Victoria, the second smallest in area of
Australia's six states and the second largest in population, situated in
the southeastern part of the continent. Only New South Wales has a greater
population, and only Tasmania has an area smaller than Victoria's 87,877
square miles (227,600 sq km). Victoria is bounded on the north and east
by New South Wales, on the west by South Australia, and on the south by
Bass Strait, which separates Victoria from Tasmania. Melbourne, the state
capital, is Australia's second-largest city.
Victoria contains four main geographic regions:
the plains of the basin of the Murray River in the north, the central highlands,
the southern plains, and the southern uplands. The Murray Basin includes
the undulating Mallee area and the Wimmera River plains, in the northwest,
and the Northern District floodplains. The central highlands lie astride
the state in an east-west band from the New South Wales border almost to
the South Australia border. The state's tallest mountains lie in the eastern
portion of the highlands, forming part of the Australian Alps, with Mount
Bogong (6,516 feet; 1,986 meters) the highest. The southern plains, lying
in an east-west band in the coastal region, include the fertile Gippsland
plains in the east and Western District plains. The southern uplands, lying
between the southern plains and the coast, include the Otway Ranges, the
Barrabool Hills, the South Gippsland uplands, and Wilson's Promontory.
The 680-mile (1,100km) coast has few large inlets, and only Melbourne and
Geelong, on Port Phillip Bay, and Portland, in the west, have been developed
as major ports. Ninety Mile Beach, enclosing the Gippsland Lakes, lies
in the extreme east, and there are many sandy beaches broken up by rocky
The rivers may be broadly classified into two groups: those that drain southward from the central highlands into the Indian Ocean, Bass Strait, and the Tasman Sea, and those that drain northward into the Murray River, bordering New South Wales, or into salt lakes in the northwest.
Except in the higher elevations in the northeast, winter temperatures are moderate, the average being about 50°F. (10°C.). Summer temperatures are also moderate, averaging 55°F. (13°C.) to 65°F. (18°C.) near the coast and at the higher elevations, though there may be occasional hot spells. In inland areas, especially in the northwest, summer days are warmer and hot spells more prolonged. The rainfall varies from an annual average of more than 60 inches (1,500 mm) on the slopes of the mountains in the east to less than 12 inches (300 mm) in the extreme northwest. Most of the rain falls in winter and is associated with cyclonic storms. In winter, heavy snows fall in the higher elevations in the northeast.
Although much of the natural vegetation of Victoria has been replaced by plants introduced since European settlement began, some large areas with the original plant cover survive. These include the saltbush, casuarina, and mallee, or thickets of dwarf eucalypts, in the northwest; the thinly wooded plains bordering the highlands; the "gallery" forests, mainly of red gum, along the rivers in the north and west; the extensive forests of eucalypts, mainly of blue gum, on the coastal hills, in Gippsland, and in the eastern highlands; and the beech forest (Nothofagus) on the Otway Ranges.
The population of Victoria in 1991 was 4,243,719, about 25 percent of Australia's total. Two thirds of Victoria's inhabitants lived in the Melbourne urban center, which had 2,822,500 inhabitants. Other major urban centers are Geelong (131,000), Ballarat (66,500), and Bendigo (58,200). By 1992 the state's population was estimated to have risen to 4,456,000, just over a fourth of Australia's total.
The nominal head of the state government
is the governor, appointed by the British Crown. Actual executive and administrative
powers are exercised by a cabinet of ministers, headed by a premier, representing
the majority party in the state parliament and responsible to it.
The parliament is composed of two houses: a 44-member legislative council, the upper house, and an 88-member legislative assembly. Both are elected on a district basis by universal adult suffrage. Assembly members are elected for four-year terms. Council members, half of whom retire every four years, are elected for two assembly terms or eight years in all. Voting for both houses is compulsory.
Victoria was the first state in Australia
to develop industry, and Melbourne early became the financial capital of
Australia as well as an important industrial center. Victoria's industries
are concentrated in the Melbourne region. The major industries are food
processing and the production of machinery and metals, clothing and textiles,
and lumber and paper.
Victoria is also one of Australia's leading agricultural states. Irrigation plays an important role, and a large part of the north is dependent on water from the Murray River system. About half of all the irrigated land in Australia is in Victoria. Wheat is the most important crop and is grown in the northeast and north-central regions. Other crops include oats, barley, forage, potatoes, and vegetables. Grape vineyards are extensive. Livestock raising and dairying are very important. The Western District, in the southwest, is the major sheep-raising area, and the southern plains support most of the state's dairy cattle. Victoria is the foremost dairy state of Australia.
Although the gold strike in 1851 helped spark the economic development of Victoria, gold mining is in decline. Brown coal, mined mainly in the Latrobe Valley region east of Melbourne, petroleum, and natural gas are substantial resources.
Victoria had 3,136 miles (5,047 km) of railroads in 1989. Previously owned by the state, the railroads were incorporated in 1975 into the national system under the auspices of the Australian National Railways Commission. There were about 100,000 miles (161,000 km) of roads in 1988.
School attendance is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 15. In 1991 there were 2,029 government schools, with 533,000 pupils. Private schools, numbering 730, enrolled 257,000 pupils. Most private schools are under religious auspices, the majority being Roman Catholic. Victoria is home to the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Monash University, and Deakin University.
Victoria was sighted by Europeans as early as April 1770, when the English explorer Captain James Cook cruised along its eastern shores before landing at Botany Bay, New South Wales. Considerable time elapsed, however, before settlement began. In 1802 the governor of New South Wales urged the British government to permit a settlement at Port Phillip, near Melbourne, because of the possibility of French settlement there. The British colonial secretary, in 1803, approved the proposal before the report of a surveyor could reach him. Lieutenant Colonel David Collins was sent with an expedition to settle Port Phillip, but was so discouraged with the location that he dispatched gloomy reports to the governor of New South Wales, who ordered the abandonment of the project. In January 1804 Collins led his colonists to Van Diemen's Land (later named Tasmania).
The government preferred a policy of concentrating population in New South Wales and forbade colonists in Van Diemen's Land to cross Bass Strait to the Port Phillip district. Thomas Henty was refused permission to buy land at Portland Bay in 1834. In 1835 John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner settled at Port Phillip. The government came to realize that occupation was inevitable, and Lord Glenelg in 1836 opened the district to settlement. Melbourne, named for Queen Victoria's prime minister, Lord Melbourne, was laid out in 1837, but the government decided against a separate colony for the district; instead, they sent magistrates from Sydney to Melbourne and Geelong. In 1839 Charles Joseph Latrobe was named superintendent of the Port Phillip district, including Melbourne. The desire for separation continued, but the Constitution Act of 1842 made no provision for it. The same act, however, provided for direct representation for the Port Phillip district in the legislative council of New South Wales. The population of the district grew from 3,511 in 1838 to 32,874 in 1846, and 77,345 in 1851. The demand for separation from New South Wales was granted by the Australian Constitution Act of 1850, which enabled colonies in Australia to proceed in the drafting of constitutions.
The Port Phillip district became the colony of Victoria in 1851, with a constitution including an appointive executive council and a legislative council, partly appointive and partly elective. Steps were then taken to frame a new constitution more in harmony with growing conceptions of democracy and self-government. The new constitution provided for a governor and a legislature in which both houses would be elected. Upon its adoption in 1855 responsible popular government came into operation.
Gold Rush of 1851
The colony was profoundly changed by the discovery of gold in 1851 at Ballarat. People left towns and country in such large numbers as to disrupt normal life. Problems of supplies, transportation, and law and order became acute. The government of Victoria experienced great difficulty in levying a fair tax on those persons at the diggings, leading to the Eureka Riots. The gold rush contributed to the growth of democratic feeling in Victoria, but generated habits of reckless spending and gambling. Gold production made Melbourne the financial and banking center of Australia for a generation. During the decade 1851-1861 the population of Victoria rose from 77,345 to 540,322, far outdistancing New South Wales, which grew from 187,243 to 350,860.
Agricultural and Industrial Expansion
With the decline in gold production and the growing need for machinery and capital investment to make goldmining profitable, the problem arose of providing for those who found it necessary to leave the diggings. Legislation to encourage land settlement, agriculture, and manufacturing was urged. Land legislation was passed during the 1860's, but the practice of "dummying," whereby one person bought land that he later disposed of to the squatter, to a certain extent nullified the purpose of the legislation. The area under cultivation increased from 410,406 acres (166,091 hectares) in 1861 to 1,435,446 acres (580,925 hectares) 20 years later, but agriculture did not supplant grazing as the dominant rural activity. Rural life was characterized by an increase in bushranging in the 1870's. Tariff protection was introduced to encourage infant industries and included provisions favorable to wheat growers in Victoria. It failed, however, to stop the exodus of free miners from the colony, and it is difficult to measure its exact influence on manufacturing. The conditions of workers in Victoria, particularly those in the "sweated" trades, caused considerable concern. Factory acts were passed in 1885 to improve general working conditions, and they were extended by further enactments in 1895. The report of a royal commission in 1891 on the subject of "sweated" trades led to the passage of legislation providing for local boards to fix minimum wages in certain industries. Such legislation gave expression to the growing belief that government should limit private employment to those industries that offered a "fair and reasonable" living for the workers. After a period of prosperity in the latter 1880's and early 1890's, a depression hit Victoria in 1893; values fell precipitately, fortunes were wiped out, and banks generally suspended payment.
The Twentieth Century
Victoria gave large majorities to the proposed Commonwealth constitution in the elections of 1898 and 1899. In 1901 the state of Victoria was allotted 23 out of a total of 75 members in the House of Representatives, but in 1928 this figure was reduced to 20. The state's policy of tariff protection was adopted by the Commonwealth in 1902. During World War I two internment camps for aliens were established. Victoria gave an affirmative majority to conscription for military service in October 1916. It passed price-control legislation during the war, but few commodities were covered by it. After establishment of the Commonwealth, Victoria did not adopt the system of state industrial tribunals for labor disputes or for wage-fixing; it maintained the independent tribunals established in 1896. See also Australia; Eureka Riots.
Eureka Riots, the rebellion in the Victoria, Australia, gold fields in 1854 of dissatisfied miners, who built an armed stockade. With the decline of income per digger, objections arose to the fee of thirty shillings per month levied by the government. On Dec. 3, 1854, government troops attacked the stockade and dispersed the rebels, who had gone so far as to raise the flag of the "Republic of Victoria." An inquiry followed, and in six months the government of Victoria had dropped the former fee and put in its place a "miner's right" which cost $5 a year and gave to the miner the right to vote. An export duty on gold was also levied to make up for the loss of revenue by the former system.