A colloquial term used since the 19th century along with many other derivatives such as “backcountry”, “backblocks,” and “back of Bourke,” Outback in Australia refers to the vast, mostly dry and remote interiors of the continent that makes up 70% of its entirety. Also called “The Bush” and “Never-Never,” its region stretches from the northern to southern coastlines of Australia and covers a variety of climatic zones.
The Outback is an area of extremes, having parts where it’s lush and bountiful, but most of it is jarring and desolate, rendering it mostly uninhabited. Despite the sparse human population, it’s home to remarkable biodiversity, exquisite sceneries, and natural landscapes. Here, let’s discover more about what constitutes the outback of Australia and its immense value to the world.
Australian Outback’s Regions and Wildlife
The Australian Outback has an area of 5.6 million square kilometers. In comparison, that area would cover over half of the size of Europe or the United States. It specifically covers the entire Northern Territory, most of Queensland, New South Wales’ north-western corner, West Australia, and South Australia. Given that expanse of land, the Outback is composed of unique and ecologically-rich ecosystems. Some of the most notable regions include:
Kimberley is Western Australia’s northernmost region, where highly diverse geography exists ranging from semi-arid savannas, pristine coastlines, sandstone cliffs, beautiful mountain ranges, gorgeous rivers and waterfalls, and deep gorges. It stretches 422,000 square kilometers, which makes it slightly smaller than California.
Highlights of this region include the spellbinding 1,000 islands of the Buccaneer archipelago, Boab trees that come in various shapes and sizes, rock arts from the country’s aboriginal people, and the Gibb River Road. All that comes with incredible wilderness sceneries, rich vibrant history, and highly-varied flora and fauna.
Great Western Woodlands
Another fantastic part of the Australian Outback is the Great Western Woodlands. It’s the last of its kind, being the largest and healthiest unfragmented temperate woodland forest left in the world. It extends 16,000,000 hectares, which is larger than the combined area of England and Wales. A true biodiversity hotspot, nearly 3,500 plant species can be found in the region. Majority of which are only found in Southwest Australia.
Animal life is flourishing as well, with 215 bird species, 138 reptile species, 49 mammal species, and 14 frog species calling it home. Numbers are adding up as researchers continue to discover new species of flora and fauna in its vast wilderness. If that isn’t enough to highlight the region’s global importance, the carbon in Great Western Woodlands’ trees and soil amounts to about 950 million tonnes, making it a natural life support.
One of Australia’s famous outback regions is the Nullarbor Plain. It’s the world’s largest piece of limestone, having an area of about 200,000 square kilometers or 77,000 square miles. Its name was derived from the Latin words “nullus” and “arbor,” which means “nothing” and “tree,” and perfectly characterize its flat, almost treeless, semi-arid to arid area.
Vegetation in the Nullarbor Plain is primarily composed of blue bush and saltbush, though some flowers and grasses may grow during rare winter rains. While the barren land may not seem it could sustain life, a wide range of wildlife has adapted to its harsh conditions. Some of these animals include dingoes, southern hairy-nosed wombats, red kangaroos, malleefowl, plains wanderers, and bearded dragons.
Situated in the heart of the Australian Outback, the MacDonnell Ranges is a 644-kilometer or 400-mile long mountain system, renowned for its exquisite beauty and Aboriginal importance. It’s composed of sandstone and quartzite parallel ridges and is divided into the east and west ranges. Formed about 300-350 million years ago, continuous faulting, folding, and erosion gave the region its distinct shape, landscape, gaps, and gorges.
Being part of the Central Ranges xeric scrub, rocky highlands, sandy plains, and dry grasslands mostly build up the area. A haven for spectacular biodiversity, many animals like wallabies, perenties, dingoes, frogs, feral horses, and various types of birds, lizards, and insects live in the ranges. Common plant life includes acacias, spinifex grasses, and mulga scrub.
Australia’s Ten Deserts
Australia has a total of 10 deserts found in the Outback. Its largest desert is the Great Victoria Desert, covering an area of nearly 350,000 square kilometers or 135,000 miles. A prime hotspot for reptiles, many species of snakes and lizards are able to thrive in the desert’s harsh conditions. The Great Sandy Desert comes second in terms of size. Its vegetation is mainly composed of spinifex, while animals that live in the region include feral camels, goannas, marsupial moles, red kangaroos, bilbies, and rufous hare-wallabies.
The three other major deserts include the Tanami Desert, Simpson Desert, and the Gibson Desert. The remarkable Uluru or Ayers Rocks straddles between the last two deserts. It’s the world’s largest sandstone monolith, rising 1,142 feet above the surrounding arid plain. The remaining deserts that make up Australia’s ten deserts include the Little Sandy Desert, Strzelecki Desert, Sturt Stony Desert, Tirari Desert, and the smallest Pedirka Desert.
Australian Outback’s People
Apart from the natural landscapes and the distinct, flourishing wildlife, Australia’s Outback won’t be complete without the Aboriginal people living in it for at least 50,000 years, making their culture one of the world’s richest and oldest. Among the places that are most retted in Aboriginal history include South Australia, the Red Center, and the Northern Territory, where many ancient rock arts, ancestral grounds, and sacred sites can be found. Today, the Aborigines make up about a quarter of the population in Outback. All in all, 800,000 people live in the Outback, which is only less than five percent of the total number of people living in Australia.
The Australian Outback is one of its kind, interconnecting the natural, pristine, and beautiful landscapes, diverse animal and plant life, fascinating culture, and the human population thriving in it. Its overall value is remarkable, which must be devoted attention to and be protected not only by the Australian nation but of the world.