A LITTLE FLIGHT READING
BEST DESERT & SAVANNAH TRACKS Len Zell and Ian Glover (Wild Discovery Guides, $59.95)
We have a few impostors lurking in the Australian outback. Deserts that aren’t really deserts and plains that plainly are. Does it sound like a dry subject? Academic Len Zell and journalist Ian Glover bring it to life in Best Desert & Savannah Tracks: Atlas and Guide. To be classified as a desert, an area must receive less than 25cm of rain a year. That rules out the Big and Little Deserts in Victoria and the Pinnacles Desert in Western Australia. But it rules in the Nullarbor Plain and large swaths of Queensland and outback NSW that are described as “marginal” grazing land. Semiarid or savannah land has an annual rainfall of 25-50cm, with vegetation dominated by short, coarse grasses.
“There are vast differences in the deserts: the Tanami in the Northern Territory is flat plains, spinifex and acacias, Sturt Stony is a gibber plain and the adjoining Tirari reportedly the only place on the continent where Aborigines could not live because of a total absence of water,” Glover tells us. “Our sand dune deserts such as the Great Sandy, the Great Victoria and the Simpson are ‘fossilised’ deserts because they are stabilised by vegetation; no shifting Sahara-style sand dunes here.” Preparation to see it all is paramount. This guide tells us how to fortify the 4WD, the routes to follow and what we’ll encounter, including animals and plants. And then there are 120 pages of maps, marking out every twist and bone-jarring turn.