The Great Dividing Range separates the fertile coastal strip from vast interior plains. The Great Artesian Basin (376,000 sq mi/973,840 sq km) in the interior provides water for a large livestock-raising area. Queensland produces sugarcane (the chief crop), cotton, wheat (grown mostly on the Darling Downs), and tropical fruits. In addition, the state is Australia's leading producer of beef.
Mining is also important, especially copper, coal, lead, zinc, and bauxite. Oil and natural gas were discovered in the 1960s and are being exploited. Manufacturing has gained importance in the last 30 years, as has tourism. The Great Barrier Reef, Sunshine Coast, and Gold Coast are extremely popular attractions.
Almost half of Queensland's people live in the Brisbane metropolitan area. In 1994 the state decided to amalgamate three cities with their shires; Gold Coast, Cairns, and Ipswich were merged with Albert Shire, Mulgrave Shire, and Moreton Shire, respectively, making Gold Coast Australia's second largest municipality after Brisbane.
In 1770, Capt. James Cook explored the coast of Queensland (then called Moreton Bay). Originally under the authority of New South Wales, Queensland served as a penal colony from 1824 to 1843. The area was separated from New South Wales and made a British colony in 1859. Queensland was federated as a state of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. The state government consists of a governor (the nominal chief executive), who is appointed by the British crown on advice of the cabinet; a premier and a cabinet; and a unicameral legislature (the upper house voted itself out of existence in 1922).
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