New South Wales, state (1991 pop. 5,164,549), 309,443 sq mi (801,457 sq km), SE Australia. It is bounded on the E by the Pacific Ocean. Sydney is the capital. The other principal urban centers are Newcastle, Wagga Wagga, Lismore, Wollongong, and Broken Hill. More than half the population live in the Sydney metropolitan area. New South Wales has a large aboriginal population; over 50% of the Australian aborigines live in New South Wales and Queensland.
Located in the temperate zone, the state has a generally favorable climate. There are four main geographic regions: the coastal lowlands; the eastern highlands, culminating in Mt. Kosciusko (7,316 ft/2,230 m), the highest peak of the Australian Alps and of Australia; the western slopes; and the western plains, which cover about two thirds of the state. The Murray River, which forms the greater part of the southern border, and its principal tributaries are important for the state's extensive irrigation systems.
New South Wales is economically the most important state in Australia. The Sydney-Newcastle-Wollongong area is Australia's greatest industrial region, with steel the principal product. Financial services and tourism are important, as is agriculture: wheat, wool, and meat are produced, and there is considerable dairy farming. Tropical fruits and sugarcane are grown in the northeast. The state's rich mineral resources include coal, gold, iron, copper, silver, lead, and zinc.
The coast of Queensland was explored in 1770 by Capt. James Cook, who proclaimed British sovereignty over the east coast of Australia. Sydney, the first Australian settlement, was founded in 1788 as a prison farm. During the 1820s and 30s the character of New South Wales changed as the wool industry grew and the importation of convicts ceased. In the early 19th cent. the colony included Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, the Northern Territory, and New Zealand. These territories were separated and made colonies in their own right between 1825 and 1863.
In 1901, New South Wales was federated as a state of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Australian Capital Territory (site of Canberra, the federal capital), an enclave in New South Wales, was ceded to the commonwealth in 1911. Jervis Bay, S of Sydney, became commonwealth territory in 1915 as a potential port for Canberra; it is no longer part of the capital territory. The nominal head of the state government is the governor; actual executive functions are exercised by the premier and cabinet, who are responsible to a bicameral state parliament.