Outback or the Outback refers to remote arid areas of Australia, although the term colloquially can refer to any lands outside of the main urban areas. The term "outback" is generally used to refer to locations that are comparatively more remote than those areas deemed "the bush".
Note that the terms outback and bush refer to European settlers concepts of the lands of Australia - Indigenous Australians had in many cases a different perception of moving through and usage of the land.
Over the period 1858 to 1861, John McDouall Stuart led six expeditions north from Adelaide into the outback, culminating in successfully reaching the north coast of Australia and returning, without the loss of any of the party's members' lives. This contrasts with the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in 1860-61 which was much better funded, but resulted in the deaths of three of the four members of the transcontinental party.
The Overland Telegraph line was constructed in the 1870s along the route identified by Stuart, who had found enough water to support the needed repeater stations.
Exploration of the outback continued up to the 1950s when Len Beadell explored, surveyed and built many roads in support of the nuclear weapons tests at Emu Field and Maralinga and rocket testing on the Woomera Prohibited Area. Mineral exploration continues as new mineral deposits are identified and developed.
In Western Australia the Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley (Western Australia) is the world's biggest producer of natural diamonds and contributes approximately one-third of the world's natural supply. The Pilbara region's economy is dominated by mining and petroleum industries. Most of Australia's iron ore is also mined in the Pilbara and it also has one of the world's major manganese mines, Woodie Woodie.
Aboriginal communities in outback regions have not been displaced as they have been in areas of intensive agriculture and large cities, in coastal areas. So a significant proportion of the country's indigenous population lives in the Outback, in areas such as the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in northern South Australia.
Due to the wide expanses and remoteness of people in the outback, a 'Flying Doctor Service' exists to provide medical services and medevac to remote areas. This service was created in 1928 in Cloncurry, Queensland by the Very Reverend John Flynn (known as Flynn of the Outback). The aim of the service is to provide medical care, primary and emergency, to people who cannot reach hospitals or general practitioners. Regular Clinics are flown out to remote communities, with consultations held in a specially built clinic, in a homestead, or even under the wing of the plane. In addition The Royal Flying doctors Service provides Air Ambulance to remote areas, Hospital to Hospital Transport and Telephone and Radio consultations. In Queensland RFDS nurses are RIPRN endorsed so that they can offer a greater level of knowledge and skills to outback people. Often in areas where there may be no doctor in the town.
In most outback communities, the number of children is too small for a conventional school to operate. Children are educated at home by the School of the Air. Originally the teachers communicated with the children via radio, but now satellite telecommunication is used instead. Some children attend boarding school, mostly only those in secondary school. Younger children are normally educated at home.
It is colloquially said that 'the outback' is located "beyond the Black Stump". The location of the black stump may be some hypothetical location or may vary depending on local custom and folklore. It has been suggested that the term comes from the Black Stump Wine Saloon that once stood about 10 kilometres out of Coolah, New South Wales on the Gunnedah Road. It is claimed that the saloon, named after the nearby Black Stump Run and Black Stump Creek, was an important staging post for traffic to north-west New South Wales and it became a marker by which people gauged their journeys.
"The Never-Never" is a term referring to remoter parts of the Australian outback. The outback can be also referred to as "back of beyond", "back o' Bourke" although these terms are more frequently used when referring to something a long way from anywhere, or a long way away. The well-watered north of the continent is often called the "Top End" and the arid interior "The Red Centre" due to its vast amounts of red soil and sparse greenery amongst its landscape.
The Australian Outback is full of very well-adapted wildlife, although much of it may not be immediately visible to the casual observer. Many animals rest during the heat of the day, such as kangaroos and native dogs, the dingo.
Birdlife is prolific, most often seen at waterholes at dawn and dusk. Huge flocks of budgerigars, cockatoos, corellas and galahs are often sighted. Various species of snakes and lizards bask in the sun in winter, on bare ground or roads, but they are rarely seen during the summer months.
Feral animals such as Camels thrive in central Australia, brought to Australia by the early Afghan drivers. Wild horses known as 'brumbies,' are station horses that have run wild. Feral pigs, foxes, cats and rabbits are also imported animals that degrade the environment, and time and money is spent eradicating them, to help protect fragile rangelands.
There are many popular tourist attractions in the outback. Some of the well known destinations include:
Visitors to the outback often drive their own or rented vehicles, or take organised tours. Travel through remote areas on main roads is easily done and requires no advance planning. However travel through very remote areas, on isolated tracks, requires advance planning and a suitable, reliable vehicle (usually a four wheel drive). On very remote routes considerable supplies and equipment may be required, this can include prearranged caches. It is not advisable to travel into these especially remote areas with a single vehicle, unless fully equipped with good communication technology (eg a satellite phone, EPIRB etc). Many visitors prefer to travel in these areas in a convoy. Deaths from tourists and locals becoming stranded on outback trips occasionally occur, invariably because insufficient water and food supplies were taken, and/or because people have walked away from their vehicle in search of help. Travellers through very remote areas should always inform a reliable person of their route and expected destination arrival time, and remember that a vehicle is much easier to locate in an aerial search, than a person, so in the event of a breakdown, they must not leave their vehicle.
The outback is criss-crossed by historic tracks, roads and highways. Most of the highways have an excellent bitumen surface and other major roads are usually well-maintained dirt roads. Tracks in very sandy or exceedingly rocky areas may require high-clearance four wheel drives and spare fuel, tyres, food and water before attempting to travel them, however most outback roads are easily traversed in ordinary vehicles, provided care is taken. Drivers unused to dirt roads should be especially cautious - it is recommended that drivers reduce their speed, drive with extra care, and avoid driving at night due to animals straying onto roads. Travelling in remote areas in northern Australia is not advisable during the wet season (November to April), as heavy tropical downpours can quickly make dirt roads impassable. In the remotest parts of Australia fuel sellers are located hundreds of kilometres apart, so spare fuel must be carried or refuelling spots calculated carefully in order not to run out of fuel in between towns.
The Stuart Highway runs from north to south through the centre of the continent, roughly paralleled by the Adelaide-Darwin railway. There is a proposal to develop some of the roads running from the SW to the NE to create an all-weather road named the Outback Highway, crossing the continent diagonally from Laverton, Western Australia (north of Kalgoorlie, through the Northern Territory to Winton, in Queensland.
Air transport is relied on for mail delivery in some areas, due to sparse settlement and wet season road closures. Most outback mines have an airstrip and many have a fly-in fly-out workforce. Most outback sheep stations and cattle stations have an airstrip and quite a few have their own light plane. Medical and ambulance services are provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The School of the Air is a radio-based school using the RFDS radios.