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Investigating Australia's Physical Environments

Australia is one of the earth’s seven continental landmasses. Among the continents, Australia is, in many ways, unique. Not only is it the flattest and driest of the continents but it is the only continental landmass occupied by one country. By way of contrast, Europe is one continent but has more than forty countries.
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Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It lies between the latitudes of 10°41´S and 43°38´S (a distance of 3138 kilometres) and the longitudes of 113°09´E and 153°38´E (a distance of 3983 kilometres).
The most northerly point of the Australian mainland is the tip of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, and the most southerly point of the mainland is South Point on Wilsons Promontory in Victoria.

The most southerly point of Australia is Tasmania’s South East Cape.Australia’s most westerly point is Steep Point in Western Australia. The most easterly point is Cape Byron in New South Wales.
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Australia’s external territories and its latitudinal and longitudinal spread

Because the continent spans almost 33° of latitude, Australia’s climate ranges from hot and wet (tropical) in the north to cool, with snow (temperate) in the south. Because of its distance from east to west the continent straddles three time zones, with a difference of two hours between Sydney and Perth (outside daylight saving).

Australia’s nearest neighbours are Papua New Guinea to the north and New Zealand to the south-east. To the west there are no major landmasses or islands near enough to be called neighbours.
To the north-west are Indonesia and Timor Leste (East Timor), which is one of the world’s newest country. To the east lie a number of small island countries, including Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. There is also the French colonial territory of New Caledonia.
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Australia’s External Territories

(See map above)
Australia has seven external territories These territories are:
• Australian Antarctic Territory
• Coral Sea Islands Territory

• Norfolk Island
• Territory of Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island
• Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands
• Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands
• Territory of Christmas Island.


With an area of 7 682 300 square kilometres, Australia is the sixth largest country on earth. Only Russia, Canada, China, the USA and Brazil are larger. In terms of relative size, Australia is about 50 per cent larger than Europe (not including the nations of the former Soviet Union), twenty times larger than Japan and thirty-two times larger than the United Kingdom. Australia’s size compared with that of North America and Europe is shown in 1.2.02 and 1.2.03.
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Australia’s coastline is 35 877 kilometres long. Only Russia, Canada, Greenland and Indonesia have longer coastlines. The length of Australia’s coast makes it very difficult to secure against the arrival of illegal immigrants and the smuggling of goods, especially drugs. The uninhabited parts of the coast, particularly in the north and west, are the most difficult to patrol.

Exclusive Economic Zone

Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone Under the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the area of ocean over which a state has special rights over the exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the sea bed and marine resources. Generally, a country’s EEZ extends to a distance of 370 kilometres (200 nautical miles) out from its coastline. The exception to this rule occurs when EEZs overlap; in these cases, it is up to the states to determine the actual boundary. Australia has the world’s third largest EEZ, behind the USA and France, but ahead of Russia. The total area (8 148 250 square kilometres) actually exceeds that of its land territory.

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Australia is compact in shape and no significant bodies of water extend very far inland, which contributes to the dry conditions experienced across most of the landmass. Generally speaking, rainfall decreases as the distance from large bodies of water increases.