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Forstry, fishing & mining

Forestry, fishing and mining in Australia

Forestry and Fishing

Forests today cover only about 8 per cent of Australia. Most commercial wood supplies come from coniferous plantations. The main regions of indigenous forest are found in the moist coastal and highland belts and consist predominantly of eucalyptus, a hardwood. Eucalyptus wood is used in the production of paper and furniture. The jarrah and karri species, which grow in Western Australia, are noted for the durability of their woods. Queensland maple, walnut, and rosewood are prized as cabinet and furniture woods. Approximately 9.4 million hectares (23.2 million acres) of forest are permanently preserved in state reservations. Softwood production from coniferous plantations does not meet demand, so Australia has to import large quantities. Output from state, federal, and private forests in 1994 was about 3.5 million cu m (124 million cu ft) of sawn wood and 997,000 tonnes of pulp. 

Australian waters contain more than 2,000 species of fish and a great variety of other marine life, but the annual catch is relatively small—approximately 220,000 tonnes. More than 50 per cent of the yearly value of fisheries products is made up of various shellfish, principally abalone, lobsters, prawns, oysters, and mussels. Pearls and trochus shells have been harvested off the northern coast since the 1800s; Aborigines traded shells for centuries before that. Darwin, Broome, and Thursday Island are the main pearling centres today. Cultured pearls are now the basis of the industry, which is dominated by Japanese-Australian ventures. Commercially marketed marine fish include cod, snapper, flathead, mackerel, barramundi, whiting, and tuna. Australia was a leading whaling nation until the late 1970s, when it agreed to halt most whaling activities in cooperation with an international effort to maintain the whale population. 

Mining

The mining industry, long an important factor in the social and economic growth of Australia, holds great promise for the future development of the country. The gold discoveries of the 1850s were responsible for the first major wave of immigration and for the settlement of the interior. Today, Australia is self-sufficient in most minerals of economic significance and in several cases is among the world’s leading producers. Minerals are found in most states, but Western Australia has the largest share of total mineral production (37 per cent) and contains 63 per cent of metallic mineral production. Production of coal, oil, natural gas, and metallic minerals was valued at about US$19 billion a year in the early 1990s. Metallic minerals account for about 42 per cent of total output, with gold and iron ore the most significant components. Output, in tonnes, of the main minerals in 1994 included: black coal (178.3 million); brown coal, or lignite (49.8 million); bauxite (41.2 million), copper (434,000), gold (255.8), iron ore and concentrate (123,890), manganese ore (2.04 million), nickel (72,000), tin (7,970), and uranium (2,750). 

Australia accounts for some 12 per cent of the world’s gold production. About 70 per cent of the total is derived from Western Australia, notably from near Kalgoorlie. The gold is mainly exported to Singapore, Japan, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. Since the discovery of the Kimberleys diamond deposit, Western Australia, in 1979, Australia has become the world’s largest producer by volume, with about 36 per cent of the world’s total. Production reached 42 million carats in 1993; almost all came from the giant Argyle Mine in the Kimberleys. 

About 97 per cent of Australia’s iron ore output comes from the Pilbara region, also in Western Australia. Iron ore reserves also exist at Iron Knob in South Australia; on Cockatoo Island in Yampi Sound, off Western Australia; in north-west Tasmania; and in Gippsland in Victoria. Almost all of the iron ore is exported. Australia is now Japan’s main supplier and other important markets include China, Germany, Korea, and Taiwan. The discovery and exploitation of enormous bauxite deposits enabled Australia to become, in the 1980s, the world’s largest bauxite and alumina producer and one of the largest aluminium producers. The most important mines are located to the south of Perth in Western Australia, on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, and on the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory. Uranium mines are located in the Northern Territory (the Ranger and Nabarlek mines) and at Olympic Dam in South Australia. All production is exported; exports are in line with the country’s anti-nuclear policy. 

The hard, or bituminous black coal industry is heavily concentrated in New South Wales and Queensland, which have about 47 per cent each of production. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal. Victoria’s lignite, or brown coal, desposits are mined to supply the electricity-generating industry. 

Nickel is mined at Kambalda, south-east of Kalgoorlie, at Greensvale in Queensland, and in the Musgrave border region of Western and South Australia and the Northern Territory. The main source of manganese is at Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory. Two-thirds of Australia’s copper is mined at Mount Isa in Queensland other mines are located at Mount Lyall in Tasmania and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Queensland, Tasmania, and New South Wales are the main tin-producing states. Broken Hill in New South Wales has been an important producer of zinc and lead for more than a century. Titanium and zircon are recovered from the mineral beach sands of southern Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia, along with several other metals including rutile and ilmenite. Tungsten concentrates are mined on King Island in the Bass Strait. 

Australia’s main oil and gasfields are at Gippsland in Victoria and Carnarvon, in Western Australia. Crude oil output was about 199.4 million barrels a year in the mid-1990s. 

Manufacturing

After World War II, the introduction of new industries and the development of existing ones caused asubstantial expansion of manufacturing capacity in Australia. In the early 1990s manufacturing contributed about 15 per cent of the country’s yearly domestic product, and manufacturing firms together employed just over 14 per cent of the working population. New South Wales, especially Sydney and Newcastle, and Victoria, primarily the Melbourne metropolitan area, are the main manufacturing centres. New South Wales is noted for the production of iron and steel, jet aircraft, construction equipment, synthetic fibres, electronic equipment, power cables, and oil and petrochemical products. In Melbourne, industrial activity includes the manufacture and assembly of machinery and motor vehicles, and the production of food and clothing. Geelong, located near Melbourne, is known for its woollen mills and motor vehicle works. South Australia, traditionally a pastoral and agricultural state, developed several important manufacturing centres after 1950, including Adelaide and Whyalla. Brisbane and Townsville, in Queensland, both have a significant manufacturing base. Tasmanian industry, assisted by cheap hydroelectric power, includes electrolytic zinc mills, paper mills, and a large confectionery factory. Hobart and Launceston are Tasmania’s primary manufacturing centres. 

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