Where is the Australian Outback?

Have you been searching for the Australian Outback and struggling to find it?

It’s probably because you’ve been looking in the wrong places.

Where Isn't the Outback?

Where Is It? To answer this, one really needs to understand where the outback isn’t. Here are a few examples of where it cannot be found.

Alice Springs, Bendigo, Charters Towers, Dubbo, Emerald, Fitzroy Crossing, Goondiwindi, Hay, Ivanhoe, Jondaryan, Kalgoorlie, Lightning Ridge, Mt Isa, Nyngan, Oodnadatta, Pine Creek, Quilpie, Roxby Downs, Sandstone, Tamworth, Umbakumba, Varley, Warra, Xantippe, Yulara, or Zeehan.

All of these places have had claims made about them that they are either in the outback or that they are the ‘heart’ or the ‘gateway’ or the ‘centre’ of the Outback.

Not that the outback can’t be located from any of these great places. Each and every town on this list is an interesting place and worth touring and visiting on its own merits and you may know many of the names by reputation. The outback is simply not in a location where people reside in groups, where buildings and roads converge and where business and shops trade. These places are just pointers towards the outback, designed and erected to give the tourist or traveller an indication that they may be vaguely close to stumbling across what they are looking for.

Outback wasteland
The Outback is a Concept

Historically, also known as ‘The Never Never’, ‘Beyond the Black Stump’, ‘The Back of Beyond’ and ‘Back o’ Bourke’ the clue to the whereabouts of the outback lies in these alternate names. Look at them carefully and you will see that they are just a vague indication of a place. It is behind, beyond or past another place and never a location you can get to by following a map or directions. It is untouchable and invisible. It is a concept, an idea and a sensation all rolled into one. The minute somebody erects a sign claiming a place as ‘The Outback’ that place becomes a fixed and firm destination, a point on the map and can never be the outback.


We recently came across a 72 year old German man called Heinrich, a retired carpenter and photographer. Heinrich was on his sixth holiday to Australia and was still undertaking some remarkable challenges irrespective of his age. Heinrich was pretty happy. Last year, he had once again come to Australia, in search of the ‘Outback’, and was directed to Mount Isa, a town claiming to be the 'real' outback. This article was written in Mt Isa and make no mistake, it is an interesting place, but it has a golf course and K-Mart and 6 supermarkets and an airport. You can no more find the outback in Mt Isa than in Swanston Street, Melbourne. You will however pass the outback to get to Mt Isa and it is lurking in the hills and bush and tracks leading far away from the town. Out the Back, you know?

So Heinrich the 72 year old German was delighted because he understood he hadn’t found what he was looking for in Mt Isa and couldn’t really find it in any town, anywhere. Heinrich was delighted because he found it in the place in the photograph above and when we met him near this place he laughed and shook our hands and said “…dis is da real outbark, ya?”.

Outback Beach

This doesn’t mean that you need to find an Australian desert to find the outback. The outback has trees and water and rivers and fields and mountains and snow and rain as well and could just as easily be found in a place such as the photo on the left. This just happened to be the place where Heinrich the 72 year old German tourist found the outback for himself. It makes you wonder how many Australians spend years travelling this continent and never really get to the guts of the outback?

“Prost” Heinrich

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