Establishment of the Commonwealth

Climaxing these decades of growth and progress came the establishment of the Commonwealth. Before 1900 each colony proceeded along its own lines of development with only limited consideration of its relationships to neighboring states. Long-seated jealousies rather than mutual interests sometimes dominated discussion of matters of common concern. Great distances between the small settlements on the west coast and the principal eastern centers of population presented a major problem to confederation. The huge areas in the north with almost no white population also presented a major challenge to the states. Even the matter of locating the new federal capital posed problems that required many years to compromise. Even after formal confederation, experience was only slowly acquired in the application of the principles on which confederation was based. Two world wars provided the emergencies to accelerate unified action and thinking. Near the close of the first half century, it may be claimed not only that Australia has learned to work effectively on a national basis but also that the Commonwealth is exerting an important influence among the nations of the world.


Only slightly more than 1 per cent of the area of Australia, or 23,000,000 acres, is devoted to cultivated crops. Irrigated acreage amounts to 885,000 acres, or less than 0.1 per cent of the crop land. In contrast to the United States, most land in Australia has not been alienated. Less than 10 per cent of the continent's 2,000,000,000 acres has passed into private ownership, more than 50 per cent is leased, and nearly 40 per cent is reserved or unoccupied land.

Lands devoted exclusively to pastoral pursuits occupy about threefifths of the area of Australia. The choice grazing lands are commonly in private hands, but the great bulk or about 80 per cent is leased to graziers by the state and Commonwealth governments. Forest lands, aboriginal reservations, and reserves for other public purposes occupy substantial areas also, but they are of small extent in comparison with the pastoral lands.

About 2,000,000 square miles of Australia are occupied, chiefly by farmers and pastoralists, and about 1,000,000 acres are largely unoccupied. The occupied areas include pastoral leases and holdings, crop land, forest lands, and urban areas; the unoccupied lands consist chiefly of desert lands and areas set aside as aboriginal reserves and for other public purposes.

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