Australia Down Under
Half a World Away
When we are bundling up to go play in the snow, Australians are putting on shorts and t-shirts. That’s because December, January and February are their summer months and June, July and August are their winter months. The reason their seasons are opposite to ours is because of its location on the other side of the world, under the equator. And that is also how Australia became known as the Land Down Under.
Australia is very unique to any other part of the world. It’s the largest island in the world and it’s the smallest of the seven continents. It is approximately 3,000,000 square miles - a little smaller than the continental United States. It’s also where rocks have dated back almost 300 million years ago making them our earliest historical record of the planet.
Fifty million years ago, at a time when the dinosaurs were disappearing, Australia broke away from the great southern continent known as Gondwanaland. At that point in history Gondwanaland consisted of present day Africa, South America and India! Since then Australia has been isolated from the rest of the world by vast oceans.
When Australia became isolated from the rest of the world, the native Australian animals and plants also were isolated from the other animals and plants. They evolved separately from the others and that is why you will find some of the most unique animals and plants in Australia that you won’t find any other place in the world.
But the animals and plants aren’t the only features that are special about Australia. The environments that they have adapted to are also some of the most unique environments you will ever see.
The Australian Outback is the most famous and the largest of the Australian environments. It takes up about one third of Australia’s land area and is made up of four main deserts - the Great Victoria Desert, the Gibson Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, and the Tanami Desert. These deserts really only have two seasons - the dry season and the wet season. Most of the time it is hot and arid, with most areas receiving little rain.
Some of the most interesting land forms can be found here. In the center is Ayers Rock, the largest rock in the world. It that towers above the flat landscape. The Pinnacles are also an awesome sight with random rock masses sticking out of the sand. When these were first seen by western civilizations they had thought these rocks were the remains of a city that was buried in the ground. And you can’t forget the Wave! It is a rock formation that looks like a frozen wave but is a rock thats been eroded over time by the wind.
The Queensland tropical rain forests lie in a strip along northeast coast of Australia that covers only 4,000 square feet. Its rugged plateaus, deep gorges and dramatic waterfalls are home to 30% of Australia’s marsupial species, 60% of its bat and butterfly species, and 18% of its bird species. Lots of wildlife live in a small area!
Great Barrier Reef
The coastline is as varied and spectacular as the interior of Australia. Habitats range from sandy beaches to limestone cliffs to jagged rock formations to northern mangrove swamps. Off the northeastern coast of Australia in the Coral Sea is the Great Barrier Reef. This watery environment stretches 1,250 miles long and has been growing for the last 18 million years making the Great Barrier Reef the largest reef system in the world. It is so large that you could see it from the moon!
Great Dividing Range
The Great Dividing Range is a mountain range that easily rivals our own Sierra Nevada in size. It stretches for over 1,250 miles, north to south, parallel to the Australia’s eastern coast. Its highest point is Mt. Kosciusko at an elevation of 7,300 feet.
The forests of the Great Dividing Range vary from tropical forests to eucalyptus forests to sub-alpine forests. Most of the rainfall in Australia occurs in the Great Dividing Range.
The Central Lowlands are located to southwest of the Great Dividing Range. As it rains in the mountains, the rainwater seeps into the ground and through rock crevices creating underground rivers that flow westward to the Great Artesian Basin. Much of the water from the rivers originating from the mountains is lost through evaporation or flows into the salt lakes. The largest of the Australian salt lakes is Lake Eyre. It is the lowest part of Australia at 50 feet below sea level.