THIS book will describe the tour of a party of boys and girls around the world on the lookout for strange lands and strange peoples. Every child who reads it shall be one of the party. He must forget, for the time, that he is in America and imagine himself with us in those far-away countries.
We are to explore the chief islands of this big round earth. A look at the map will show you what a vast number of them there are and how they are scattered. Some lie on the edge of the broiling Equator, others are close to the ice-clad poles. Some are high islands formed by the peaks of volcanic mountains which have been thrown up out of the sea; others are low islands built up by little coral animals from the bed of the ocean.
There are so many islands that our tour must be carefully planned that we may not miss the principal ones, and even with the best of planning it will be impossible to set foot upon all.
Avoiding the greater land divisions we shall start with Australia and thence steam on from island to island, going from sea to sea and ocean to ocean until we have encompassed the globe.
Australia is the largest island of all, so large that it is classed with the continents. It is almost twice as large as all the countries of Europe without Russia and the Scandinavian Peninsula, and almost as large as the whole United States without Alaska, so large that we shall have to travel two thousand miles farther than from New York to London and back if we but sail around its coast. From east to west it is longer than the distance from the Hudson River to the Great Salt Lake, and from north to south its width is greater than the distance between Philadelphia and Denver.
This vast body of land as we look at it on the map is shaped somewhat like a great heart, but if we could view it as the sun sees it, we should find it composed of mighty plains tilted up at the edges and sloping towards the center somewhat like an enormous soup plate of irregular shape. At the eastern side we should see a range of mountains making that part of the plate the highest, and in the southeast Mount Kosciusko the highest mountain of Australia, reaching almost a mile and a half above the sea and looking to us like a knob on the rim of the plate.
This island continent is largely a desert ; the chief water-laden winds which come from the Pacific strike the range of mountains along the eastern coast, and the cold air squeezes them dry, so that when they pass over the interior of the continent they have no more water to lose. As a result the eastern slope of the mountains has a good rainfall, and there we find numerous rivers, the cultivated lands, the large cities, and most of the people. In that part of Australia are located the great dairying and fruit industries. On the table-lands and western plains are some of the greatest sheep and cattle runs in the world. Much of the interior, although dry, is extremely fertile, and is enriched by occasional monsoonal rains. Much of the western plain country, formerly used for grazing purposes, is now profitably employed for wheat production.
Large tracts in the west and southwest are also used for cultivation and pasture, but the middle of the continent over immense areas is a dreary desert. Some of it is as thirsty as Sahara, having vast regions of rock and sand through which we might ride for miles and see nothing but dusty scrub and bushes covered with thorns, where the only water to be found is in salt marshes, brackish lakes, and rock holes.
The Australian continent now belongs to the British Empire. The English claim it by right of exploration and settlement, having seized the lands and driven back the black aborigines, until they now hold somewhat the same place that the Indians do in our country.
Australia was the last grand division of the earth to be visited by Europeans. It was discovered by Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch navigators, but it was not thought to be of any value until Captain James Cook, the great English explorer, made a tour along the east coast. This was about six years before we declared our independence of England. Captain Cook brought back glowing reports of the richness of the country, and the English at once sent out and took possession of it. The first settlements were devoted to criminals who worked in chains guarded by soldiers; but later on, when it was found that the climate was good and the soil fertile, other people came and the prison settlements were done away with.
By and by colonies were established in the best parts of the country. They grew rapidly, and now there are white people living in all of the habitable regions.
The continent is divided into five great colonies or states and one territory. Western Australia comprises the whole western portion of the country, with Perth as its capital. The state is largely a desert, but is. rich in gold and other minerals, and has extensive jarrah forests.
South Australia takes up the south central portion of the continent. It has rich lands in the mountainous south-eastern section, but much of the northern part is unfit for cultivation. Its capital is Adelaide, on the Torrens River. North of this state is the Northern Territory, which has few inhabitants except the native aborigines.
The eastern section of the continent is divided into the three states of Victoria, New South Wales, and Queens-land. Victoria at the south is very rich in gold and in farm and pasture lands. Its capital is the city of Melbourne, and it has many other large towns. New South Wales, just to the north, is much larger than Victoria and is also exceedingly rich. Its capital is Sydney, the principal port of Australia. Queensland, which takes up the vast country still farther north, includes all northeastern Australia. It is a land of pastures, farms, rich mines, and sugar plantations. Its capital is Brisbane.
The five states of Australia, together with Tasmania, are now united in the Commonwealth of Australia. This part of the British Empire has a Governor-General appointed by the Crown, and a parliament elected by the people, which makes laws for the Commonwealth. The parliament is much like our Congress at Washington. Each state has a parliament of its own which is similar to the legislatures of our states. The Northern Territory is under the control of the Commonwealth, as is also Papua, or British New Guinea. We shall learn more about the states as we travel through them, imagining ourselves first in New South Wales, in the city of Sydney, ready to start.