The outback is hot. It’s dusty. There’s nobody there. It’s boring. I hear it all the time from fellow backpackers. They bemoan long dull drives across the Nullarbor, and endless days spent on the Stuart highway. They talk about the incessant red dirt, the copious amount of flies, the flat barren landscape. And I understand their complaints. The outback isn’t for everybody. But in my opinion experiencing the outback is one of the best ways to truly understand the Australian spirit-the stubborn determination, the sense of humour, the camaraderie.
We had only just begun our journey up the Oodnadatta track when the political activism of the area became clear. I’ve often heard it argued that the outback is a perfect place for nuclear testing and dumping of nuclear waste because “there’s no one there” (and it’s certainly been used that way in the past). But here we were in the outback seeing graffiti condemning uranium mining in Roxby Downs, protesting against the idea of nuclear power being introduced in Australia, and clearly crying out against the idea that there is no one in the outback who could be affected by nuclear activity. I have to be honest-I don’t know enough about nuclear energy to have a clear opinion on it. But I was immediately hit by the fact that central Australia is a place with a deep history-decades of revolting against mining, nuclear testing, and US military presence show an underlying love of the land and a sense of community even in a space so vast.
The infrastructure of the outback never fails to amaze me. Things that we take for granted now-like being able to drive across the country-are only available to us because of the hard work of so many Australians. We met a couple who worked on bitumening the Nullarbor. They told us about living in their car with a small baby, carting all their things across the unforgiving landscape on the then unsealed bumpy highway. We marvelled at stories of the old Ghan railway, of the passengers disembarking in Oodnadatta and being carried the remaining 600 kilometres by camels. We learnt about the Birdsville mailman and the challenges presented by something as simple as delivering a letter. I was so impressed by these people who were so determined to make a life in the outback and who were so devoted to their country that they worked so hard to connect it.
But to me the biggest icon of Australian determination is the Dog proof fence. At over five thousand kilometres long, the Dingo fence is the longest fence on earth! It was built all the way back in 1885 to stop Dingos from entering pastoral land and eating sheep, and it’s been maintained until today! Now, I don’t know about you but if I were a sheep farmer and I arrived in the outback and saw all the challenges-irrigation, infertile soil, native predators- I would have given up immediately and decided to eat kangaroo instead (which totally would have been more environmentally friendly, by the way) but no-the stubborn Australian spirit decided the best option would be to hand build the longest fence on earth. I can’t even explain to you how amazing I find this simple wire fence. We saw it all the way back on the Nullarbor, again in Coober Pedy, and we will one day see it again in Queensland. I don’t think anything can define white Australian culture quite the way the Dingo fence does.
So with all of that said, I love the outback. I love it because it connects me to what it means to be an Australian. I don’t think I will ever consider myself fully Australian, but having experienced the outback I feel like I understand Australian patriotism, the sense of adventure and fearlessness, and the love of the land that drives people to live in the craziest of environments.