AUSTRALIA'S DESERT AND PASTORAL REGIONS 887. The dry heart of Australia.—What do you notice about central and western Australia as you examine the maps of sheep (Fig. 630), cattle (Fig. 625), and wheat (Fig. 88)? Look at a place where the tropic of Cancer or of Capricorn touches the western edge of some continent. It is a place where the trade winds blow away from the land. What kind of place is it in South Africa? in North Africa? in South America? in North America? If you have forgotten what kind of a place it is, the rainfall maps (Figs. 144, 540, 541) will give you the answer, which is the same for all the continents—a dry country, a very dry country. How much of it has inland drainage? (Fig. 620.) The center of Australia' is a desert. The eastern mountains shut off from the interior most of the moisture that southeast trade winds from the Pacific might bring to Australia.
In no other continent does the desert possess such a large share of the land.
South Australia is so dry that one-half of it is almost without inhab itants. For the same reason West Australia has fewer people than the state of Arizona, and most of its area cannot be used even for ranches. (Figs. 625, 630.) Drought makes the pasture so poor in the interior of Queens land that the government will let one man have ninety-nine square miles for a farm. The drought also helps to prevent the North ern Territory, which is ten times as large as New York State, from having more people than may sometimes be found in a single building in New York City.
For a long time a ship was the only means by which people could travel from West Australia to the eastern states, but in 1917 the Commonwealth government completed a transcontinental railroad from Port Augusta to the desert gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie. For several hundred miles this road crosses neither stream nor hill and runs without a curve across a bare gravel plain so smooth that automobiles were used to carry materials when the railroad was built.
Notwithstanding the help of camels brought from Africa, many daring men have died of thirst while try ing to explore Australia's deserts. Even yet there are places as large as some American states which no white man has ever seen. As in the Sahara and in Arabia, the mountains in the desert have enough rain to provide springs, and areas with enough grass to sup• port some animals.
888. The eastern grasslands.—To the west of the eastern mountains is a wide stretch of level or gently rolling interior plain, drained by the Murray River system. The rainfall gradually grows less and less, as one goes from the forested mountains of the east toward the sandy or gravelly deserts that begin near latitude 140° east (Fig. 620, D2), and stretch away to the Indian Ocean, 1500 miles to the westward.
Most of this grassland is too dry for wheat, but it is much like the grasslands that lie west of the wheat lands of Argentina or central Kansas. It is one of the great sheep raising regions of the world. Here the herder with his collie dogs drives his flock of two or three thousand sheep backward and forward over most of the territory. Even in the wheat sections at the eastern edge, the grain fields cover but a small part of the land.
Long railroads reach across this plain as they do across the plains of Argentina and central North America. They carry the wool and sheep to market and bring supplies to the few farmers who live on ranches so large that each covers as much ground as a big city, a township, or even as much as a county in the United States. The family of the sheep rancher has a very lonely life so far from neighbors.
889. The tropic grasslands.—The northern part of Australia has a belt of tropic grass land, with a rainy season in the summertime. Its rain is like that of India, though not so heavy. (Sec. 688.) The air over the north central deserts is heated and rises; then the air from the sea' pushes in to take its place. The sea wind, or monsoon, blows from the north for a few months, and brings heavy rains to a belt across the northern part of Australia that has been parched for more than half the year. (Fig. 626.) During this season of sultry, rainy weather, the land changes from brown to green, as it does in other tropic grasslands (Secs. 748, 808). The grass fairly shoots up; sometimes it grows ten feet high. This country is very much like the tropic grasslands of the Sudan (Sec. 743), but most of it is still unused, and except for a very few scattered natives en tirely unsettled. White people are not at tracted by the climate.