Fun tales and advice for travellers to Australia. Lots of pics.
Some call it the world's smallest continent. Others say it's the world's largest island. Either way, Australia is BIG. The distance from Perth to Cairns is about 3,500 km (2,000 miles), which is roughly the same as Gibraltar to St Petersburg, Vancouver to New Orleans or Tokyo to Hanoi. Australia is almost exactly the same size as the USA (minus Alaska) but has only 23 million people to America's 300 million. Apart from the coastal fringes, it is a dry sun-baked land. The south has a temperate (sometimes cold) climate and the top third is in the tropics. A range of mountains runs down the east coast. Rain falls on the seaward side and this is where the bulk of the population lives. Further areas of habitation are to be found in soggy Tasmania, around Adelaide and in the vicinity of Perth. The rest of the continent is sparsely populated. There's more in the book, lots more!
It's Australia's "Never Never Land": If you never never go you'll never ever know what it's like. But where the hell is it?
That's a frequently asked question and you'll get a heap of different answers from a heap of different people. City folk talk about their outback cousins but the cousins don't necessarily see themselves that way.
Eighty percent of Australians live within a few hours drive of the sea. When you leave the settled areas on the coast and travel inland you enter a different world. The trees get smaller, woodland gives way to scrub and scrub to semi-desert.
The huge, sparsely inhabited interior of Australia stretches all the way from the eastern coastal mountains to the Indian Ocean. It is about the size of the USA (minus Alaska and the east coast). On the map of Europe, it would reach from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
When I use the term outback I'm talking about Australia's vast dry interior. There are few bitumen (tarmac) roads and few settlements. Names on the map may be no more than that. Sometimes, when you reach them, all you find is a post with a name on it. Bear this in mind when you go travelling. If you have an accident, help may be further away than you think.
Most outback towns have populations numbered in hundreds rather than thousands. The exceptions are mining centres such as Mt Isa and Broken Hill. Apart from mining, the only major industry is cattle and sheep grazing. Homesteads are frequently fifty or more kilometres apart and reached by dirt roads.
Homestead kids receive their early education, via the internet, through the School of the Air. Older children attend boarding schools in the cities.
Over much of the interior, the majority of people are of Aboriginal descent. They live in small communities and own large tracts of land. You require their permission to enter these lands.
Some people think the outback is boring. Others find it fascinating and I'm one of them. It is so totally different from the crowded world in which most of us live. Life is different and so are the people. Some have roots that go back generations. Others were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas. They come from all over Europe and Asia but have a lot in common. When you live in a remote area you have to be resourceful and that shapes the person you become.
In recent years, large numbers of young people from Europe have taken jobs in the outback. On a recent trip to Central Australia I met a lot. The locals welcome them. They fill the gap left when young Australians migrate from the outback to the cities.
The photos, below, were taken on that trip. The first is of a road that has recently been graded and is in good condition. Non-sealed roads get badly churned up when it rains and vehicles drive over them. Recent policy is to close them to non-essential traffic (e.g. tourists) when that happens. Bear that in mind if you have a tight schedule.
The last three photos are of the small town of Tibooburra in the far north-west of New South Wales. It is famous for its pub which was frequented by (now) famous artists. As undiscovered geniuses, they earned their keep by painting every nook and cranny of the place. Their later, more transportable, works fetch a fortune when they come up for sale.
Driving in the outback has a lot in common with driving anywhere else ... until something goes wrong. It is easy to forget how vulnerable you are as you drive along, cocooned in air-conditioned luxury. It's as well to remember that people die in the outback when their cars break down.
Aboriginals whose ancestors roamed the lands have died of thirst on their way home from a trip into town. Workers on cattle ranches have got lost and died of exposure. If they are vulnerable, think of what could happen to you as a tourist in a strange land.