ Mccue, Kevin (26 February 2010). "Land of earthquakes and volcanoes?". Australian Geographic. Archived from the original on 6 March 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  9. ^ Loffler, Ernst; Anneliese Loffler; A. J. Rose; Denis Warner (1983). Australia:Portrait of a continent. Hutchinson Group. p. 18. ISBN 0-09-130460-1.
  10. ^ "Significant Waterfalls". Geoscience Australia. Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 25 May 2010. Retrieved 11 June 2010.
  11. ^ a b Peace, Adrian (2015). "Australia, Sociocultural Overviews: Australian Settler Society". International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition): 239–244. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.12022-7. ISBN 9780080970875. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  12. ^ Neill, Simon P.; Hemer, Mark; Robins, Peter E.; Griffiths, Alana; Furnish, Aaron; Angeloudis, Athanasios (June 2021). "Tidal range resource of Australia". Renewable Energy. 170: 683–692. doi:10.1016/j.renene.2021.02.035. hdl:20.500.11820/39c65964-e961-4018-ac46-e67faeadf447. S2CID 233552671.
  13. ^ "About sport in Australia". Department of Health and Aged Care. Commonwealth of Australia. 22 February 2022. Retrieved 22 October 2022.
  14. ^ "Gambling in Australia". Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Deserts". [. Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 5 December 2009. Retrieved 11 June 2010.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]