The Outback: Camels and Red Sand

Wild camels.
Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock.
A thorny devil lizard.
Cattle mustering in the outback. Cows and bulls herd together in a corner of a pen.
A flock of emus.
Road signs warning of crossing camels, wombats and kangaroos.
Red kangaroos.
Girl leaning on a fence in the dry Australian outback.
A python slithering through red sand.
A satelite map of the world, with Australia looking particularly red or orange.

The Australian deserts and the country’s other scarcely populated inland regions are known as the outback. Here lives a host of wild animals, including the emblematic kangaroo, the long-legged emu and venomous snakes. All animals compete for what little water and edible resources the dry interior has to offer, with competition, quite interestingly, beginning to grow stiffer about a century and a half ago.


In the mid-to-late 1800s, about a century and a half ago, the dry and inhospitable Australian inland regions had yet to be explored. Intent on mapping this land, it now occurred to people that camels, durable transportation animals accustomed to drought, could be of great service in the explorations. For this reason, the import of camels from the Asian subcontinent commenced, and Australian camel caravans began investigating the large outback. Camels, at this time, were also used for the transportation of heavy goods, but in the 1930s, when motor vehicles became ubiquitous Down Under, camels became redundant. Now, the majestic animals were let to roam free in the outback, and with no large predators around, they prospered to the point that feral camels in Australia today number in the hundreds of thousands.

Because the sizable feral camel population drinks a lot of the outback’s scarce water, and because they sometimes break things like fences and pipes, they are not always appreciated by ranchers and other rural dwellers. Still, they are part of what makes the outback fascinating, and together with other wild animals, a spectacular scenery and an often inhospitable climate, contributing to the outback’s alluring mystique.

A sacred rock

To experience the outback and its mystique, practically speaking, one need only travel any road inland from the populous coast. Even so, many tourists aiming at the ultimate outback experience go to visit Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock, in the center of Australia. In doing so, the tourists get to see a giant sandstone rock formation, which seemingly out of the blue juts up several hundred meters and dominate an otherwise flat inland landscape. Certain tourists also choose to climb the spectacular rock, although Aboriginal Australians, who hold Uluru for sacred, object to such breathtaking adventures.

Surrounding the Uluru rock is a landscape of low vegetation and sandy soil. The vegetation, ranging in color from green to yellow or brown, raises few eyebrows, while the sandy soil is strikingly reddish. The soil’s distinct color comes from rust particles from weathered oxidized iron, which in turn is produced by naturally occurring iron in stone getting long-time exposure to air. Quite interestingly, given that much of he outback — just like the Uluru area — is full of iron-filled stone exposed to air, a great deal of rust finds its way into its soil, and Australia therefore looks particularly red on satellite photos compared to other continents.