The northern third of the Australian continent lies in the tropic and is warm or hot the year round. The rest of the country lies south of the tropics and has warm summers and mild or cool winters. Rainfall is seasonal in most of Australia.
During the wet season, heavy downpours and violent storms cause flood in many parts of Australia. However, the droughts that plague the nation are usually a far more serious problem. Nearly every section of Australia has a drought during the annual dry season. These droughts can cause severe water shortages that require strict conservation measures. In addition, destructive bush fires are more common during droughts.
Australia’s rivers are one of its most vital resources. They provide the towns and cities with drinking water, and supply farmers with much-needed water for irrigation. However, most of Australia’s rivers are dry at least part of the year, so dams and reservoirs on all the largest rivers store water for use during the dry season.
Australia can be divided into three major land regions. The easternmost region is the Eastern Highlands — sometimes known as the Great Dividing Range because these mountains divide the flow of rivers in the region. The Eastern Highlands include the highest elevations in Australia. A low plain bordered by sandy beaches and rocky cliffs stretches along the Pacific coast. More rain falls on this coastal plain than anywhere else in the country.
The highlands consist mainly of high plateaus broken in many places by hills and low mountain ranges. Grass or forests cover some plateaus in the Eastern Highlands, but many plateaus have fertile soils and are used as cropland. The south-eastern section of the plain, from Brisbane to Melbourne, is by far the most heavily populated part of Australia. The Australian Alps with their Snowy Mountains lie in the southern part of this region. The Murray River, the Australian longest permanently flowing river, starts in the Snowy Mountains.
The central Lowlands, Australia’s second major region is a generally flat area with infrequent rainfall, except along the north and south coasts. Farmers in the southern part of the Lowlands grow wheat, but most of the region is too dry or too hot for crops. However, the grasses that cover much of the land make it suitable for grazing livestock. The two largest towns in the region have fewer than 30,000 people each.
The Western Plateau, Australia’s third major region covers the western two thirds of Australia. A vast, dry, treeless plateau extends about 640 km along the region’s southern edge, while deserts stretch across the central part. Most of the desert area consists of sands that often drift into giant dunes. Where the
deserts give way to land covered by grass, the land can be used to graze livestock. The extreme north and southwest have the region’s heaviest rainfall and most of its croplands. Adelaide and Perth are the region’s two largest cities.