The New International Encyclopædia/Western Australia

Edition of 1905.  See also Western Australia on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA. A State of Australia, occupying the entire western third of the continent. It is bounded on the north, west, and south by the Indian Ocean, and on the east by South Australia. Western Australia is the largest of the Australian States, having an area of 975,920 square miles.

Physical Features. The interior presents no well-marked surface features. It consists mainly of undulating sand or sandstone plateaus of no great elevation, their level surfaces being broken by isolated sandstone ranges, sand hills, and wind-blown ridges. The southeastern part of the State consists of a limestone plateau about 200 miles wide and ending in a line of steep cliffs running for several hundred miles along the southern coast. The only real mountains in the State are the Stirling and Darling ranges along the southwest coast. But their highest elevation does not exceed 3600 feet. The extreme northern part of the State, known as the Kimberley District, consists of elevated plains in the interior, falling toward the coast in several lines of precipitous and rugged escarpments broken by deep ravines. The coasts of Western Australia are very little indented and afford scarcely any good harbors. Along the south coast not a single stream enters the sea for about 600 miles from the eastern boundary. On the west coast, however, there are a number of rivers, some of considerable size, such as the Murchison, Gascoyne, Ashburton, and Fitzroy. Most of the smaller streams are little more than storm-water channels, dry the greater part of the year. In the interior there are a number of so-called lakes, which in the dry season are nothing but mud flats covered with incrustations of salt.

Climate and Vegetation. The climate is healthful and pleasant and very dry, so that the heat, though intense, is not oppressive. The range of temperature is considerable, and frost may occur in winter. The annual rainfall is between 30 and 40 inches in the extreme south-western and northeastern sections, between 10 and 20 inches along the western coast, and less than 10 inches in the great interior. The south-eastern plateau is covered with rich grass during the wet season, and good grazing land is also found in the upper valleys of the western rivers. The southwestern section of the State is a great forest region, in which the eucalyptus grows to an immense height. The interior, how- ever, consists mainly of sandy and stony desert, partly barren, partly covered with acacia scrub and spiny grass, and almost destitute of surface water.

Geology. Large areas in the north and south are of ancient formation, chiefly Paleozoic in the north, and older crystalline rocks in the south, Were there are immense outcrops of granite with auriferous quartz. These areas are surrounded by vast deposits of Tertiary sandstone occupying the central interior and western coast region. The chief mineral is gold, and a broad belt of gold-bearing reefs runs parallel with the coast from Coolgardie in the south to the Kimberley region in the north.

Mining. The chief source of income is the gold mines. Gold was discovered in the Kimberley district in 1882, and in the Yilgarn district in 1887. Progress in mining, however, was at first slow, and in 1891 the year's product was' valued at only £115,182. The year following, however, the Coolgardie discoveries were made, and mining rapidly developed at that point, so that in 1896 the value of the product had increased to £1,068,807. In 1896 water was obtained farther east at Kalgoorlie, and this became the most active gold-mining centre. Subsequently mining developed in the Mount Margaret and a number of other districts. In 1901 the gold output was valued at £7,235,652, or nearly half of the total product for the Australian Commonwealth.

Agriculture. Except along the southwestern coast agriculture has made little progress. In a large part of the country the rainfall is inadequate for the maturing of crops. There has, however, been a marked increase in the crop acreage, since the development of gold-mining. In 1901 there were 216,824 acres under crops. .bout half of this was hay (from wheat and oats) and the larger part of the remainder was wheat. At the end of 1901 6,815,334 acres had been alienated or were in process of alienation. The difficulty in obtaining water also seriously limits the pastoral industry. In 1901 there were in the State 2,542,844 sheep, 394,580 cattle, and 73,830 horses. There arc over 3000 camels, these animals being used as beasts of burden.

Transportation. In June, 1902, there were 2,143 miles of railway in operation, of which 629 miles were private. No other Australian State has so large a mileage of privately owned lines. The construction of the private lines was encouraged, however, by Government grants of land. In 1901 a net profit of nearly 1 per cent, was realized on the Government railways.

Government. The Governor is appointed by the British Crown. The Parliament consists of a Legislative Council of 30 members elected for 6 years, and a Legislative Assembly of 50 members elected for 3 years. Electors must be residents of the election district or have certain property qualifications. The right of suffrage is conferred without distinction of sex. The capital is Perth.

Finance. In 1902 the total revenue amounted to £3,688,049 and the expenditures to £3,490,026. The customs and excise duties contribute about one-third of the revenue, and the railways about 42 per cent. The participation of the government in the construction of railways and other industrial enterprises has created a heavy public debt, which amounted in 1902 to £14,942,310.

Population. Western Australia is one of the most sparsely settled regions in the world. Most of it is wholly uninhabited, the population being confined mainly to portions of the coast region and the gold-miniug settlements in the interior. The first reports of gold at Kimberley and Yilgarn did not result in any marked immigration, and in 1800 the total population was only 40,200. The remarkable discoveries of gold at Coolgardie in 1802 incited a rush of miners into the region which has not yet ceased. In 1805 the population had increased to 101,238 and in 1901 to 104,880. As is common in a mining region, a large percentage of the population is centred in the towns. In 1001 Perth contained 36,274 inhabitants; Freemantle, 20,444; Kalgoorlie, 6652; Boulder, 4601; and Coolgardie. 4249.

Religion. In 1901 the adherents of the Church of England numbered 75,617; Roman Catholics. 40,584; Wesleyans, 17,823; Presbyterians, 14,707.

Education. School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. Fees are charged, but under certain conditions their payment is not required. Public instruction is secular, but religions instruction may be given by clergymen of the same denomination with the child's parents. In 1901 there were 20,548 pupils enrolled in the Government schools and 5810 in the assisted schools. For the year ending June 30, 1902, £102,359 was expended on education. Only those private schools are given aid which had enjoyed that advantage prior to 1805.

History. The coast was probably visited by Spanish and Portuguese navigators in the sixteenth century. In the following century the Dutch explored the shores, and Tasman surveyed the north coast. The west coast was only surveyed after numerous later explorations. The earliest settlement—English—was made in 1825. The British took formal official possession of the land in 1827. The colonization of Western Australia was definitely commenced in 1829 by a British organization to which the Government gave large land grants. Several thousand convicts from Sydney were numbered among the early settlers. It was not until 1870. however, that great efforts began to lie made by the British to facilitate the development of the colony. On January 1. 1001, Western Australia became a State of the Australian Commonwealth.

Consult: Calvert. Western Australia, Its History and Progress (London. 1804); id., Mineral Resources of Western Australia (ib., 1894); Chambers, Western Australia (Perth, 1897); Vivienne, Travels in Western Australia (London, 1901).