It’s one of those places that everyone knows something about, and many people dream of visiting.
It’s a place that many people associate with vast open spaces, freedom, Aboriginal people and a deep spirituality.
And let’s not forget: red dirt and flies!
On this page, we explain where the Outback is and where it isn’t. We’ll help you to understand more about this very special place
Cairns, Darwin & Kakadu are NOT in the Outback!
Lots of people say that the Outback is anywhere outside of the main cities in Australia.
This isn’t exactly true.
Other people will try to tell you that Darwin or Kakadu are in the Outback!Even TV shows and movies try to tell you this – and it’s wrong.
In fact, our Darwin friends laugh when they hear this: “Darwin is in the outback!”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Darwin is in the tropics, in what’s known by locals as the Top End.
And Cairns? Cairns, despite what the TV show Survivor would have you believe, has never and will never be in the outback. It’s on the coast in north Queensland!
So Just Where is the Outback?
Well, to answer that question, I’m going to ask you to think about two things:
- Australia’s climate and environment
- the history of the term ‘Outback’
Let’s think about Australia’s environment and climate.
Although we like the popular ideas about the freedom and wide open spaces, we also prefer to use environmental science: rainfall, climate and habitat to explain where the Outback is.
The Outback takes in those places in Australia which have less than 300 millimetres (11 inches) of rainfall per year and are inland from the coast.
In other words, the outback includes the arid/desert regions of the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.
The famous outback town, Alice Springs, is roughly at the centre of the outback (and the Australian continent!) and is the outback’s capital.
So places like Kakadu, Cairns and Darwin just aren’t part of the real outback – not only are they on the coast, they have rainfall that is over 1000 millimetres (about 3 feet) per year.
These places are too wet and monsoonal to be the outback!
Unique Plants and Animals
What’s more, the Outback has distinct plants and animals that you don’t find elsewhere in Australia.
Common vegetation in the outback are mulga trees (a species of Acacia), mallee (Eucalyptus) trees Spinifex grass, Bloodwood, Corkwood and Desert Oak trees. Its creeks and rivers are lined with shady River Red Gums.
Outback animals are generally small (apart from Red Kangaroos) and come out at night to escape the heat. Many of them are little known even by Australians.
(One of the best places to learn more about the plants and animals, geology and landscapes of the Outback is the Alice Springs Desert Park. Make sure you visit it if you come to Alice Springs)
Where did the term ‘Outback’ Come From?
The term Outback came about in the 19th Century.
It was used to refer to places that were ‘out the back of X (insert a place name). A similar term is ‘back of beyond’. Basically, it’s somewhere inland in Australia, a long way from the sea.
It was adopted into Australian literature, poetry and the popular imagination in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Over time, it has come to symbolise Australia internationally.
Although many people say that Outback is hard to define, we disagree.
It’s many different things and places, depending on who you ask. The Outback symbolises remote desert places, red dirt and flies to many people.
To others, it’s a place of freedom and no restrictions, with continuous wide, open spaces, and where, unless you’re on a major highway, you can travel for hours without meeting another car.
To us, it’s our home and workplace. It’s the great arid inland of Australia, full of life, mountains, savannahs, deserts, the bluest skies and the brightest stars you’ll ever see.
It’s the unexpected friendships around a campfire, and glorious swim in a shady gorge when the sun is hot enough to fry an egg on your car bonnet.
So next time you’re asked where the outback is, say this:
In Australia, the outback is any place inland that has less than 300mm of rain and has unique plants and animals like mulga trees and red kangaroos. Click to Tweet.