Australia has about 75% of the area of the United States, roughly 3 million versus 4 million square miles. The real difference is in population. Australia with under 25 million is less the 8 % of the US population, about 320 million. Most the residents are on the coast, with the east and south coasts the more populous.
The first humans in Australia, the Aborigines, arrived around 50,000 years ago. European exploration and subsequent immigration came much later than that of the Americas. The British established a penal colony in southeast Australia in the late 18th century and population gradually grew thereafter. Exploration and habitation of the coasts greatly preceded the central region, the outback, known for the vast expanses of arid to semi arid deserts.
By early in the nineteenth century journeys through the outback were aided by caravans of camels imported initially from India and Pakistan. Caravans of up to 70 camels each carrying nearly a half ton of goods each, were driven by teams of Afghans who apparently excelled in camel herding. The camel caravans were used to supply remote mining sites, a few sheep stations (ranches) and to aid the construction of the first telegraph lines from the north to the south of Australia.
Today the Afghan herded camel “trains” no longer ply the desert. To a large degree they have replaced by rail service. As the camels were no longer needed they were simply released to the wild to fend for themselves. There are now estimated to be over a million feral camels.
Sections of a rail line began as early as 1858, but completion of the line connecting Darwin in the north with Adelaide in the south wasn’t completed until late in the twentieth century. The almost 1800 mile trip can be completed nonstop in 48 hours. A popular passenger rail service called the Ghan (after the Afghan camel drivers) now makes the trip with side excursions over 4 days.
We boarded the train in Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory (NT). Darwin on the northern coast has a tropical climate, lying about 12 degrees south of the equator. From there we headed south for several hours before arriving in Katherine, NT. Nearby is the Nitmiluk National Park. The Katherine river flows through the park where it has cut deep gorges in the Sedimentary rock, dated to 1.2 billion years old.
Farther south is the quaint town of Alice Springs, essentially the geographic center of Australia. It is equidistant to Darwin and Adelaide, 900 miles each way. Desert climates can be severe. Summer high temperatures can reach 120 degrees, and winter lows, especially on clear nights can dip well below freezing.
South of Alice Springs is the town of Coober Pedy, renowned as the richest source of opals in the world. The climate is so extreme here that over half the town’s inhabitants live underground to escape the heat.
The end of the line on the southern coast of Australia is Adelaide, the capital of the state of Southern Australia. It is the most centralized city in Australia with over 70% of the state’s population in the greater metropolitan area.