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Natural Resources

Of course geology is inextricably intertwined with natural resources and mineral exploitation. Minerals in Australia have had a tremendous impact on the country's human history and patterns of settlement. Alluvial gold (gold sediments deposited by rivers and streams) spurred several gold fevers and set the stage for Australia's present demographic patterns. During the post-World War II period there has been almost a continuous run of mineral discoveries, including gold, bauxite, iron, and manganese reserves as well as opals, sapphires, and other precious stones.

It is estimated that Australia has 24 billion tons (22 billion tonnes) of coal reserves, over one-quarter of which (7 billion tons/6 billion ton) is anthracite or black coal deposited in Permian sediments in the Sydney Basin of New South Wales and in Queensland. Brown coal suitable for electricity production in found in Victoria. Australia meets its domestic coal consumption needs with its own reserves and exports the surplus.

Natural gas fields are liberally distributed throughout the country and now supply most of Australia's domestic needs. There are commercial gas fields in every state and pipelines connecting those fields to major cities. Within three years, Australian natural gas production leapt almost 14-fold from 8.6 billion cu ft (258 million cu m) in 1969, the first year of production, to 110 billion cu ft (3.3 billion cu m) in 1972. All in all, Australia has trillions of tons of estimated natural gas reserves trapped in sedimentary strata distributed around the continent.

Australia supplies much of its oil consumption needs domestically. The first Australian oil discoveries were in southern Queensland near Moonie. Australian oil production now amounts to about 25 million barrels per year and includes pumping from oil fields off northwestern Australia near Barrow Island, Mereenie in the southern Northern Territory, and fields in the Bass Strait. The Barrow Islands, Mereenie, and Bass Strait fields are also sites of natural gas production.

Australia has rich deposits of uranium ore, which is refined for use for fuel for the nuclear power industry. Western Queensland, near Mount Isa and Cloncurry contains three billion tons (2.7 billion tonnes) of uranium ore reserves. There are also uranium deposits in Arnhem Land in far northern Australia, as well as in Queensland and Victoria.

Most of Australia's substantial iron ore reserves are in Western Australia in and around the Hammersley Range. Australia has billions of tons of iron ore reserves, exporting magnetite iron from mines in Tasmania to Japan while still extracting ore from older mines on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia and in the Koolyanobbing Range of southern Western Australia.

The Western Australian shield is rich in nickel deposits that were first discovered at Kambalda near Kalgoorlie in south Western Australia in 1964. Other nickel deposits have been found in old goldmine areas in Western Australia. Small quantities of platinum and palladium have been extracted side-by-side with nickel reserves.

Australia is also extremely rich in zinc reserves, the principal sources for which are Mt. Isa and Mt. Morgan in Queensland. The Northern Territory also has lead and zinc mines as well as vast reserves of bauxite (aluminum ore), namely at Weipa on the Gulf of Carpenteria and at Gove in Arnhem Land.

Gold production in Australia, which was substantial earlier in the century, has declined from a peak production of four million fine ounces in 1904 to several hundred thousand fine ounces. Most gold is extracted from the Kalgoorlie-Norseman area of Western Australia. The continent is also well-known for its precious stones, particularly white and black opals from South Australia and western New South Wales. There are sapphires and topaz in Queensland and in the New England District of northeastern New South Wales.

Because of its aridity, Australia suffers from leached, sandy, and salty soils. The continent's largely arid land and marginal water resources represent challenges for conservation and prudent environmental management. The challenge is to maximize the use of these resources for human beings while preserving ecosystems for animal and plant life.



Brizga, Sandra, and Brian L. Finlayson, eds. River Management: The Australasian Experience. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

Drummond, Barry J., ed. The Australian Lithosphere. 1991. The Geology of South Australia. South Australia: State Print, 1993.

Hamblin, W.K., and E.H. Christiansen. Earth's Dynamic Systems. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001.

Hancock P. L. and Skinner B. J., eds. The Oxford Companion to the Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Morrison, Reg. Australia: Land Beyond Time. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.


"Underground Current Electrifies Australia." New Scientist (March 30, 1991): 10.

Robert Cohen

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: A-series and B-series to Ballistic Missiles - Categories Of Ballistic MissileAustralia - Topography And Origin Of Australia, Splitting Of Australia From Antarctica, Seismic Activity And Faulting, Overall Geological Structure - South Australian mountains, Glaciers and ocean inundations, Geology of Tasmania, Climate