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Where Is the Australian Outback?


Well, It's Out There, Mate, You Know
Alice Springs camel trek, copyright Tourism NT

Take a camel trek into the Outback region of Alice Springs

© Tourism NT

The Australian Outback is probably a well defined place with certain specific characteristics but no one Outback place is the same as another nor in one specific location.

But there is the Outback of literary and cinematic lore and this is pretty much the Outback numerous visitors to Australia may have envisioned.

Yet that Outback vision may not be the same for all.

Many years back I had a visitor from America on his first trip to Australia.

There are the visitor attractions of the Sydney Opera House, Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, and so I attempted to be helpful and asked what he wanted most to see.

And he said: "The Outback."

That stumped me. For there is no one place that is the Australian Outback.

Is it back of Bourke?

The Australian Outback certainly exists. It's out there, perhaps back of Bourke or beyond the black stump, two Aussie phrases that denote some distant place, but where?

Well, Bourke is a New South Wales country town some 775 kilometres from Sydney, and as for the black stump, which black stump is this? There's a stump of petrified wood at a monument near Blackall State School in Queensland, more than 1000 kilometres west of Brisbane, so is this the black stump they speak of?

Australian literature speaks of the OUtback as rather distant places accessible only by horse or camel. It could be arid desert country, or it could have cattle stations and be peopled by drovers and indigenous folk, and perhaps by bushrangers, or it could be covered by thick forests where crocodiles and snakes and other nasty creatures lurk.

What do the movies say?

The Man from Snowy River, both the poem by Banjo Paterson and the movie based on it, referred to the wild country of the Snowy Mountains in southwest New South Wales, a land of bushmen, stockmen, drovers and brumbies. So was this, is this, the Australian Outback?

Then there's Crocodile Dundee, Australia's best-grossing movie, and it's set in the bush where crocodiles, snakes and water buffalo pose a threat to the unwary, and where members of Aboriginal tribes still lived. Much of the film was shot on location at the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park, so is this where the Australian Outback is?

Then there’s Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, the country's second highest-grossing movie, with an Outback cattle station and a droving journey to Darwin in the days before Japanese planes bombed the Northern Territory’s capital city. The movie’s Outback scenes were filmed at Kununurra at the edge of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, so is this where the Australian Outback is?

Or go back to the days of the Mad Max movies, and their movie landscapes of searing treeless deserts, mostly around the remote New South Wales mining city of Broken Hill in Mad Max 2 and around South Australia's Coober Pedy in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. So are these places the Australian Outback?

Well, yes and no.

Generally speaking, the Australian Outback refers to places outside, and relatively distant to, the country's population centres, although it may include isolated cities and towns far from other populated areas.

Inland Australia

Since most of Australia's population is along the coast or inland rivers, the Outback generally takes in the desert areas of central Australia but does also take in rainforest areas including those in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania.

The Australian Outback comprises varied landscapes and where one Outback place may be desert another may be rainforest.

So where to find the Australian Outback?

For cities and towns, the more popular Outback destinations would be Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Coober Pedy with its underground homes in South Australia, Broken Hill in New South Wales, and towns like Kununurra and Dampier in Western Australia.

For regions and national parks there are, in the Northern Territory, Kakadu and Arnhem Land east of Darwin, the Tennant Creek region south of Darwin and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the Red Centre.

Western New South Wales and Queensland's rainforest and desert areas are mostly in the Outback. For Western Australia, consider the whole of the Kimberleys. The Tasmanian Outback comprises mostly forested areas such as those of the World Heritage-listed Tasmanian Wilderness.

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