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Tourism, geology

Tourism

Helped by faster and cheaper long-haul flights, and the growth of the Japanese market, tourism has grown very rapidly since 1970. It is now one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy, accounting for some 500,000 jobs, or 6 per cent of the workforce, in the early 1990s. Foreign exchange earnings were worth more than US$5 billion a year, equivalent to about 10 per cent of earnings on the current account of the balance of payments. 

There has been a strong growth in domestic tourism during this period, which has tapped the expanding range of attractions in each state and territory—theme and amusement parks, zoos, art galleries and museums, certain mines and factories, national parks, historic sites, and wineries. Foreign visitors show broadly similar interests, but most come on standardized packages which focus on a few key attractions, notably Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, in Queensland, the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park, and the beach resorts in the Brisbane, Cairns, and Sydney regions. 

Energy

Electricity supply is the responsibility of the state governments. In the early 1990s about 89 per cent of electricity was generated in thermal facilities, the great majority of which burned bituminous coal or lignite. The country also had several hydroelectric plants, notably the major Snowy Mountains Scheme (primarily serving Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney) and a number of smaller facilities in Tasmania. In the early 1990s Australia’s aggregate installed electric-generating capacity was about 33.8 million kW, and its annual production of electricity totalled almost 160 billion kWh. Australia is almost self-sufficient in oil requirements; about 4 per cent of annual consumption was imported in the early 1990s. 

Geology

Australia was originally part of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland, which had earlier formed part of the supercontinent of Pangaea. Much of it is geologically ancient; the oldest known rock formations have been dated at between 3 and 4.3 billion years old. The great plateau of the Western Australian Shield is underlaid by a vast, stable shield of Precambrian metamorphic and igneous rocks, ranging in age from 570 million to 3.7 billion years. These form the core of the ancestral continent, which, with Antarctica, split off from Gondwanaland during the Jurassic era, less than 200 million years ago, and began to drift eastwards and northwards (see Plate Tectonics; Continent). Australia emerged as a separate continent about 100 million years ago, when Antarctica broke away and drifted southward. Australia is still moving, northwards, away from Antarctica and is in the process of merging with Asia. Its life as a separate continent will be relatively short, in geological time. 

The thick sedimentary rocks of the Great Dividing Range were deposited in a great north-south trending geosyncline during an interval that spanned most of the Palaeozoic Era, ending some 245 million years ago. Compressive forces buckled these rocks at least twice during the era, forming mountain ranges and chains of volcanoes. 

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