It's too bad that most Americans' primary exposure to Australia is through a knucklehead (albeit an entertaining one) who teases crocodiles and taunts venomous snakes. It's actually an amazingly beautiful country, with an incredible wealth of natural resources.

It falls to natural resources company BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), then, to dig up these resources and profit from them. Although BHP Billiton is headquartered in Australia, it has operations and assets all around the world. And the company is involved in a wide range of business -- from petroleum to base metals to coal to diamonds.

As you might have already guessed from the prior paragraph, BHP Billiton had a pretty good second half of 2004 (many foreign companies report only semiannually, not quarterly). Revenue grew almost 42%, and net income more than doubled.

What's more, free cash flow for the second half of 2004 more than tripled, to $2.5 billion. Interestingly, the company stated that only about $430 million of its $1.74 billion in capital expenditures was for maintenance of existing facilities, with the rest going to new projects. While it's absolutely vital that BHP Billiton (and any other growing company) invest in building future growth, it's reassuring to note that the company has such a large cushion of discretionary spending.

Although BHP Billiton did invest a large amount of money in new projects during the second half of 2004, the company shared a nice chunk of its wealth with shareholders. In addition to a $1.78 billion-share buyback, the company hiked its dividend by 42%.

BHP Billiton reported strength in the usual suspects. The coal market was very strong, as Arch Coal (NYSE:ACI) also indicated. The steel market was strong; ditto for U.S. Steel (NYSE:X). And aluminum was strong, but profits were compressed by higher input prices, just as Aloca (NYSE:AA) said some time ago.

Looking ahead, the company is pretty positive on demand and pricing for 2005. While acknowledging that economic growth seemed to be a bit sluggish in many countries and that the Chinese economy has slowed, inventories remain at near-record lows around the world. Thus, while there might not be enough global demand to keep BHP Billiton's revenue growing at a 40% clip, there should be sufficient strength to post double-digit growth for 2005.

That sort of top-line growth, and the cash flow it produces, should be enough to keep the dingoes and crocs at bay for a little while longer.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.