Why I love the outback 

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. 

Plastic Free Life On The Road

Those of you who follow us on Facebook will know that we recently took part in Plastic Free July; a month long challenge which encourages participants to refuse single use plastics. We were unsure as to how difficult this challenge would be while on the road, but we thought it was worth a shot! We see so much plastic on the side of highways, in campsites, and on beaches and it drives me a little bit insane. The more we thought about the challenge the more I realised how much of today’s products come exclusively in plastic: whether it’s cherry tomatoes and berries, dairy products, or toilet paper. The month wasn’t without its difficulties and there was definitely some unexpected plastic, but overall I think we managed to reduce our plastic usage by about 95%. Now that the challenge is over we have relaxed some things, but there are also lots of newly formed habits that we won’t be letting go of! Here’s some super simple steps to living a less plasticy life! 

1. Remember your reusable grocery bags.

This is the easiest way to avoid plastic. Single use grocery bags are horrible for the environment. They never fully break down but they do fall apart into tiny pieces that animals end up eating. We’ve been using our own grocery bags for quite a while but we used to forget to bring them quite often. During July our plastic usage was at the forefront of our minds and we always remembered our bags. If you do forget why not just put your groceries loose in your trolley and pack them directly into your van? It’s one benefit of having your kitchen on wheels! 

2. Avoid plastic produce bags.

Have you ever questioned why you put your bananas into a plastic bag only to take them out again when you get home? There are lots of reusable produce bag options available but we just went without. For small things like green beans we used the paper mushroom bags. We also avoided all prepackaged produce. It turns out this is often the cheaper option-loose mushrooms are so much cheaper, but for some reason I used to always buy them prepackaged without even thinking about it! 

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What a plastic free cart looks like

3. Take the time for a dine in coffee.

It’s estimated that in Australia over 1 billion takeaway coffee cups are disposed of every year. These cups are plastic lined and don’t biodegrade and few recycling plants are able to process them. We travel slowly and are rarely in a rush to get anywhere. Going out for coffee is a treat for us so we choose to dine in and avoid plastic that way. If you’re someone that has a takeaway coffee every morning or like your coffee on the go, invest in a keep cup. Lots of coffee shops offer a discount if your use your own cup! It doesn’t have to be an official keep cup either- a cheap travel mug works just the same.

4. No straws please!

Our oceans are filled with single use plastic straws. Sometimes the plastic straws even come wrapped in plastic! I don’t know about you, but my arms are strong enough to lift my glass all the way to my mouth. Lots of bars and restaurants are getting involved by only giving straws by request but if you want to be sure to avoid plastic just let them know you don’t want a straw (explaining your reason might even get them on board!) 

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5. Use a refillable water tank 

Last year when we travelled in California we bought big single use water jugs from the supermarket. Now we have a 23 litre water tank that we refill. We use the Wikicamps app to find places with potable water(you usually find it near dump points) or fill it up whenever we’re in a caravan park. Not only does this avoid lots of plastic waste, but it’s saved us a ton of money! 

6. Buy meat at the butcher/deli

Meat is one of slightly more difficult things to buy plastic free. Prepackaged meat in the supermarket comes in plastic trays . You can bring your own containers and ask the butcher to fill them, or just ask them to use as little plastic as possible. The same goes for bread-buy it in a bakery. 

7. Don’t get downhearted 

There were times during July when I felt like our efforts where completely futile. When we were in beautiful places completely littered with rubbish. When we were served unexpected plastic. When I really wanted bread and there were no plastic free options. It’s important to remember that every little step you take does make a difference. Small changes add up to make big impacts. Plastic free July and the War on Waste documentaries are what pushed Coles and Woolworths to #banthebag. Your choices as a consumer do matter. Equally, it’s not your fault that the world is so full of plastic. Don’t beat yourself up if you have to buy something in plastic. We didn’t give up dairy even though we couldn’t find non plastic options. We recently needed some car maintenance products which all came in plastic- we just couldn’t avoid it. The fact that you’re even reading this post shows that you care-which is more that can be said for a lot of people. 

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Sometimes despite our best efforts we still accumuluated plastic

Is plastic free living more expensive?

The answer to this one isn’t exactly straight forward. Some of the products we usually buy in plastic were more expensive-such as peanut butter in glass or pasta in cardboard boxes. However, over all our groceries were cheaper in July because we couldn’t buy any expensive processed foods. Our diets were also really healthy and mostly plant based! Buying food in bulk stores can also help you to save money and reduce your waste, while also supporting local business-win win!

If you do find reducing your plastic usage too difficult I would definitely encourage you to try to pick up plastic litter when you see it. Nobody likes to see litter but often we complain about it and forget that we can actually do something about it! We particularly try to pick up litter when we see it near waterways, because plastic can do so much damage when it enters the water. Good luck!