The Australian desert – the outback of Australia
Warning. Australian Stories may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. Australian Stories also contain links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.
Albert Tucker, Last days of Leichhardt, 1964, Harold Mertz Collection, University of Texas.
Australia's desert landscapes, regarded as the ‘outback' of Australia, are a powerful symbol of place, and have inspired and helped define Australia's identity. The desert is part of the mythology of rugged survival in a harsh climate.
European people entered the desert lands at their own peril, running the risk that they would perish – and some did. This mythology was connected with the metaphor of the desert lands being seen as the empty or ‘dead heart' of Australia.
In earlier times, the desert's presence was defined by distance which had to be dominated. It was seen as a frontier on the edge of expanding colonies. Its inherent arid nature had to be contended with. This presence and arid nature was epitomised in Patrick White's novel, Voss, about the fateful early exploration expeditions of Ludwig Leichhardt to the outback. This experience of desert exploration is rendered in iconic art works by artists like Albert Tucker's Last days of Leichhardt and Sydney Nolan's Burke and Wills.
Work crew laying pipe for the Coolgardie water supply, Courtesy National Trust of Australia
Pastoral expansion into the desert followed the completion of the Overland Telegraph depots and, later, settlements. Water was needed to support the pastoral industry and the gold rushes of the 1890s. In Western Australia (WA), the Canning Stock Route survey located wells used by Aboriginal people to enable cattle to be taken overland to markets.
CY O'Connor completed an engineering feat when he designed the Perth – Kalgoorlie pipeline, the longest freshwater pipeline ever built, which opened up the possibility for large scale mining and town areas in the interior of WA.
At the same time, the distance of the desert from markets and levels of government has resulted in unique and innovative services, new technologies across health, housing, communications, transport – especially civil aviation, and the arts. By 1922, a scheduled air mail service operated between desert towns of Charleville and Cloncurry, and the operations of what became known as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (QANTAS) became established in Longreach, Queensland.
Royal Flying Doctor Service, courtesy of the Department of Industry
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was formed in 1928, with its first base at Cloncurry. Australia's unique School of the Air service was inspired by observing how outback children were all taught to use the RFDS radio service and it was first broadcast from Alice Springs in 1948.
Artists have long been inspired by the desert's vastness, colour palette and light. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the imagination of the public became fascinated with the desert and its environment through books, journal articles, Hans Heyson's shimmering paintings of the Flinders Ranges and Albert Namatjira's hauntingly beautiful ghost gums. By the 1950s, the haunting and original images by Russell Drysdale of the harsh light and heat had left behind any illustrative realism and entered the surreal.
Since the early 1970s, the Indigenous Papunya Tula art movement coincided with an urban based conservation movement and with the movement for Aboriginal self-determination – all of which were claiming the desert as a celebration of identity.
These movements, combined with a national agenda and new technologies, created a momentum over the next 40 years which recognised a different set of values about desert knowledge and experience. Today, the Australian desert is not only seen as a place of rugged survival, but also as a celebration of place and identity, where it is possible to grow prosperity through knowledge.
Arid centre – empty heart?
Pedirka Desert, courtesy of Stan Sheldon
Arid and semi-arid desert lands make up 70 per cent of mainland Australia – a total of about 5.3 million square kilometres. There are ten major Australian deserts ranging from the Great Victoria Desert, through the Great Sandy, Tanami, and Simpson Deserts, to the gibber stone deserts of the Gibson, the Sturt Stony Desert, and the small Pedirka Desert. A large proportion of this land is held by Aboriginal people through various property titles including titles granted through the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act, the Commonwealth Native Title Act, and various pastoral and other Crown leases.
The geographic foot print of people in Australian deserts has remained relatively very small. In 2009, the arid zone of Australia was occupied by 180,000 people, about one per cent of the population. The semi-arid zone supports 394,000 people, about two per cent of the total population.
Martu rangers with helicopter, courtesy Rangelands NRM WA
About half the populations live in five regional service and mining centres, such as Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Mount Isa and Broken Hill, with populations of 10–30,000 each.
Desert populations overall comprise permanent desert dwellers, mostly Aboriginal people, and the itinerant population who are mostly white people, including miners, government agency workers, and service personnel.
Historically, Afghan cameleers, who provided the main form of transport, and supported the construction of the Overland Telegraph and all of the major desert expeditions from the 1840s to the 1900s, have contributed to the composition of desert populations.
Aboriginal people comprise about 20 per cent of the population in arid areas and about 12 per cent in the semi-arid areas, and are about 3 per cent of the total population. Aboriginal people, of diverse language groups, reside in as many as 1,300 discrete communities widely distributed across their traditional lands. (Brown et al, The demography of desert Australia, The Rangeland Journal, Vol 30(1) 2008).
In 1980, the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council was formed so women could have a voice in land rights, share their cultural and family affiliations and strengthen women's law and culture. It is now a major provider of human services in the region, including aged care, health and education. NPYWC's region covers 350,000 square kilometres of the remote tri-State cross-border area of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Mixed populations – far from government control?
Rabbit Proof Fence ( 2002), directed by Phillip Noyce
The demarcation between desert dwelling communities and the itinerant population (supported by remote central governments) has been described in a number of novels, including Xavier Herbert's Capricornia, and is illustrated in Phillip Noyce's acclaimed movie, Rabbit Proof Fence (2002). The symbols of the Rabbit Proof Fence and the Dingo Fence, created a demarcation about what was considered could be safely controlled, and that which was beyond.
The mixed populations and relations with Aboriginal people in desert towns and cities have become iconic in Australian literature since the 1930s. Arthur Upfield's 29 best-selling novels brought together a range of characters and issues related to desert life in Central Australia. The books, featuring the central character Boney, an Aboriginal detective, were adapted to a television series of 26 episodes. This began in 1971 and was filmed in Alice Springs, and Wilpena Pound and Narridy in South Australia, with hundreds of extras employed from Papunya.
The cooperation and ingenuity of the mixed populations is an iconic measure of ideal life in Neville Shute's popular classic, A Town like Alice, set around the Second World War, 1939–1945.
Removal of children depicted in Rabbit Proof Fence ( 2002), directed by Phillip Noyce
Another view of the mixed population growing up in Alice Springs is offered through the biographies of Charles Perkins: A Bastard Like Me (1975) and Peter Read's Charles Perkins (1990). They narrate the stories of children from desert communities around Alice Springs who were removed from their mothers and grew up in the dormitories of the Bungalow, the old telegraph station building.
Land management: You Call It Desert – We Used to Live There
As Aboriginal people comprise a main population living in desert areas, their different views about land and water use have led to both close association and also conflict over these resources. The different views are summed up in the title of a book by Jimmy Pike, a Walmatjarra man of the Great Sandy Desert, You Call It Desert – We Used To Live There (Magabala books, 2009) and the view that looking after desert is about ‘caring for country'.
Fire – warmth, hunting and ceremony, managing country
Managed fires have always been important for Aboriginal people to survive – for warmth and hunting as well as managing plants and animals in their country. Knowledge of using fires for survival and ceremony are part of a rich cultural tradition. Fire has its own dreaming stories.
In 2012, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Fire and Vegetation Management Strategy incorporates both traditional and contemporary fire management techniques to fire hazard reduction within the park through an annual burning program.
Martu men burning grasslands, courtesy of Rangelands NRM WA.
In Western Australia, Martu people, whose country includes the communities north of Wiluna, of Jigalong, Parngurr and Punmu, burn small fires on a regular basis to manage the country with rangers from the Rangelands NRM's Traditional and Contemporary Fire Project. The project encompasses traditional knowledge and techniques for cool mosaic burning as well as European techniques for hazard burning.
For Martu people, fire is a way to refresh the country, regenerate plant growth as well as manage the height of the grass to prevent out of control fires from lightning strikes. Controlling fire is a skill and knowledge that is remembered from the old people and passed down to the younger generation. Lindsay Robinson, a Martu ranger, believes that, fire;
Its like for us learning, refreshing the country. It is like farming, you go out and bring in some bush foods and bush tucker. It's the same, similar thing when you're making a little farm, just going out and making a waru [fire] and bring in more kipara [bush turkey] back again and Jimjiwirrlyi [bushraisin] and wamurla [bush tomato]. Its keeping that country fresh.
Rangelands NRM, Waru, kuka, mirrka wankarringu – lampaju (Burning, bushfoods and biodiversity), video
Water – finding water in the red jilji or sand hills
Jimmy Pike in the Great Sandy Desert, courtesy of Pat Lowe
Aboriginal desert people hold extensive knowledge of water sources in their dreaming stories, their vocabulary for different types of transient or permanent waterholes, and the means to pass this on through dance and paintings.
A rare glimpse of life in the Great Sandy Desert is provided in a series of books by Jimmy Pike and Pat Lowe, including Jilji – Life in the Great Sandy Desert, in which Pike demonstrates his deep knowledge of country. The books include stories of 20 traditional owners returning to their country, travelling through the long regular red jilji or sand hills, finding and digging out waterholes they hadn't seen in 45 years, identifying over 150 plants and where appropriate, identifying their uses.
Aboriginal values for managing land – amassing a data base for all
The priceless knowledge of how to find, secure and maintain water sources in the desert concerns both the Walmatjarri people and pastoralists. Understanding the nature of the changes in the desert rangelands as they relate to landscape, soils, biodiversity, land clearing, rainfall, fire regimes, and Aboriginal values for managing land, is now the subject of a large data project.
The Australian Collaborative Rangelands Information System (ACRIS) is one of the largest projects to combine data on desert lands. Information is gathered from the Gascoyne – Murchison region in Western Australia, the Gawler region in South Australia, Victoria River Downs in the Northern Territory, and the Darling Riverine Bioregion in New South Wales.
Greater bilbies, courtesy of Alice Springs Desert Park
Managing desert lands involves an extraordinary biodiversity of plants and animals with complex conservation issues. This includes 1,800 types of plants, with the most common type of vegetation in rangelands being grasslands including spinifex. There are over 605 vertebrate animals; however the following desert mammals are extinct: Desert Bandicoot, Lesser Bilby, Desert Rat-Kangaroo, two species each of wallaby, and hopping mice. The Western Quoll, the Numbat, Bilby, Golden Bandicoot and other mammals are threatened with extinction.
Twenty three per cent of the rangelands are used for nature conservation as they are home to a significant number of rare fauna and flora species and are the habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species. The desert lands include five World Heritage sites and eleven per cent of all the listings on the Register of the National Estate.
Livelihoods – multifunctional or vulnerable
Fingell Mine Office at Cue, courtesy of the WA Government
Today, in addition to pastoralism, the Western Australian rangelands produce most of the state's mineral and energy wealth, offer major tourism potential, contain essential elements of the state's biological diversity and are recognised as being of special significance to the Aboriginal population.
Many desert people's livelihoods have been both dependent on and also vulnerable to commodity prices in the two key industries of pastoralism and mining. The vulnerability is reflected in the history and heritage of many deserted towns, such as the old mining towns around Meekatharra, Cue, Day Dawn, and Sandstone, part of the Mid West region of Western Australia.
There are many abandoned stone buildings and remnants of communities on the fringe of the Tanami, Great Sandy and Simpson deserts. Heading west from Dalhousie Springs and on the edge of the Simpson Desert is the Dalhousie Ruins on the Pedirka track.
First leased in 1872 and surrounded by 100 year old date palms, the cattle pens are still standing adjacent to the old stone buildings – the remains of the homestead, the stockman's quarters and the blacksmith's building. There is also the remains of an unnamed grave, slightly built up with rock and stone. After being sold many times, abandoned in 1925 and rebuilt in 1933, Dalhousie Ruins was taken over in 1984 by the Department for Environment and Heritage and dedicated as Witjira National Park.
WA Pastoralists at Charleville, Queensland discussing rangelands management, July2013 courtesy of Rangelands NRM WA
There are around 6,000 pastoral enterprises which occupy about 58 per cent of the land area in the grass lands or rangelands that comprise the desert areas. These enterprises have contributed significantly to the economy but are under increasing pressures.
The rangelands make up 87 per cent of Western Australia's landmass and include all but the south-west of the state. Livestock grazing on pastoral leasehold is the dominant commercial land use across 42 per cent (910,000 km 2 ) of the WA rangelands. Pastoralism, as one of the major land uses in the rangelands, has a significant role to play in natural resource management and large scale monitoring is undertaken with grassland sites being assessed on a three year cycle.
When Aboriginal pastoral workers walked off the pastoral stations in the 1960s as part of a civil rights campaign because they weren't being paid, most were unable to return as the stations couldn't afford to pay wages. Thus, many of the stations became unviable as individual entities.
Today, multinational corporate pastoral companies dominate the sector. Changes in the number of pastoral leases is also attributed to some leases, like Henbury station in Central Australia, becoming protected areas and part of Australia's National Reserve System. However, pastoralism is likely to remain as the core activity in Australian rangelands in terms of land use.
Mining and mining services
Mining prospecting in the semi-arid desert areas began as early as the 1860s with individual prospectors in the Northern Territory and Queensland, and in the 1880s in the Kimberley, Western Australia. Whilst mining is the mainstay of large mining towns, mining has had little direct long term economic benefit on the permanent populations of the desert communities.
Companies are now working collaboratively across regions to share the mining services contracts. Examples include NANA Australia which provides the majority of jobs in the mining industry. It works to form partnerships with Australia's Indigenous businesses and builds workforce capacity for long-term economic growth in mining services.
Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap
Australian deserts also contain important national economic and physical infrastructure, as joint operations with foreign governments, hosting sites for weapons testing facilities and military bases. British nuclear tests at Maralinga occurred between 1955 and 1963 at the Maralinga site, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, in South Australia. It was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement and was officially closed following a clean-up operation in 1967.
Operations at the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, run jointly with the Americans, began in 1970 as a highly sophisticated satellite tracking and communications centre just outside Alice Springs. Approximately 1,000 employees are engaged in signals intelligence. Both sites have created much public controversy and have been the subject of a Royal Commission and Parliamentary Senate Inquiry.
The film Contact, explores the consequences of when two officers from the Weapons Research Establishment were clearing a barren dump zone in 1964, where a series of rocket tests were to take place, when they came across the area's Indigenous owners, Martu people. This group of 20 Martu people were unaware that there was a modern society beyond the 141,000 square miles of desert they called home. The film documents the Martu's startling first contact and eventual removal from their homeland.
Tourism and ‘The Living Heart'
Alice Springs Desert Park
The Australian desert tourism industry influences almost all other industries in the region as well as the infrastructure needs and quality of life in the regional populations. Desert tourism is worth tens of billions of dollars each year to the Australian economy, and contributes $94.8 million a day, with domestic tourism responsible for 73 per cent of the total direct tourism GDP. Some desert communities are keen to have a share of that economy in order to improve their livelihoods.
A fascination with the desert and its environment developed from the 1930s to 1950s. Zoologist H H Finlayson, who wrote The Red Centre (1935), described
the flood of radiant energy that beats upon the land…[the] fiery cinnabar [colour of the rocks, the] dainty ghost gums … their brilliant green tops.
Appealing to a broader audience, journalist Ernestine Hill wrote The Great Australian Loneliness (1937), giving an account of five years travelling across the Nullarbor, from Adelaide to Darwin via the Birdsville Track, and through Arnhem Land. The desert was seen as living and vibrant, peopled with characters and described as ‘The Living Heart'.
The desert landscape was brought to life by Hans Heyson's shimmering paintings of the Flinders Ranges and Albert Namatjira's paintings of hauntingly beautiful ghost gums of the central Australian desert from the 1930s. Russell Drysdale's seeping red landscapes of western New South Wales and Sidney Nolan's surreal landscapes of central Australia startled the public with their haunting and searing images in the 1950s. These works focused the Australian public's imagination of the desert as a different, surreal and complex entity.
Albert Namatjira, Ghost Gum, Mt Sonder, Macdonnell Ranges, c. 1957, watercolour and pencil, courtesy of NGA
Arthur Groom's book, I Saw a Strange Land (1950) saw the potential for tourism linked to the protection of the landscapes and respect for Aboriginal culture. An insight into desert culture was given in Charles Mountford's popular Brown Men and Red Sand (1948) and Adam in Ochre by Colin Simpson (1951). These books included legends, stories and visual descriptions of Aboriginal people, their art and culture.
However, there is no clear single ‘desert tourism' market. In 2001 seven attributes were strongly associated with desert tourism: geology, wildflowers, ancient vegetation, desert trekking, Indigenous inhabitants, oases, and protected areas.
Apart from high profile ‘icon' attractions, such as Uluru Kata Tjuta and the Flinders Ranges, there is only sporadic and small-scale development outside of these destinations. This is in keeping with a desert tourism scoping study which noted that over 75 per cent of all visitors to destinations in regional Australia between 2002 and 2006 travelled in their own or rented vehicles. (Olsen 2002)
Desert campsite amongst red sand hills, Simpson Desert, courtesy of Wallaby Tracks
Desert Australia has between seven and 20 of Australia's widely recognised four-wheel drive track destinations: the Gunbarrell Highway, Canning Stock Route and the Strzelecki, Oodnadatta, Tanami, and Birdsville Tracks. (Basham 2005, Hema Maps 2006) These tracks have strong historical ‘identities' as part of the history of exploration and development of Australia's outback and are marketed as destinations in their own right. For example, in just over 10 years the Simpson Desert has grown from around 300 recorded vehicle crossings to more than 4,000 in a season.
Desert people want to know how to balance the benefits and costs of increasing visitor numbers through four-wheel drive tourism to remote, culturally, and environmentally sensitive places.
Art and culture
In 2005, the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku in Giles Corner, at the border of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, reported to the Indigenous Visual Arts program, NACISS, that the income from Aboriginal art sales equalled that of mining and pastoralism, in equal thirds. Through the art centres of Papulankutja Artists, Kayili Artists at Patjarr, Warburton Arts, and Irrunytju Arts, artists from this region sell their works in a national and international art market.
Artists bush studio camp at Well 36, 2007, courtesy of Tim Acker and National Museum of Australia
In contrast to the small business model common across other desert populations, Aboriginal art and cultural enterprises have set up collaborative business structures, companies and incorporated organisations with artists as members. This structure has enabled hundreds of Aborigines in individual communities and settlements to benefit from their desert knowledge and culture, utilising their skills as artists.
Since the 1970s, the Aboriginal owned craft centres and companies have gradually developed as an industry, wholesaling to local, national and international markets, which are worth billions of dollars. One of the first, and perhaps most famous group of Indigenous painters was the Australian Western Desert artists of the Papunya Tula art movement.
Established in 1984, Maruku Arts and Crafts had around 800 members in 2011, creating and selling craft works in wood, known as punu work. Opportunities in the local domestic market for Maruku include sales of new forms of carving to upmarket interiors in hospitality, and expanding the punu story into children's books.
Art centres are a vital part of the economy in desert communities as well as supporting desert culture. DESART, a key advocacy organisation for Indigenous artists, supports a network of 45 Indigenous art centres across the desert regions.
Bush resources – essential oils and native food products
Collecting bush tomatoes, courtesy Rangelands NRM WA
Native food products are a key bush resource that have developed as a commercial enterprise, combining Aboriginal traditional knowledge of wild harvesting with market analysis and development of branding and supply chains. Plantation and community bush food production gardens are established widely across the central desert areas.
Native fruits and seeds, in addition to bush meats, have been popular in the market since colonial times. Bush quandongs for tarts, currants or desert raisins, limes, tomatoes, plums, apples, lemon myrtle, and wattle seeds are all used widely today.
Fiction and non-fiction – what do we know about desert life and stories?
The idea of the desert being ‘beyond' the cultural experience of non-Indigenous people was challenged for global audiences in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1978 Robyn Davidson headed west out of Alice Springs into the desert county with a small caravan of camels – a white woman travelling alone through the desert wilderness. Her journey made international headlines and parts were photographed for National Geographic, before her story was published as Tracks, in 1980.
Robyn Davidson on the cover of National Geographic, 1978 with image by Rick Smolan
A view of the mixed European population of Alice Springs, with links to German missionaries and Russian Australian anthropologists, is described in Bruce Chatwin's Songlines (1987), an award winning book. This work, part fiction and part non-fiction, describes the European existence only in terms of its knowledge of Aboriginal desert culture.
At the same time, since the 1970s, IAD Press has committed ‘to ensuring all publications represent an authentic Indigenous perspective'. As one of Australia's leading Indigenous publishers, IAD Press has a rich selection of titles that celebrate Central Australian and desert culture.
Communication, knowledge and new media
Outback desert films have developed as a genre in their own right. Most often, their themes examine the strange, the surreal, the terror and the unknown which have confronted non-Indigenous people in the desert, in usually tragic consequences.
Sustaining a reciprocal relationship with European media culture about what defines desert culture has led to the adoption of new communication tools. Anthropologist Eric Michael's 1986 publication, The Aboriginal Invention of Television, which followed the launch of the first AusSat satellite in 1985, looked at the need of Aboriginal communities to strengthen their own knowledge and culture.
Established in 1980, Indigenous media company, CAAMA Productions Pty Ltd was the first Indigenous company to be given a broadcasting license and today, is the largest Indigenous production house in Australia. A film making company located in the centre of Alice Springs, CAAMA works with Indigenous filmmakers, local Aboriginal people, and communities, producing films and broadcasting in television and radio.
In 1991, Goolarri Media Enterprises was launched as a fully owned Indigenous company through the Broome Aboriginal Media Association. Goolarri Media assists the development of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous media and communications in the Kimberley region, and of Indigenous musicians throughout Western Australia.
Ara Iritja project – returning artefacts, photographs, film and sound
Ara Irititja digital archive
In 1994, the Ara Irititja (‘stories from a long time ago') digital archive officially commenced to repatriate ‘lost' material for Anangu people. The material included artefacts, photographs, film footage and sound recordings from tourists, private individuals and missionaries. Also included were geographic expeditions such as the Horn expedition of the 1890s which systematically collected geological, biological and anthropological material from central Australia.
By 2007, Ara Irititja had tracked down hundreds of thousands of historical and cultural items and is working to make them available to Anangu through the database.
Ara Irititja has integrated cultural priorities into the design of its digital archive and restricts access to some knowledge on the basis of seniority and gender. More than 20 unique projects commenced by separate Indigenous language groups in Australia use the Ara Irititja approach and database software.
Today, there is a new focus on appreciating desert knowledge through both the experience and knowledge of desert dwellers and the itinerant populations. What was once seen as empty, strange, surreal, terrifying and unknown has come to be appreciated as a beautiful, living, complex ecosystem, rich with biodiversity that, with cultural and scientific knowledge, can contribute to permanent multifunctional livelihoods.
Martu women managing a grass fire, courtesy Rangelands NRM WA
In 2000, a Desert Knowledge ‘movement' was given form when community and government formed a Steering Committee which led to the creation of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA) in 2003. DKA built on people's desert knowledge by creating a research organisation that linked the best of Aboriginal knowledge with the best of Western science.
More recently, other organisations, such as Rangelands NRM WA, a non-government organisation, support project work with diverse desert communities that cover a land mass of around 85 per cent (2,266,000 sq km) of WA, and 75 per cent of the coastline. There are seven recognised sub-regional areas: the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne, Murchison, Goldfields, Nullarbor and Western Desert, most of which are in the arid areas. Projects in the desert areas range across eco fire management through ‘Improving Biosecurity and Grazing Management Options' to Traditional Owners capturing land management information using electronic software as part of world-wide Cybertracker Conservation.
The resulting knowledge innovation, inspiration and technologies are relevant in a world where global resources are becoming scarce. The new media and technologies adopting old knowledge also help people outside desert areas to begin to understand the desert experience through the eyes of desert dwellers.
Look, listen and play
- Ara Irititja, Ara Winki: Life on the Pitjantjatjara Lands, multimedia interactive program,
- The Art of Fire – Animation, video with animation, 26 minutes, Jimmy Pike's illustrated 'The Art of Fire' book has been made into a DVD to help educate Indigenous rangers and school children about fire.
- Beyond the Behind – Canning Stock Route Australia , video, 5 minutes,
- Bush Toy's, documentary, 24 minute, Nganampa Anwernekenhe Series 20, Writer/Director: Sonya Dare, 2008
- Bush Mechanics:
- Crookhat and Camphoo – Spear making, documentary Directed by David Tranter, 2005
- Driving the Canning Stock Route, 'documentary' style film, showing the changing environment and conditions: Part 1: Halls Creek to Well 46; Part 2: Well 46 to 25 ; Part 3: Well 26 to 18 ; Part 4: Well 18 to 12 ; Part 5: Well 12 to Windich Springs
- Desert Tracks (1997), 27 minute documentary, Directed by David Jowsey, with clips and teachers notes available from Australian Screen. CAAMA, short and access to Educational copy,
- The Art of Cattle Droving, movie, 1988, clip
- On Country in the desert rangelands, 11 minutes
- Burning, Bushfoods and Biodiversity, video, 40 minutes, Rangelands NRM's reveals the Martu perspectives of fire and how they use fire to look after their families
Land management and livelihoods
- Alice Springs Desert Park, Australian Desert Facts
- Fire Book
- Ninti One, Four-wheel drive tourism
- National Archives of Australia, Fact Sheet, British nuclear tests at Maralinga
- Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council
- Bruce Chatwin, Songlines (1987),
- ABC, Robyn Davidson on Deserts, Nomads and Writing
- Xavier Herbert's Capricornia, ABC Radio, Book Show, transcript and audio
- Charles Mountford's, Central Australia, 1940
- Neville Shute, A Town like Alice, novel
- Arthur Upfield's 29 best-selling novels, 1931–
- Patrick White, Voss, about the fateful outback expeditions of Ludwig Leichhardt
Aboriginal heritage and art
- Aboriginal people of South Australia, Pitjantjatjara people , State Library of South Australia, list of books, archival and audio-visual material
- ABC Radio, Aboriginal artists and the Canning Stock Route , transcript
- Artists Footsteps, Albert Namatjira , biography and collection of works
- National Gallery of Australia, Seeing the Centre: the art of Albert Namatjira
- DESART, advocacy organisation for 45 art centres
- FORM, Ngurra Kuju Walyja — One Country One People — Stories from the Canning Stock Route
- ABC, Landline, A traditional look at the Canning Stock Route, interviews
- National Museum of Australia, Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route
- Kayili Artists
- Papulankutja Artists
- Art of the Wangkatjungka community
- Jedda, film, 1955, restoration as DVD
- Wake in Fright, 1971
- Rabbit Proof Fence, Director: Phillip Noyce, 2002
- Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice, Film (1956), TV miniseries (1980), set around the time of the Second World War, 1939–1945.
- Werner Herzog, Where the Green Ants Dream (1984), 100 minutes
- Tracey Moffat, Night Cries: a Rural Tragedy (1990), a short film
- Last Mail from Birdsville: the Story of Tom Kruse (2000), screen shots
- One Night the Moon, film, 2001 by Rachel Perkin
- Samson and Delilah, 2009, Warick Thornton
- Desert Knowledge GeoJournal, Volume 74, Issue 5, October 2009, Guest Editors: Jocelyn Davies and Sarah Holcombe, ISSN: 0343-2521 (Print) 1572-9893 (Online)
- Roslynn Doris Haynes, Seeking the Centre: The Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film, 1998
- Melinda Hinkson, New media projects at Yuendumu: Towards a history and analysis of intercultural engagement, chapter 11 (PDF 371 KB)
- Deborah Bird Rose, Richard Davis (Lecturer), Dislocating the Frontier: Essaying the Mystique of the Outback
- Olsen M. 2002. ‘Keeping Track of the Self-drive Market' in N Scott, I Waller, and D Carson (Eds.) Drive Tourism – Up the Wall and Round the Bend, pp.11–24, Common Ground Publishing, Altona.
- Eric Michael, The Aboriginal Invention of Television, 1986 publication
- Out of the Desert – Stories from the Walmajarri Exodus, WINNER WA Premier's Book Award
- Jimmy Pike, You Call It Desert – We Used To Live There (Magabala books, 2009)
- Pat Lowe with Jimmy Pike, Jilji, life in the Great Sandy Desert, Magabala books, 1990
- WA, Information on pastoral businesses in the Rangelands (PDF 78 KB)
The major deserts in Australia are:
- Great Victoria Desert, 424,400 square kilometres
- Great Sandy Desert, 284,993 square kilometres
- Tanami Desert, 184,500 square kilometres
- Simpson Desert, 176,500 square kilometres
- Gibson Desert, 156,000 square kilometres
- Little Sandy Desert, 111,500 square kilometres
- Strezlecki Desert, 20,250 square kilometres
- Sturt Stony Desert, 29,750 square kilometres
- Tirari Desert, 15,250 square kilometres
- Pedirka Desert, 1250 square kilometres
Creators: Kathryn Wells
Last updated: 23 August 2013