Australian Outback

Australian Outback

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outback adventures at dusk with cowboy wearing a hat
For an amazing experience in Australia put some Outback adventures on your list

The Australian Outback has inspired poets and artists, such as Banjo Paterson who composed Waltzing Matilda (the melodic song that is Australia’s unofficial national anthem). The choices of things to do, places to stay and Outback adventures are as extensive as the area itself. You can camp under the stars, stay in small towns or experience sleeping at outback stations.

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Best of all are the experiences you’ll have, from making friends with Outback Australians to photographing Outback windmills at dusk. Here are some inspiring ideas about the Australian Outback. 

Australian outback

Australian Outback windmills

outback adventures photographing windmills at dusk
Australian outback adventures in the desert photographing windmills and dusk and dawn.

Windmills have become iconic with Australia’s outback.

They are a familiar sight, a stand signalling a watering point crucial for the survival of stock, wildlife and man.

Photographing Australian Outback windmills is something I love doing and it’s fascinating to learn about the stories behind these windmills.

For over a century they have generated the means to bring the water of the Great Artesian Basin, the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, above ground.

Stretching over 1,700,000 square kilometres, the Great Artesian Basin provides the only reliable source of fresh water through much of arid inland Australia.

This windmill is on Norley Station, west of Thargomindah, Queensland, owned by Sir Sidney Kidman, a cattle Baron who once possessed the greatest extent of pastoral properties by any one man in Australia and hence he became known as the ‘Australian Cattle King’.

australian outback photo essay windmill
Australian outback windmills are amazing subjects to photograph.

Slowly windmills are being replaced by more modern equipment and the decline of windmills across the outback is apparent.

Here on Bunginderry Station, 100 kilometres west of Quilpie, an old, broken windmill stands nearby a smaller functioning one.

Bunginderry Station is owned by Annabel and Stephen Tully.

The Tully family are pioneers of the Quilpie area and Annabel runs artist retreats so others can enjoy their amazing outback landscape.

Australian Outback windmills history

australian outback 02
Australian outback windmills are fascinating to see.

In Australia, the Griffiths Brothers from Toowoomba were manufacturing windmills from 1876, with the trade name Southern Cross Windmills in use from 1903.

The other well-known historic windmill brand is Comet which was founded in 1879 by Mr Sidney Williams in Rockhampton, Queensland.

The windmill below is on Tickalara Station in the far south-west of Queensland.

australian outback windmill
Australian Outback windmill at Tickalara Station in the far south-west of Queensland

It is the only station remaining in the corner owned by a family and not a company.

How does a windmill work?

A number of blades turn slowly with considerable torque in low winds while being self-regulating in high winds.

As the sun sets south of Winton, Queensland the blades of this large windmill turn to generate the power to bring fresh water above ground.

Windmills make great photographic subjects and a fabulous addition to any holiday album. My photo tips: Isolate your windmill from other subjects and from the horizon.

Being such a graphic shape it photographs well as a silhouette and forms a strong focal point.

Look for different angles.

Try zooming in on a part of the windmill as below.

part of a windmill in the outback
Zoom in on part of a windmill in the outback.

This windmill is in the main street of Boulia, Queensland allowing all visitors to the town an opportunity to capture one of those iconic outback images! 

Don’t overlook photographing a windmill in the middle of the day.

This windmill on Norley Station with the old bough hut next to it gives a feeling of desolation and harshness to the outback.

australian outback windmill during the day
Don’t overlook taking photographs of an Australian outback windmill during the day either.

But what a remarkable landscape it is!

Outback Australians

Outline of man drinking beer shows off the hats of Australian outback
A must-do thing on your Outback adventure is to stop at dawn or dusk at the Birdsville hotel

The characters you meet along the roads and tracks through Australia during any trip into the outback forge memories and reminiscences to be recalled over BBQ’s and dinner parties time and time again for many years afterwards.

Here are some tips on how to capture great photographs of Outback Australians.

Outback Australians are very special people. 

Each is an ordinary person that does extraordinary things within a very small, isolated yet large and distanced community and they ask for no thanks.

man wearing a well-worn australian outback hat
Meet Jimmie Crombie – he was born alongside the mighty Georgina River and spent his day’s droving. He now lives in Birdsville. Isn’t he wearing a gem of an Australian Outback hat?

Take the time to stop and meet them on your next trip west.

It could be the lady pumping your fuel, the backpacker behind the bar with a rich Irish accent or the bloke painting the council seat in the local park who also does the mail run: each has a story to tell.

aussie outback character peter holding a bilby
Aussie outback character Peter holding a Bilby.
An elderly man wearing one of those traditional Australian outback hats
Meet Wicksy as he is formally known as Stan Wicks but all the locals call him Wicksy who lives in the town of Hungerford with a population of 11 and of those ten are males. He’s wearing one of those famous Australian outback hats.
Australian outback survivor dressed in leopard print
Festivals are a great time to visit when Australian outback characters are at their most colourful
A couple wearing typical outback Australia clothing
Meet Merv and Bub at Windorah. They ran the service station for many years. Merv became blind but could tell you exactly how much fuel you’d bought by listening to the clicks of the bowser.

Without a doubt, the rugged and vast outback has inspired many a story, and myth, and helped to define Australia’s identity as a harsh continent with those that survive being the toughest of the toughest.

It is claimed that in 2009, a mere 5 years ago, that the arid zone of Australia supported ‘180,000 people, about one per cent of the population.

The semi-arid zone supports 394,000 people, about two per cent of the total population.’

Australian outback jobs in racing
Taking it easier – the gentleman of the western racing circuit, KJ Costelo, Quilpie, character, outback.

Most of those are in regional towns such as Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Mount Isa in Queensland and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, where industries such as mining boom.

Find out more about the Northern Territory by reading things to do in Alice Springs and waterfalls in Northern Territory

Many Outback Australians are now well entrenched third, fourth and going into fifth generation outback families.

They know the top spots for everything if you just take the time to listen and ask a few questions. 

How to photography Outback Australians

Jobs in the australian outback
Jobs in the Australian outback can be pretty interesting.

Our top photo tip: more often than not the camera is a ‘secondary’ thing when we meet a ‘local’ in the outback.

First, say g’day then try and get to know the person by asking them questions.

They see the camera – how could they miss it – that big black DSLR – it always draws attention.

Outback jobs australia
Travel into the Australian Outback to learn about the various Outback jobs,

Give it time and when they are ready to pick up the camera, ask politely with a big smile and have fun with them.

None of us likes our photograph being taken so remember what it is like for you if you were the subject on the other side another ‘ordinary’ person.

For more tips on capturing images of people in the work environment please visit our Environmental Portrait Photography post.

Australian Outback travel tips

Queensland Outback

queensland outback
The Queensland Outback is vast and will take weeks to explore.

An adventure into the Queensland outback is one journey you won’t forget.

You’ll visit historic pubs, see spectacular sunsets and gape at star-studded night skies.

There’s the excitement of seeing bucking broncos at a rodeo or searching for an ancient fossil.

Queensland’s outback extends from the far south-west corner through to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

It’s a huge area encompassing a large portion of the Sunshine State.

From the south to the north it’s almost 2,000km and was once part of the Great Inland Sea.

It’s now one of the richest regions for dinosaur discoveries in the world. Queensland’s outback is also the birthplace of Qantas and the Royal Flying Doctor.

Here are a few tips to help turn your Outback adventures into an experience of a lifetime.

1- Visit an Outback pub

Pubs are more than a watering hole, they’re also a meeting point in Outback Australian bringing people together.

The local pub is a great place for a yarn and the community news.

You’ll meet outlandish characters and hear ribald stories. Some of the jokes may not be what you’d call appropriate for re-telling around the dining table back home though!

So what is my favourite outback pub? That’s a hard one as I have more than one.

Middleton Hotel, Toompine and Birdsville would have to be top three on my list.

Middleton and Toompine as the characters that run the pubs are hilarious and Birdsville because it must be Australia’s most iconic hotel.

2- Outback events and festivals

Check out the events in the area you’re visiting as this is a terrific way to experience the outback culture, be immersed in their environment and have a load of fun!

Plus you’re guaranteed many memorable moments. Mix with the locals.

Strike up a conversation by saying g’day, how are you mate (everyone is everyone’s mate in the outback).

From there the chat will flow.

3- Buy local for food

baker in outback queensland
Birdsville Bakery is one of the top spots in Outback Queensland.

Once you leave the city, you are travelling through some of Australia’s premier food producing areas.

Bread and meat from local bakeries and butchers is usually a much better quality – as the local blokes preparing it only use the best and freshest ingredients.

Vegetables depending on the season can be expensive but that is the same rule for anywhere.

  • Mitchell Bakery is renowned for its tasty bread. 
  • Quilpie Butchers is one we always pull into – if you phone ahead they’ll have your meat ready for you and their sausages are brilliant. 
  • Birdsville Bakery has an amazing array of pies all prepared by Dusty who is a bit of a character himself. My favourites are the Kangaroo and Claret pie and the Curried Camel. Dusty’s latest is the Ale + Tail pie which I’ve added to my list to try next visit.

4- Buy local fuel

outback queensland fuel
The Australian Outback is vast, so make sure you have a plan on where to top up fuel. Photo: Danielle Lancaster

Fuel is a big ticket item on any road trip and it may cost less to buy your fuel as you travel than to carry it.

Do the maths on carrying a load.

By buying locally you keep these special places in business for those of us next to pass through.

Take the time to plan to top up your fuel at every available location.

Many outback remote pubs like the Hungerford Hotel also sell fuel.

5- Your Transport

Before any long trip, have your vehicle serviced.

Not having to think about your vehicle is one of the advantages of going on a tour, as it’s all taken care of and not your problem.

That’s one item you can tick straight off your list.

If you are driving make sure to check your tyres, insurance and communication.

The majority of outback towns have mobile phone coverage (some providers are better serviced than others) but it’s worth looking at carrying a satellite phone.

I personally travel with a UHF radio and Spot Gen 3 tracking device as I travel often alone.

The tracking device works a treat and someone at home can watch my travels knowing I am safe on my Outback adventures.

6- Fly nets – will there be flies and do I need one?

outback flies cover the back of a shirt
Australian outback flies are a nuisance on any outback tour.

Well, that depends on the season. Sometimes there may be hardly any and at other times they can be thick covering your back.

Fly nets won’t win you a fashion award, however, they are light and easy to carry.

Most outback stores and roadhouses stock them.

A small branch with leaves is another good fly swatting device.

outback gear a branch is a cheap fly swatting device
A branch with leaves is a cheap outback fly swatting device.

7- Outback National Parks

culgo flood plain national park in outback queensland
Culgoa Floodplain National Park is one of the outback Queensland destinations to visit

Remote national parks and reserves provide fabulous camping grounds and lots of things to see.

All Queensland park details are online, making it easy for more information.

There are 24 parks in outback Queensland and two of my favourite are Culgoa Floodplain National Park and Currawinya National Park which is about to double in size with the acquisition of three neighbouring properties.

It’s also home to the bilby.

For more information on Queensland, parks visit Queensland Parks and Wildlife

8- Plan, plan and plan and allow some extra time

lake numulla queensland in outback queensland
Outback Queensland has many beautiful places.

Plan your trip ahead and know what is worth to explore along the way.

You don’t want to come home to discover that you have missed a landmark you always wanted to see and you drove past it.

Allow extra time for detours along the way, as there sure may be one (or two).

9- Have a flexible schedule on your Outback adventures

It’s a great idea to talk to others who have done a trip into the outback.

Their experiences will probably save you some hassles.

If there is something they did not like then work out why before you leave to avoid it.

Plan a few extra days in case a road is closed – usually due to rain – or you might fall in love with a certain area and decide to explore a little longer.

10- Drive to conditions and during the day

outback queensland
Outback adventures on the road provide memories for a lifetime.

Avoid driving at night as kangaroos are very difficult to see and the last thing you want is to hit one and have an expensive trip to the panel beater when you get home.

Or worse still, the damage to your car may not allow you to continue your journey.

During the day emus, often referred to as bush chooks, run across the road and you may even see a lizard or snake basking on the warm roads.

Wedgetail eagles are often seen gorging on road kill carcasses and they become so full they can hardly fly.

Always check road conditions before you set off on each leg.

Roadhouses, police stations, fellow travellers and often the publican will be able to assist you.

Have an awesome trip!

Australian Outback
Australian Outback

20 COMMENTS

  1. Our friends at Comet Windmills Australia have a message:
    Hey that’s great! Love the photos but just a small correction about windmills being phased out. We have seen a resurgence in windmill sales and repairs over last 5 years and are the busiest we have ever been. We still make all sizes including the largest in the world the 30ft wheel diameter which we sell all over the world. Windmills are seen in the outback as still the most efficient method for drawing water more so then solar as solar is limited . The story was a bit disappointing as it was a bad reflection on windmills!

    • To the crew at Comet, I love windmills and I was trying to show windmills as a beautiful iconic Australian structure with tips on how to capture them through the lens. It’s great news about your sales and agree they remain one of the most efficient methods for drawing water. I’m unsure how the article is ‘a bad reflection on windmills’ though?

        • Thanks Travel2Next. I meant no harm as I think they are one of our most iconic structures and happen to love them to bits:) I look forward to capturing many more on my return trips into rural Australia.

          • Thank you @danielle_lancaster:disqus. Your stories has stirred up a great deal of interest in windmills (which we also think are beautiful!). There are some passionate advocates for windmills out there. You’ve captured them beautifully in your photographs.

    • Agree that windmills are the most efficient at pumping water, they will even do it while you sleep. When things go wrong down a deep bore equipped with a windmill it can be costly, labor intensive and cost time which is why some are turning to solar and mono pumps. Convenience is a big thing these days. I am sure the author has only good intentions and I felt the article showed how the windmill is both an iconic tool of the landscape we live in as well as an appealing subject for many. Cheers Terry

      • Thanks @disqus_PBqnOVgqFx:disqus your comment about the efficiency of windmills is so true. We also think that windmills add interesting shapes to the landscape of the Outback.

      • Many thanks Terry for your time to comment. I especially love windmills (as I you guessed) and hope we see them across our landscape for many, many more years!

  2. I have just read this article. Love the images and the story. They are certainly an iconic part of Australia’s outback. (Not so common down here in Tasmania). I cannot work out why Comet Windmills Aust would think that the story is a bad reflection on Windmills. Great that their business is as strong as ever though.

  3. A delightful article on the role windmills have played in western life Danielle. I thought you captured them beautifully. I am also having trouble seeing why Comet Windmills Aust thinks that the article is a bad reflection on our windmills. They are one of the iconic sights I love to photograph when I’m travelling in the bush.

  4. Love your article Danielle – I grew up on a 30,000 acre property just north west of Roma and had windmills through out our property. We spent hours climbing them and even going up and just sitting there looking out over the country. This article brought back memories of this. It is great to learn the history of the windmill and I always think of the windmill as being an iconic and unique part of Australia. Don’t understand why Comet Windmills thought that the story was a ‘bad reflection’ on windmills. I found your article very positive and what great images to go with it.

  5. Hey I learned some cool things about windmills! As a photographer I am always fascinated by how to capture such iconic landmarks and do it well. Very informative and helpful 🙂

  6. I had never really given windmills much thought before to be honest. But these images are stunning and the information about them is really interesting. I will defintately be keeping an eye out for one now and will try to take advantage of any photographic opportunity.

    • Thanks Karen for your time to comment. They are a wonderful structure and one I hope we see for adorning our landscape for many, many more years.

  7. I wonder how many windmills there are in the world and which country has the most. If I had to take a guess, I’d say Netherlands. Anyone know?

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