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Land and Resources


The Great Dividing Range separates rivers that flow east to the coast from those that flow westerly across the plains through the interior. The most important of the rivers that flow toward the eastern coast are the Burdekin, Fitzroy, Hunter, and Nepean-Hawkesbury. The Fitzroy River forms a large drainage basin in Queensland. The Murray-Darling-Murrumbidgee network, which flows inland from the Great Dividing Range, drains an area of more than 1 million sq km (400,000 sq mi) in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. The Murray River and its main tributary, the Darling, total about 5,300 km (about 3,300 mi) in length. The Murray River itself forms most of the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Considerable lengths of the Murray, Darling, and Murrumbidgee rivers are navigable during the wet seasons.

The central plains region, also known as the Channel Country, is interlaced by a network of rivers. During the rainy season these rivers flood the low-lying countryside, but in dry months they become merely a series of water holes. The Victoria, Daly, and Roper rivers drain a section of the Northern Territory. In Queensland the main rivers flowing north to the Gulf of Carpentaria are the Mitchell, Flinders, Gilbert, and Leichhardt. Western Australia has few major rivers. The most important are the Fitzroy (different from the Fitzroy in Queensland), Ashburton, Gascoyne, Murchison, and Swan rivers.

Because of Australia’s scarce water resources, dams have been constructed on some rivers to supply cities with water and to support irrigation farming. The Snowy Mountains Scheme (1949-1972) and the Ord River Scheme (1960-1972) are the two largest water-conservation projects. The Snowy Mountains Scheme, in the southeastern highlands in New South Wales, is an enormous, multipurpose engineering project that was financed by the federal and state governments to supply water for irrigation, domestic and livestock use, and for the generation of hydroelectricity. The Ord River Scheme is an irrigation project in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. During its construction the scheme attracted criticism from economists, ecologists, environmentalists, and agricultural scientists. Today the long-term environmental and economic viability of the scheme remains in question, while only a small fraction of the arable land that could receive irrigation water is being cultivated due to destructive crop pests and poor soil quality.

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