Deserts - the driest places on earth, covering almost one-fifth of the all the earth's land mass. They are as dangerous to life as the highest peak or the coldest glacier. But in these harsh and barren wastelands nature endeavors. People have lived in the deserts since the beginning of the time. Resiliently and resourcefully the people of the Australian outback have also developed unique cultures and deep spiritual bonds with these lands. But the modern world of commerce and industry is encroaching on these Australian deserts claiming its resources and changing the delicate balance of life. And it is now, more than ever, that the desert people of the Australian Outback must adapt to survive.
The Australian Outback - a place so forbidden that it seems to be incompatible with life. But for tens of thousands of years people have called this place their home. In their isolation these Australian people have developed a thirst for adventure and knowledge that is key to their survival. The Australian Outback is the place of untapped wealth and secret histories. It takes a certain type of person to live in these parts of Australia.
Almost all of the Australian population lives along its coastal fringes. Inland is vast, arid space where everyone and everything seems to work in a different way.
Anna Creek's cattle ringers work for long hot days in the Australian deserts. Their tasks include locating large herds of cows. A process known as 'Mustering' involves gathering a herd together and driving them nonstop for thirty kilometers in the blistering heat of the Australian Outback. In the past this work was done on horseback but nowadays the ringers use airplanes. A hundred years ago the practicalities of managing a farm this size were unthinkable. Stretching for almost two millions hectors of the South Australian Outback, Anna Creek Station is the largest cattle station in the whole world. The Australian cowboys are known as 'the ringers'. The head Stockman operating from the skies is a shepherd taking a bird's eye view of his cattle. His airborne directions keep his young jackaroos (male) or jillaroos (female) on the right trail. They drive the herd together. In summer, where temperature can reach up to fifty degrees, it is a tough job. Its like working in an oven.
Although the cattle can find food by grazing vast areas in the Australian Outback - to survive they also need water which is not always supplied by the sky. But there is plenty of water here if you know where to look. Beneath the earth-crust of Australia, there is a geological phenomenon - an immense subterranean body of water known as the Great Artesian Basin. It extends through almost the quarter of Australia and holds a staggering 65 million mega liters of water. It is enough water to submerge all of the land on earth. It is Australia's greatest natural reservoir.
In the Australian Outback, desert based airplanes are quiet a prevalent mode of getting from one township to another. These bush-planes have conquered the tyranny of distance and thus providing a lifeline even to the most isolated doorsteps - no matter how hard the elements. One of the greatest perks of being an Australian desert pilot is the view from the cockpit.
In the heart of The Outback, where there hardly even rains, lies the largest lake in Australia - the Lake Eyre. Situated 15 meters below the sea level, Lake Eyre is the lowest point in the continent. This saltwater expanse is formed by rain flowing from all over the desert into the largest drainage basin in the world. In the Australian desert most of the rain that falls evaporates before it reaches the Lake Eyre. In the last 150 years, Lake Eyre has only been full three times.
Mining has always attracted people to the Australian desert. The prospect for making a future by digging dirt triggered the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s. But soon people discovered that the red sand of the Australian Outback held other precious deposits too. Coal, iron ores, lead and uranium can all be found in the Australian Outback in relative abundance. Today Australia is one of the largest mineral exporters in the world. But such high scale extracting is a complex process that requires vast amounts of the Australian desert's most precious commodity i.e water. Throughout the Australian Outback, behind barbed wire enclosures, are the biggest pumping stations on earth that extract subterranean water from the Great Artesian Basin. This water is used for industrial purposes. But every week billions of liters are withdrawn from the basin. This prompts fears that this finite resource is being depleted to the detriment of all.
Australian Aboriginals of the Outback (Testing in Woomera, South Australia)
For over 50,000 years, Australian aboriginals have lived deep in the desert. No one thought to ask their permission before testing in Woomera began. The native population had to simply live under the rockets being tested. But worse (even worse than the testing in Woomera) was to follow.
During 1950s and 60s, in an area known as Maralinga, the British and Australian governments joined forces to conduct secret nuclear tests. The Australian desert sky was lit-up by nine atomic explosions. This turned parts of the Australian desert into a radioactive waste land. Australian aboriginals were forced from their homes.
These days different kinds of prohibited zones have appeared in the Australian Outback. Lands that are permanently owned by the aboriginals. In these zones the indigenous Australians are free.