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*Geography* Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. It lies in the Southern Hemisphere between 11° and 44° south latitude and 113° and 154° east longitude. The entire area of land is about the same size as the continental United States, or about one and a half times the size of Europe. The mainland of Australia has an area of 2,967,909 square miles. The country is divided into six states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia. The geological activity that created the country’s mountains, plains, and rivers ceased millions of years ago. Earthquakes are very rare and the last volcanic eruption occurred more than 5,000 years ago. The highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciusko, is only 7,310 feet above sea level. *Climate* Australia experiences a wide variety of climates. In the north, the continent’s immense interior gives way to hot, wet monsoonal tropical regions. The southeast coast, where most of Australia’s population lives, is cooler and drier. The southwest is very hot and dry in the summer, but milder and wetter in the winter. The climate is very similar to the Mediterranean countries of Europe, or to California. Summer temperatures in Australia can soar over 104°, but the costal regions are cooler due to offshore breezes. Because of the heat and lack of rain, bushfires rage through the tinder-dry landscape, destroying half a million acres of forest and grassland every year. The hot temperatures of the inland coupled with the lack of rain mean that 70% of Australia receives less than 20 inches of rain a year, making it the world’s driest continent. Farming is difficult in these areas, but not impossible, thanks to artesian water and the construction of many irrigation schemes. *People* The first inhabitants were people belonging to the Australoid group, who probably originated from Southeast Asia. These people traveled to the Australian continent about 40,000 years ago. A short while later, Aborigines landed in canoes and rafts on the north coast of Australia and then moved southward across the rest of the continent. Aborigines were nomads living in family clans, each with its own territory where it could camp, hunt, and fish. The Aborigines brought two useful items from their original homela... ... middle of paper ... ...sp; The exchange rate of a US dollar to an Australian dollar is as follows: 1 US dollar = 1.94 Australian dollars. *Economy* Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP at the level of the four dominant West European economies. Rich in nature resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, minerals, metals, and fossil fuels. Commodities account for 57% of the value of total exports, so that a downturn in world commodity prices can have a big impact on the economy. The government is pushing for increases exports of manufactured goods, but competition in international markets continues to be severe. While Australia has suffered from the low growth and high unemployment characterizing the OECD countries in the early 1990s and during the recent financial problems in East Asia, the economy had expanded at a solid 4% annual growth pace in the last five years. Growth in 2002 will depend on key international commodity prices, the extent of recovery in nearby Asian economies, and the strength of US and European markets.

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