Peculiar, Floating Country

By Jheri St. James

Many things about Australia sound like exaggeration: The world’s largest island and smallest, flattest continent; the only continent occupied by a single nation; and home to earth’s largest coral formation, the Great Barrier Reef, 1,250 miles. But these are not exaggerations, merely facts. Geologists believe that 120 million years ago Australia was part of a vast landmass that included India, Arabia and parts of Africa and South America. After the separation of continents, the remaining land bridges to Australia were later destroyed by geological upheavals, leaving the continent completely isolated. This isolation accounts for the development of various species of animal life peculiar to Australia—pouched, marsupial mammals like kangaroos, koalas, wombats and wallabys.

An unique human species also lives in the Commonwealth of Australia. Aborigines were the earliest native inhabitants of this continent, racially distinguished by dark hair, dark skin, medium stature, broad noses and narrow heads. Before Captain James Cook charted the coast of Australia, called it New South Wales, and claimed it in the name of England in 1770, aborigines lived by well-organized nomadic food-gathering and hunting practices. Once the white man dominated, aborigines were discriminated against, much like American Indians and other early “people of the earth” around the world. The aborigines were enfranchised in 1962, nearly 200 years later. Other species of human life in Australia have included British, Dutch, many convicts sent to the penal colony in New South Wales (from 1770 to 1840) and now, Italians, Yugoslavians, Greeks, Germans, and Americans. Australia has become a cross-section of nationalities.

Our man in the Indonesian/Melanesian island areas, Russell Vogel, traveled the coastline of Australia and collected some of its sand for Common Ground 191. “Australia is all coastline; ninety percent of the people live on the coast,” he wrote. “Very beautiful beaches!” But approximately 75% of the Australian continent is covered by a plateau rarely higher than 1,500 ft., the outstanding feature of which is the Great Western Plateau, most of which is desert or semi-arid scrub country. Australia’s subterranean ground yields gold, uranium, diamonds, bauxite, iron ore, copper, iron and steel. Accompanied by the haunting music of the peculiar digeridoo, this island continent floats alone in the southern Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the Tasman, Coral, Abafura, and Timor Seas, and the enormous bay called The Great Australian Bight. Australia is proof of tectonic plate theories—visible masses floating, converging and diverging. Beneath is the magma on which all continents rest. Regal in its overstatement, often called “The Land Down Under,” no one has contributed better soil for Common Ground 191 than Australia.






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