Chapter 2: Australia
The continent of Australia, with the island state of Tasmania, is approximately 3 million square miles in area, with mountain ranges running from north to south along the east coast, reaching their highest point in Mount Kosciuszko (7308 ft; 2228 m). The western half of the continent is occupied by a desert plateau that rises into barren, rolling hills near the west coast. The Great Barrier Reef, extending about 1245 miles (2000 km), lies along the northeast coast. The island of Tasmania (26 178 sq miles; 67 800 sq km) is off the southeast coast. Aboriginal settlers arrived on the continent from Southeast Asia about 40 000 years before the first Europeans began exploration in the seventeenth century. No formal territorial claims were made until 1770, when Captain James Cook took possession in the name of Great Britain. Six colonies were created in the late eighteenth and nineteenth 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.
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