Stand near the centre of the Nullarbor Plain, look around and in every direction your gaze will be almost uninterrupted.
There are few hilly mounds and barely the silhouette of a tree to catch your eye. At a vast 200,000sq. km, this almost entirely flat plain is the world’s largest continuous expanse of karst landscape. Most of it is covered in an endless swathe of a drought- and salt-tolerant low shrubland habitat known as chenopod steppe.
It’s hot, dr y, flat, featureless and, on f irst glance, devoid of animal life. But there are ghosts here that tell a complex story of a time when this now treeless plain was a very different place.
One million to 500,000 years ago it was covered in what probably resembled open mallee woodland. Yes, this vast Australian landscape that is today def ined by its lack of trees – in fact the name Nullarbor comes from the Latin for ‘no tree’ – was once well covered by a mosaic of woodland and shrubland. In some places there was even standing surface water for at least part of the time.
The Nullarbor has only recently, in geologic time, become the desolate place we know today.
There’s barely a tree to be seen along the route of the Trans-Australian Railway, which crosses the Nullarbor Plain and includes the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track – 478km.