Tasmania, a triangular-shaped island lying
to the southeast of Australia, 26,178 square miles (67,800 sq km) in area
and the smallest of the six states of the Australian Commonwealth (see
Map 2). Tasmania is the second oldest area of European
settlement in Australia. The state includes Macquarie Island, about 900
miles (1,450 km) to the southeast; King Island, some 50 miles (80 km) northwest;
the Hunter group of islands, lying off the northwest point; the Furneaux
Group, off the northeast point; and Bruny Island, just off the southeast
coast. Bass Strait, which averages 150 miles (240 km) in width, separates
the north coast of Tasmania from Victoria, on the mainland. Tasmania is
bordered on the east by the Tasman Sea, a part of the Pacific Ocean, and
on the west by the Indian Ocean.
Tasmania is a mountainous island and a continuation of the Eastern Highlands (Great Dividing Range) of mainland Australia. Very little of the island lies at sea level. The coastline is generally rugged and has many indentations. There are coastal plains in the northeast and northwest. From these plains mountains rise sharply to more than 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), providing some of Australia's most spectacular scenery. The island's highest elevation is Mount Ossa (5,305 feet; 1,617 meters) in the northwest. The only extensive inland plain lies between Launceston and Tunbridge. In the center of Tasmania is a 1,500-square-mile (3,900-sq-km) plateau, which rises to 2,000 to 4,000 feet (600-1,200 meters). The lakes and rivers of the plateau are important sources of hydroelectric power, vital to Tasmania's industries. Main rivers are the Tamar, Derwent, Huon, Gordon, Pieman, and Arthur. Tasmania has hundreds of lakes, including Great Lake and Lake St. Clair, both of which are important tourist attractions.
Tasmania has a temperate marine climate. Temperatures range from an average of 62°F. (17°C.) in January to 45°F. (7°C.) in July at Hobart in the southeast and from 64°F. (18°C.) in January to 45°F. (7°C.) in July at Launceston in the northeast. Hobart averages 26 inches (660 mm) of rainfall, evenly distributed throughout the year. The west coast is the wettest part of the island, Zeehan having an average rainfall of 96 inches (2,440 mm) annually, and Lake Margaret an average of 145 inches (3,725 mm).
Tasmania is the home of two animals no longer found anywhere else in the world: the Tasmanian devil, a pouched animal resembling a small bear, once found all over Australia, and the Tasmanian wolf, now almost extinct.
In 1991 Tasmania had a census population of 452,847, an increase of 3.8 percent over the 1986 census count. In 1991 about 75 percent of the people were urban, and about 40 percent, or about 182,000 people, lived in the metropolitan area of Hobart, the state capital. Launceston, with 96,441 inhabitants in 1991, is the second largest metropolitan area. Other major cities are Devonport (pop. 1991, urban center, 24,622) and Burnie-Somerset (pop. 1991, 20,483). The population is almost entirely European in origin, and there are no pure-blooded Tasmanian aborigines, the last of them having died in 1876.
The nominal head of the state government is the governor, appointed by, and representative of, the British Crown. Actual administrative and executive powers are exercised by a cabinet of ministers headed by a premier. The cabinet and premier normally represent the majority party in the house of assembly and are responsible to it.
The legislature consists of two houses: a 19-member legislative council, the upper house, and a 35-member house of assembly. Council members are elected for six-year terms on a slightly restricted franchise. Assembly members are elected for four years by universal adult suffrage, on the basis of a system of proportional representation. The Australian Labour Party has been dominant since World War II.
Tasmania's revenue in 1989-1990 was A$1.67
billion (U.S.$1.3 billion). The major items of revenue were taxation and
federal grants. Expenditures for the same year were A$1.68 billion (U.S.$1.32
billion). Education, health, public works, and transportation were the
main items of expenditure. The state debt was A$1.22 billion (U.S.$953
million) in 1990.
Tasmania has a diversified economy. Agriculture, livestock-raising, dairying, forestry, and mining are all important. Installations of hydroelectric power has fostered the growth of industry.
The major products of Tasmania's agriculture are crops of barley, hay, hops, oats, peas, potatoes, and wheat. The farmlands of the northwest coast, relatively small in area, are the most highly productive and are devoted to peas, potatoes, and livestock. The north and northeast produce potatoes, apples, barley, wheat, hay, and fodder. About 27 percent of the state's land area is used for farming, in 3,500 holdings.
The main livestock-raising areas are in the east-central part of the island. Wool growing is the chief activity on the east coast, and the dairying center is on the northwest coast. Livestock holdings in 1989 included 560,400 cattle, 4,900,000 sheep, and 44,900 pigs.
About 46 percent of Tasmania is forested, and many of the forests are indigenous. The state's timber is used for construction, furniture, and paper and newsprint manufacture. Native hardwoods, especially eucalypts, are used to produce newsprint and paper.
Tasmania is a major producer of copper, lead, zinc, and tin. Production for 1988-1989 included 22,300 metric tons of copper, 42,900 metric tons of lead, 107,400 metric tons of zinc, and 6,820 metric tons of tin. The state also produces gold, silver, iron ore, and coal in quantity.
In 1986-1987 Tasmania had 633 manufacturing establishments. Industry in that period employed 24,327 persons. The principal industries produce refined metals, metal products, chemicals, and food products. Other important industries are textile manufacturing and paper and newsprint manufacturing.
The Australian National Railways Commission operates 522 miles (840 km) of track, and a private line has 81 miles (130 km) of track. The state has about 14,100 miles (22,700 km) of road. In 1988, 209,400 automobiles and 62,700 commercial vehicles were registered.
Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16. In 1989 government schools enrolled 64,977 students, while 18,400 students attended private schools in that same period. The University of Tasmania, established at Hobart in 1890, provides higher education; in 1989 it enrolled 5,600 students.
Tasmania was discovered in 1642 by the Dutch
mariner Abel Tasman, who named it Van Diemen's Land. Both French and British
explorers visited the island in the late 18th century. In 1803 it was settled
by the British from New South Wales on the Australian mainland. Hobart,
in the southern part of the island, was founded in 1804 and Launceston
in the north in 1806. The two were soon linked by road. Land grants and
the provision of convict labor encouraged immigration, and the early settlements
thrived, thanks to their exports of wool and wheat. During the first generation,
the isolated farms were threatened by bushrangers, or outlaws, and by aborigines.
Later the native people were virtually exterminated, however; the last
full-blooded Tasmanian aborigine died in 1876.
In 1825 Van Diemen's Land was made a separate crown colony and was ruled by a lieutenant governor. After 1828 it was ruled by legislative councils. In 1835 land speculation brought settlers from the island of the Port Phillip district, across Bass Strait in what is now Victoria. From 1841 a rapid increase in the number of convicts transported to the colony led to a movement of protest on the part of the free settlers. This culminated in the cessation of transportation of convicts in 1853 and the granting of responsible government. The constitution of 1855, as amended, has continued in force to the present day. In the next year the island was officially named Tasmania.
The end of the transportation of convicts and the exodus to Victoria beginning with the discovery of gold in 1851 led to a labor shortage, dwindling trade, budget deficits, and political instability. The economic depression, which lasted into the early 1870's, brought a severe decline in land values. Yet the first railway was built in 1871, and rail lines were later extended. Discovery of tin in 1871 was followed in the next few years by discovery of silver, gold, and copper, and prosperity returned after 1880 with the mining boom. Mining activity centered in the northeast, where Launceston prospered, and on the west coast at Lyell and Zeehan. For a time copper passed wool as Tasmania's chief export. The influx of miners into the colony fostered radicalism, the growth of labor unions, and the emergence of the Labor Party as a force in politics, particularly after the failure of the Van Diemen's Land Bank in 1893. In the 1890's the Tasmanian people strongly favored federation of the Australian colonies, and in 1901 Tasmania became a constituent state of the Commonwealth of Australia.
After federation, Tasmania continued to make progress despite short periods of recession. Exports of wool and potatoes increased, dairying was further developed, and the apple-growing industry of the Huon Valley flourished. Industries based on hydroelectric power were established, such as the electrolytic refining of zinc, copper, and aluminum and the manufacture of woolen textiles and paper. Electricity also brought amenities to rural life. Until the depression of the early 1930's, the state was the most backward of the commonwealth, with a low tax capacity. However, with the institution in 1933 of increased commonwealth grants and the adoption in 1942 of uniform taxation throughout Australia, its financial resources improved. Expenditures on education, health, and roads were greatly increased, while the bulk of government loan money was invested in hydroelectric power development. After 1945, Tasmania shared in the general prosperity of Australia and assimilated a quota of overseas immigrants. Labor governments have been in control since 1934 except in 1969-1972; since 1946 the government and opposition parties have been almost evenly balanced. Public opposition to further damming of rivers for hydroelectric development grew in the 1980's.