Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert, an interim Australian bioregion, is a sparsely populated desert area in Western Australia and South Australia.

Great Victoria Desert
IBRA 6.1 Great Victoria Desert
The IBRA regions, with Great Victoria Desert in red
Width700 km (430 mi)
Area348,750 km2 (134,650 sq mi)
StatesWestern Australia and South Australia
Coordinates29°09′08″S 129°15′35″E / 29.1521612833°S 129.259643555°E

Location and description

Australia.A2002231.0145.250m NASA Nullarbor
NASA - Visible Earth, the Great Victoria Desert is in the center of the image, north of the Nullarbor Plain.

The Great Victoria is the largest desert in Australia[1] and consists of many small sandhills, grassland plains, areas with a closely packed surface of pebbles (called desert pavement or gibber plains) and salt lakes. It is over 700 kilometres (430 mi) wide (from west to east) and covers an area of 348,750 square kilometres (134,650 sq mi) from the Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia to the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. The Western Australia Mallee shrub ecoregion lies to the west, the Little Sandy Desert to the northwest, the Gibson Desert and the Central Ranges xeric shrublands to the north, the Tirari and Sturt Stony deserts to the east, while the Nullarbor Plain to the south separates it from the Southern Ocean. Average annual rainfall is low and irregular, ranging from 200 to 250 mm (7.9 to 9.8 in) per year. Thunderstorms are relatively common in the Great Victoria Desert, with an average of 15–20 thunderstorms per annum. Summer daytime temperatures range from 32 to 40 °C (90 to 104 °F) while in winter, this falls to 18 to 23 °C (64 to 73 °F).


The majority of people living in the region are Indigenous Australians from different groups including the Kogara, the Mirning and the Pitjantjatjara. It is the part of Australia with the most populous and most healthy indigenous population. Aboriginal populations have been increasing in this region. Young Indigenous adults from the Great Victoria Desert region work in the Wilurarra Creative programs to maintain and develop their culture.[2]

Despite its isolated location the Great Victoria is bisected by very rough tracks including the Connie Sue Highway and the Anne Beadell Highway.

Human activity has included some mining and nuclear weapons testing.[3]


In 1875, British explorer Ernest Giles became the first European to cross the desert. He named the desert after the then-reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. In 1891, David Lindsey's expedition traveled across this area from north to south. Frank Hann was looking for gold in this area between 1903 and 1908. Len Beadell explored the area in the 1960s.


Serpentine Lakes
Serpentine Lakes, South Australia, 2011

The Great Victoria desert is a World Wildlife Fund ecoregion[4] and an Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) region of the same name.[5]

As this area has had very limited use for agriculture, habitats remain largely undisturbed while parts of the desert are protected areas including Mamungari Conservation Park (formerly known as Unnamed Conservation Park) in South Australia, a large area of pristine arid zone wilderness which possesses cultural significance and is one of the fourteen World Biosphere Reserves[6] in Australia. Habitat is also preserved in the large Aboriginal local government area of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara in South Australia and in the Great Victoria Desert Nature Reserve of Western Australia.

The nuclear weapons trials carried out by the United Kingdom at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s and early 1960s have left areas contaminated with plutonium-239 and other radioactive material.


Only the hardiest of plants can survive in much of this environment. Between the sand ridges there are areas of wooded steppe consisting of Eucalyptus gongylocarpa, Eucalyptus youngiana and mulga (Acacia aneura) shrubs scattered over areas of resilient spinifex grasses particularly Triodia basedowii.


Wildlife adapted to these harsh conditions includes few large birds or mammals. However, the desert does sustain many types of lizard including the vulnerable great desert skink (Egernia kintorei), the Central Ranges taipan (discovered in 2007), and a number of small marsupials including the endangered sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophila) and the crest-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda). One way to survive here is to burrow into the sands, as a number of the desert's animals, including the southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops), and the water-holding frog do. Birds include the chestnut-breasted whiteface (Aphelocephala pectoralis) found on the eastern edge of the desert and the malleefowl of Mamungari Conservation Park. Predators of the desert include the dingo (as the desert is north of the Dingo Fence) and two large monitor lizards, the perentie (Varanus giganteus) and the sand goanna (Varanus gouldii).

See also


  1. ^ Great Victoria Desert – The Largest Desert in Australia. Birgit Bradtke. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  2. ^ Wilurarra Creative 2011;
  3. ^ "Southern Australia". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Great Victoria desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
  5. ^ IBRA Version 7 data
  6. ^ Australia's Biosphere Reserves. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities. Retrieved 3 May 2015.
  • Shephard, Mark (1995), The Great Victoria Desert : north of the Nullarbor, south of the centre, Reed Books, ISBN 978-0-7301-0485-8
  • Joseph, Leo; Greenslade, Penelope; Barley, R. H. (Rachel); Nature Conservation Society of South Australia; Barley, Rachel (1986), The Great Victoria Desert, Nature Conservation Society of South Australia Inc, ISBN 978-0-949751-08-9
  • Peppas, Lynn (2013), The Great Victoria Desert, St. Catharines, Ontario Crabtree Publishing Company, ISBN 978-1-4271-9100-7
  • Friebe, Marlene; Matheson, W. E; South Australia. Department for Environment and Heritage; Friends of the Great Victoria Desert Parks (2006), Shrubs and trees of the Great Victoria Desert, Friends of the Great Victoria Desert Parks with the assistance of the Dept. for Environment and Heritage, ISBN 978-0-646-45948-6
  • Friends of the Great Victoria Desert Parks (S.A.) (2007), Friends of the Great Victoria Desert, The Friends of the Great Victoria Desert Parks, retrieved 25 June 2017

External links

Coordinates: 29°09′08″S 129°15′35″E / 29.1521612833°S 129.259643555°E

Banksia elderiana

Banksia elderiana, commonly known as the swordfish banksia or palm banksia, is a species of shrub in the plant genus Banksia. It occurs in two disjunct areas in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. One population extends over a large area from west of Kalgoorlie south to Ravensthorpe, with another population in the Great Victoria Desert north of the Queen Victoria Spring.

Seeds do not require any treatment, and take 31 to 42 days to germinate.

Connie Sue Highway

The Connie Sue Highway is an outback unsealed track that runs between the Aboriginal community of Warburton on the Great Central Road and Rawlinna on the Trans-Australian Railway. It lies entirely in the state of Western Australia, crosses the Great Victoria Desert and Nullarbor Plain and is approximately 650 km (400 mi) long.

Deserts of Australia

Named deserts of Australia cover 1,371,000 square kilometres (529,000 sq mi), or 18% of the Australian mainland. However, approximately 35% of the Australian continent receives so little rain it is effectively desert. The deserts in Australia are primarily distributed throughout the western plateau and interior lowlands of the country.By international standards, Australian deserts receive relatively high rates of rainfall. No weather station situated in an arid region records less than 100 mm of average annual rainfall. The deserts of Australia, particularly in the interior, lack any significant summer rains.Deserts are not necessarily completely devoid of vegetation, but have large areas where vegetation is very limited in height or extent.

Eremaean province

The Eremaean province is a botanical region in Western Australia, characterised by a desert climate. It is sometimes referred to as the dry and arid inland or interior region of Western AustraliaIt is the central and largest of three botanical provinces defined for the state, the others being the Northern province and the Southwest province.It contains 7 ecoregions that are recognised in the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA):

Carnarvon (CAR)

Central Ranges (CR)

Coolgardie (COO)

Gascoyne (GAS)

Gibson Desert (GD)

Great Sandy Desert (GSD)

Great Victoria Desert (GVD)

Hampton (HAM)

Little Sandy Desert (LSD)

Murchison (MUR)

Nullarbor (NUL)

Pilbara (biographic region) (PIL)

Tanami (TAN)

Yalgoo (YAL)


Iltur is a remote Pitjantjatjara homeland in the Great Victoria Desert of South Australia. It is also known as Coffin Hill after the rocky outcrop where it is located, and the traditional country surrounding it is known in Pitjantjatjara as Ilturnga. It is located at the southern end of the Birksgate Range, and is one of the most southerly locations on the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands. It was visited by the Elder Scientific Exploring Expedition in 1881, led by the explorer David Lindsay.Many of the families who had lived in this region historically were forced to leave the area due to nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga. They were moved northward to Fregon and southward to Yalata. Not all of them left, however, and some still living around Iltur reported that they were affected by the fallout of the tests. In 1976, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs offered AU$10,000 for the establishment of an outstation community at Iltur. An outstation was built, but is not always occupied.

Latitude Hill (Great Victoria Desert)

Latitude Hill is a hill in the Great Victoria Desert, Western Australia. It is located at 26°20′8″S 128°56′40″E, about five kilometres (3 mi) west of the South Australian border, and 160 kilometres (100 mi) south-south-east of Giles. It is the location of a mining tenement named "Latitude Hill (Musgrave)", owned by Integra Mining.

Laverton, Western Australia

Laverton, originally known as British Flag, is a town in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia, and the centre of administration for the Shire of Laverton. The town of Laverton is located at the western edge of the Great Victoria Desert, 957 kilometres (595 mi) north-northeast of the state capital, Perth, and 124 kilometres (77 mi) east-northeast of the town of Leonora with an elevation of 461 m.About 20% of the population is of Aboriginal descent. The area is semi-arid, with a mean annual rainfall of 233 millimetres (9.2 in). It is also quite warm, with mean daily maximum temperatures ranging from 17 °C (62 °F) in July to 36 °C (97 °F) in January.

Laverton is the westernmost town on the Outback Way - a proposed highway which goes through the Northern Territory to Winton in outback Queensland.

Makiri, South Australia

Makiri is a location in the northwest of South Australia, where a rock hole and an Aboriginal outstation are located. It is in the Great Victoria Desert, between Kaltjiti and Watarru. It is an important sacred site for the tjala (honey ant) Dreaming, a women's law. Much of the site was desecrated by a surveying team in 1969. It was officially declared a Prohibited Area by the South Australian government in 1973, as an "important Aboriginal mythological and cultural site".Makiri is located in a region of shrubland and sand dunes. The outstation here was established in the early 1980s. Since 1984, it has been governed and supported by the Irintata Homelands group from Kaltjiti. There is one house with solar power. Water is supplied from a rainwater tank and a bore. It is often used as a research base by scientists, as the area supports several endangered species.

Mallee Woodlands and Shrublands

Mallee Woodlands and Shrublands (MVG 14) is a Major Vegetation Group which occurs in semi-arid areas of southern Australia. The vegetation is dominated by mallee eucalypts which are rarely over 6 metres high. Other dominant plant genera are Melaleuca, Acacia and Hakea.The composition of the understorey depends on factors such as rainfall, soil composition as well as fire frequency and intensity. In subhumid areas, a variety of grasses and shrubs predominate, while in semi-arid areas hummock grasses (Triodia species) predominate.In 2001, the area covered by this vegetation group was estimated to be 65% of its pre 1788 coverage.The most extensive extant area of this group in Australia today is found in the Great Victoria Desert. Prior to 1788, the largest area occurred in the Murray-Darling basin.The Major Vegetation Subgroups for this group are:

Mallee with hummock grass

Mallee with a dense shrubby understorey

Mallee with an open shrubby understorey

Mallee with a tussock grass understorey.

Mamungari Conservation Park

Mamungari Conservation Park (formerly known as Unnamed National Park, Unnamed Conservation Park and also known as the Unnamed Biosphere Reserve) is a protected area located in South Australia within the southern Great Victoria Desert and northern Nullarbor Plain about 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of Maralinga and 450 kilometres (280 miles) northwest of Ceduna.

The conservation park was proclaimed in 1970 as a national park under the then National Parks Act 1966 for the purpose of conserving ‘the environments of the Great Victoria Desert and protect wilderness values.’ It was not assigned a name in 1970 and was subsequently constituted as the Unnamed Conservation Park under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. It was renamed as Mamungari Conservation Park on 30 November 2006.It is one of fourteen United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserves in Australia and obtained this status in 1977 with the name of the Unnamed Biosphere Reserve.The conservation park is classified as an IUCN Category Ia protected area.The conservation park is managed jointly by the traditional owners (the Maralinga Tjarutja and the Pila Nguru communities) and the Department for Environment and Water (DEW).The conservation park may only be visited by those who have obtained the minimum impact code and can demonstrate experience using that code. Permits are required to travel to the conservation park and will take 4 to 6 weeks to arrange. The only road of significance that passes through the conservation park is the Anne Beadell Highway.

Musgrave Ranges

Musgrave Ranges is a mountain range in Central Australia, straddling the boundary of South Australia (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) and the Northern Territory (MacDonnell Shire), extending into Western Australia. It is between the Great Victoria Desert to the south and the Gibson Desert to the north. They have a length of 210 kilometres (130 mi) and many peaks that have a height of more than 1,100 metres (3,600 ft), the highest being Mount Woodroffe at 1,435 metres (4,708 ft).

Neale Junction

Neale Junction is an isolated location in the Great Victoria Desert of Western Australia, where the Anne Beadell and Connie Sue Highways intersect. It is 172 km (107 mi) west of Ilkurlka. Neale Junction was named after Commander Frank Neale, who flew a Percival Gull through the area during the Mackay Aerial Reconnaissance Survey Expedition to Western and South Australia in 1935.It has a Len Beadell marker and is indicated as suitable for camping on some maps.

Neale Junction is also a location of a large nature reserve that sits north west of the even larger Great Victoria Desert Nature Reserve.The junction visitors book was deposited in Battye Library in 2002.

Sandhill dunnart

The sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophila) is a species of small carnivorous Australian marsupial of the family Dasyuridae. It is known from four scattered arid areas of Australia: near Lake Amadeus in Northern Territory, the central Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, the southwestern edge of the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia, and at Yellabinna in South Australia.

Spinifex people

The Pila Nguru, often referred to in English as the Spinifex people, are an Indigenous Australian people of Western Australia, whose lands extend to the border with South Australia and to the north of the Nullarbor Plain. The centre of their homeland is in the Great Victoria Desert, at Tjuntjunjarra, some 700 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, perhaps the remotest community in Australia. The Pila Nguru were the last Australian tribe to have dropped the complete trappings of their traditional aboriginal lifestyle.They maintain in large part their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle within the territory, over which their claims to Native title and associated collective rights were recognised by a 28 November 2000 Federal Court decision. In 1997, an art project was started in which indigenous paintings became part of the title claim. In 2005, a major exhibit of their works in London brought the artists widespread attention.

Tallaringa Conservation Park

Tallaringa Conservation Park is a protected area located in the west of the Australian state of South Australia about 615 kilometres (382 miles) north west of the city of Port Augusta and about 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of the town of Coober Pedy. The conservation park was proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 in 1991.

As of 2013, the conservation park was described as follows:A vast wilderness of vegetated dunes and gibber rises, Tallaringa Conservation Park sits on the fringe of the Great Victoria Desert. The park supports a variety of wildlife species that have adapted to live in this dry arid environment.

The access to the conservation park is via the Anne Beadell Highway which passes from east to west through it from the Stuart Highway in the east to Laverton in Western Australia in the west.

The conservation park is located within the South Australian Government region of Eyre and Western, the Great Victoria Desert Bioregion and the RAAF Woomera Range Complex.

The conservation park is classified as an IUCN Category VI protected area.

Watarru Indigenous Protected Area

The Watarru Indigenous Protected Area is an Indigenous Protected Area in the north west corner of South Australia. It covers an area of 13,925 square kilometres (5,376 square miles) in the Great Victoria Desert. It is the traditional land of the Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra and Yankunytjatjara peoples.The area was made an Indigenous Protected Area in June 2000. It is managed by the Watarru community according to their traditional laws and practices, known as Tjukurpa. The environment has not been damaged by cattle grazing or other farming practices. The Anangu are working with scientists to develop ways of dealing with feral animals including cats, foxes and camels.

It is classified as an IUCN Category II protected area.

Western Desert cultural bloc

The Western Desert cultural bloc or just Western Desert is a cultural region in central Australia covering about 600,000 square kilometres (230,000 sq mi), including the Gibson Desert, the Great Victoria Desert, the Great Sandy and Little Sandy Deserts in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. The Western Desert cultural bloc can be said to stretch from the Nullarbor in the south to the Kimberley in the north, and from the Percival Lakes in the west through to the Pintupi lands in the Northern Territory.

Yamarna Land District

Yamarna Land District is a land district (cadastral division) of Western Australia, located within the Eastern Land Division in the Great Victoria Desert, north of the Nullarbor Plain. It spans roughly 26°50'S - 29°00'S in latitude and 123°30'E - 125°00'E in longitude.

Yowalga Land District

Yowalga Land District is a land district (cadastral division) of Western Australia, located within the Eastern Land Division in the Great Victoria Desert, north of the Nullarbor Plain. It spans roughly 26°50'S - 29°00'S in latitude and 125°00'E - 129°00'E in longitude.

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