Australia Historical Geography

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Australia, an island continent, is the smallest of the continents, with a land mass of about 8.5 million square kilometers. Most of the interior of the continent is arid to semi-desert because of low rainfall. The coastal areas and islands receive more rain and are much better suited to settlement. As a result, the population centers continue to be in the coastal areas.

Australia is rich in mineral deposits including gold, coal, and iron ore. Gold was discovered in 1851 in New South Wales, with subsequent discoveries in Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. Coal was one of the first minerals to be utilized in Australia. This country also has one of the highest reserves of iron ore in the world.

The coastal areas of Australia have the best soils for agriculture; therefore, areas around Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane are the main agricultural centers. Wheat, barley, fruit, and other produce grow well in these areas. The coastal areas of Queensland are suited for producing sugar. Dairying and raising livestock are also important parts of the agricultural economy of Australia. Sheep and cattle grazing occurs on all but the harshest desert areas of the interior.

Settlement of foreigners in Australia began in 1788, when the colony of New South Wales was formed as an English penal colony. New South Wales originally included about half of the continent. In 1825, the western boundary of New South Wales was extended to cover almost two-thirds of the continent. At the same time, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was separated from New South Wales. In 1831, the western portion of the continent that was not part of New South Wales became Western Australia. South Australia followed in 1836, carving out a rectangular piece of New South Wales. Victoria took another piece of New South Wales in 1851, and the boundaries of New South Wales fluctuated until the last colony, Queensland, was formed in 1861. Various other changes of the boundaries between states occurred, and Northern Territory was formed in 1911.

The following historical atlas gives more detailed information about boundary changes and other aspects of Australia’s historical geography:

  • Camm, J. C. R., and John McQuilton, Editors. Australians: A historical atlas. Broadway, N.S.W., Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, 1987. (Family History Library Call Number 994 H2ah Volume 6.) This book explores many aspects of the historical geography of Australia, including climate, topography, agriculture, and people.

Other historical geography sources are found in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:





To learn more about the states and territories of Australia, visit Wikipedia.