Literature opens up great outback
The selection of outback literature / Picture: Robert Duncan

Despite the outback making up a large part of our land, it is an unfamiliar place to many Australians who live mostly in coastal cities.

Drawing attention to and encouraging engagement with outback Australia is something many authors are committed to. I recently had the pleasure of looking through five books that attempt to frame the bush in a realistic manner, perhaps making us a little more knowledgeable regarding the heart of our country.

Two books written with personal experience of the bush are Eleanor Hogan's Alice Springs ($29.99, NewSouth Publishing) and Robyn Davidson's Tracks ($19.99, Bloomsbury). Both are written in the first person, providing an individual, approachable take on the outback experience.

Part of publisher NewSouth's ongoing series of books about Australian cities, Alice Springs is written with some candour. It challenges stereotypes of the town and surrounding region, providing a raw, realistic and eloquent account of different aspects of life in central Australia.

Hogan writes: "In writing this book, I wish to move beyond…political debate and media perceptions…to throw light on the texture of its everyday life."

Her everyday experiences are expressed through juxtapositions of culture. Community events such as the Central Australian Football League and Alice Springs Beanie Competition and Exhibition, exploring Aboriginal art, are relayed, but Hogan also looks at the darker side of Alice Springs without dramatising it.

Originally published in 1980, Tracks tells the story of Davidson's adventure through central Australia in the late 70s and has been reissued ahead of a film adaptation of the book starring Mia Wasikowska, which began filming late last year. This edition comes complete with a map and photographs to signpost Davidson's experience.

Venturing into the harsh landscape with camels and a dog for company, she conveys the danger, corruption and unpredictability of Alice Springs while working briefly in a pub at the beginning of the narrative.

Danger is later replaced by amazement and awe at the landscapes Davidson encounters. She says: "It is like a vast untended communal garden, the closest thing to earthly paradise I can imagine." Befriending local Aboriginal people, she speaks of the children's cacophony of laughter and high spirits.

Storry Walton, in his book At the Very Heart ($49.95, Wakefield Press), compiles photographs and stories celebrating 100 years of Frontier Services. Frontier Services, the book states, has served remote families and provided vital services that they would not otherwise have received over the decades.

The book provides accounts of developments in communication through roads, railways, mail, aerial medical service and wireless, before exploring the role of the patrols and support from the community in Frontier Services' success. Uplifting in tone, it reads like a family photo album and conveys the strong sense of community through the centenary of helping each other out.

For the avid outback traveller, two factual books produced by Geoscience Australia, Uluru and Kata Tjuta: A Geological Guide ($16.50) and Shaping a Nation: A Geology of Australia ($70 or free PDF download through ANU E Press) represent the outback in a different way. These books look at the geological features of our country, which are some of the oldest landforms on the Earth.

Written by I.P. Sweet, A.J. Stewart and I.H. Crick, Uluru and Kata Tjuta provides a geological history and guide to Uluru and the nearby Kata Tjuta, also known as Mt Olga or The Olgas. Quotes, diagrams, pictures and questions feature heavily, creating an interactive and comprehensive view. The book also has a glossary to assist in further understanding the ideas presented in the text.

Shaping a Nation, edited by Richard Blewett, reflects on how Australia's geology, resources and landscape have affected our society, environment and wealth. The factual information is complemented by pictures, diagrams and a DVD of extensive appendices, including supplementary reading and reference materials, maps, movies and an interactive 3-D model.

Although vastly different in their content, all five books encourage readers to become better educated and enthusiastic about their country's outback landscapes and communities. From real-life experiences to celebrations of people and communities to geological explorations, they will inspire some of us to go and see it for ourselves.

Readers are encouraged to become better educated about outback landscapes and communities.

The West Australian

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