The Nullarbor Plain (/ˈnʌlərbɔːr/ NUL-ər-bor; Latin: nullus, "no", and arbor, "tree") is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north. It is the world's largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi). At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.
The first Europeans known to have sighted and mapped it were an expedition led by Pieter Nuyts in 1626–27. While the interior remained little known to Europeans over the next two centuries, the name Nuytsland was often applied to the area adjoining the Great Australian Bight. It survives as two geographical names in West Australia: Nuytsland Nature Reserve and Nuyts Land District.
Despite the hardships created by the nature of the Nullarbor, European settlers were determined to cross the plain. Edward John Eyre became the first European to successfully make the crossing in 1841. In writing about Eyre's voyages in 1865, Henry Kingsley wrote that the area across the Nullarbor and Great Australian Bight was a "hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams". Eyre departed Fowler's Bay on 17 November 1840 with John Baxter and a party of three Aboriginal men. When three of his horses died of dehydration, he returned to Fowler's Bay. He departed with a second expedition on 25 February 1841. By 29 April, the party had reached Caiguna. Lack of supplies and water led to a mutiny. Two of the Aborigines killed Baxter and took the party's supplies. Eyre and the third Aborigine, Wylie, continued on their journey, surviving through bushcraft and some fortuitous circumstances, such as receiving some supplies from a French whaling vessel anchored at Rossiter Bay. They completed their crossing in June 1841.
A proposed new state of Auralia (meaning "land of gold") would have comprised the Goldfields, the western portion of the Nullarbor Plain and the port town of Esperance. Its capital would have been Kalgoorlie.
During the British nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s, the government forced the Wangai to abandon their homeland. Since then they have been awarded compensation, and many have returned to the general area. Others never left.
Some agricultural interests are on the fringe of the plain including the 2.5 million acres (1 million ha) Rawlinna Station, the largest sheep station in the world, on the Western Australian side of the plain. The property was established in 1962 by Hugh G. MacLachlan, of the South Australian pastoral family, the station has a comparatively short history compared to other properties of its type around Australia. An older property is Madura Station, situated closer to the coast, it has a size of 1.7 million acres (690,000 ha) and is also stocked with sheep. Madura was established prior to 1927, the extent of the property at that time was reported as two million acres (810,000 ha).
In 2011 South Australian Premier Mike Rann announced that a huge area of the Nullarbor, stretching almost 200 km (120 mi) from the WA border to the Great Australian Bight, would be given formal Wilderness Protection Status. Rann said the move would double the area of land in South Australia under environmental protection, to 1.8 million ha (4.4 million acres). The area contains 390 species of plants and a large number of habitats for rare species of animals and birds.
"Crossing the Nullarbor", for many Australians, is a quintessential experience of the "Australian Outback". Stickers bought from roadhouses on the highway show "I have crossed the Nullarbor", and can be seen on vehicles of varying quality or capacity for long distance travel. The process of "beating the crowds" on overbooked and overpriced air services at the time of special sporting events can also see significant numbers of vehicles on the road.
Crossing the Nullarbor in the 1950s and earlier was a significant achievement, as most of the route then was a dirt track of variable quality, and presenting real hazards to the motorist. It presented one of the major challenges in Round-Australia car trials (the Redex and Ampol Trials) and gave photographers many opportunities for shots of daring driving and motoring misfortune.
The Nullarbor represents the boundary between eastern and western Australia, regardless of the travel method. The press might write that a prime minister who visits Perth has "headed across the Nullarbor".
The Nullarbor Plain is a former shallow seabed, as indicated by the presence of bryozoans, foraminifera, echinoids and red algae calcareous skeletons that make up the limestone. The region is also the location of "Nullarbor limestone" and it has a reputation as a significant karst region with Oligocene and Miocene cave formations.
The sequence within the limestone includes five formations:
One theory is that the whole area was uplifted by crustal movements in the Miocene, and since then, erosion by wind and rain has reduced its thickness. The plain has most likely never had any major defining topographic features, resulting in the extremely flat terrain across the plain today.
In areas, the southern ocean blows through many subterranean caves, resulting in blowholes up to several hundred metres from the coast. The Murrawijinie Cave in South Australia is open to the public, but most of the Nullarbor Caves on the Western Australian side can only be visited and viewed with a permit from the Department of Parks and Wildlife.
The Nullarbor is known for extensive meteorite deposits, which are extremely well preserved in the arid climate. In particular, many meteorites have been discovered around Mundrabilla, some up to several tonnes in weight.
The Nullarbor has a desert climate, with arid to semi-arid conditions. Inland, summers can be scorching hot, with daytime temperatures close to 50 °C (122 °F), while in winter nights can drop well below freezing. Closer to the coast, the temperature is milder with more rainfall in the winter months. The mean annual rainfall at Cook is 184.1 millimetres (7.25 in), with most rain falling between May and August. Summers are very dry, with rain falling mainly from sporadic storms, however occasionally decaying tropical systems can cause heavier rain in the summer months. Temperatures on the plain have ranged from 49.8 °C (121.6 °F) at Mundrabilla and Forrest which is the 4th hottest recorded temperature in all of Australia, to −7.2 °C (19.0 °F) at Eyre, which is the coldest recorded temperature in Western Australia.
The need for a communications link across the continent was the spur for the development of an east–west crossing. Once Eyre had proved that a link between South Australia and Western Australia was possible, efforts to connect them via telegraph began. In 1877, after two years of labour, the first messages were sent on the new telegraph line, boosted by eight repeater stations along the way. The line operated for about 50 years before being superseded, and remnants of it remain visible.
The Trans-Australian Railway railway line crosses the Nullarbor Plain from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta. Construction of the line began in 1917, when two teams set out from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and Port Augusta in South Australia, meeting in the centre of the Plain at Ooldea, an uninhabited area noted for a water supply. This original line suffered severe problems with track flexing and settling in the desert sands, and journeys across the Plain were slow and arduous. The line was entirely rebuilt in 1969, as part of a project to standardise the previously disparate rail gauges in the various states, and the first crossing of the Nullarbor on the new line reached Perth on 27 February 1970. The Indian Pacific is a regular passenger train crossing the Nullarbor from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide.
The railway line has the longest straight section of railway in the world (478 km, 297 mi), while the Eyre Highway (refer below) contains the longest straight section of tarred road in Australia (146 km, 91 mi).
Most of the inhabited areas of the Nullarbor Plain can be found in a series of small settlements located along the railway, and in small settlements along the Eyre Highway that provide services to travellers, mostly spaced between one and two hundred kilometres apart. The town of Cook, in South Australia, was formerly a moderately thriving settlement of about 40 people, with a school and a golf course. The reduction of railway operations at the town resulted in its virtual desertion, and it now has a permanent population of four. The Tea and Sugar Train operated until 1996, supplying provisions to the town along the railway line.
The Eyre Highway, which connects Norseman in Western Australia to Port Augusta, was carved across the continent in 1941. At first it was little more than a rough track, but was gradually sealed over the next thirty years. The last unsealed section of the Eyre Highway was finally sealed in 1976. Unlike the railway, though, it crosses the plain at its southernmost edge rather than through the centre.
The unsealed Transline Road closely follows the Trans-Australian Railway, running all the way from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta and onward. It services the numerous cattle and sheep stations that populate the Western side of the Nullabor and affords access to rail maintenance teams. It is a brutally rough road and - despite the amount of traffic it carries - is poorly maintained.
The fauna of the Nullarbor includes communities of crustaceans, spiders, and beetles adapted to the darkness of the Nullarbor Caves and the underground rivers and lakes that run through them. Mammals of the desert include the southern hairy-nosed wombat which shelters from the hot sun by burrowing into the sands, as well as typical desert animals such as red kangaroos and dingoes. An elusive subspecies of the Australian masked owl unique to the Nullarbor is known to roost in the many caves on the plain. The grasslands of the Nullarbor are suitable for some sheep grazing and are also damaged by rabbits. The caves provide roosts to large colonies of wattled microbats, species Chalinolobus morio.
Frequently The Nullarbor is expanded in tourist literature and web-based material to loosely refer to all the land between Adelaide, South Australia and Perth, Western Australia. Through observing satellite images, the limits of the limestone formation of the plain can be seen to stretch from approximately 20 kilometres (12 mi) west of the original Balladonia settlement (now abandoned) to its Easternmost limit a few kilometres West of the town of Ceduna.
On 25 December 1896, after an arduous journey of thirty-one days, Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson became the first cyclist to cross the Nullarbor Plain, pedaling his bicycle from Coolgardie to Adelaide. Carrying only a small kit and a water-bag, he followed the telegraph line as he crossed the Nullarbor. He later described the heat as "1,000 degrees in the shade". During their three-year cycling trip around Australia between 1946 and 1949, Wendy Law Suart and Shirley Duncan became the first women to cycle across the Plain.
Between 29 June and 3 July 2015, brothers Tyron and Aaron Bicknell recorded the fastest known crossing of the Nullarbor Plain on single speed bicycles. Their ride took advantage of the cold temperatures in the Australian winter months and was completed over 4 days, 5 hours and 21 minutes, making it one of the fastest bicycle crossings and the fastest done with a single geared bike.
The first non-Indigenous person to walk across Australia from the west to the east coast, Henri Gilbert, crossed the Nullarbor Plain on foot, with no support team or stock, in the middle of summer. His walk across Australia, from Fremantle to Brisbane, was achieved between August 1897 and December 1898.
In May 1985 six young Jesus Christians successfully walked 1000 miles from Port August to Norseman without taking any food, water, additional clothing or a support vehicle claiming that God would provide their needs. The youngest walker was 12 year old Rachel Sukamaran from India. In response to critics claiming the walkers were "testing God" Christine Mckay, the 15 year old spokesperson for the group, said "Anyway, we weren't testing God, he was testing us". The two month long walk was extensively covered by national and some international media and a book was published using their diaries from the walk.
In 1998, runner Robert Garside ran across the Nullarbor without a formal support crew, as part of an authenticated run around the world. Unconventionally, Garside obtained water and other support from "passing traffic" who would leave water cached ahead for him at agreed drop-offs, to achieve the feat. In 2010, columnist Dan Koeppel ran the 200-mile (320 km) heart of the Nullarbor with a friend the same way, to vindicate Garside. Garside commented in his diary, that "the key to running the Nullarbor turned out to be Australian hospitality", and Koeppel concurred that "[F]rom an armchair it is completely impossible to run the Nullarbor. Once you're out there, however, there is a way. Robert Garside discovered it. So would I".
Abrakurrie Cave is a wild cave on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. It is located about 48 kilometres (30 mi) north west of Eucla and is reported to have the largest single cave chamber in the southern hemisphere, and that stencils in the cave are the deepest penetration of Aboriginal art of any cave system in Australia.Visits to the cave occurred as early as the 1880s.The cave was explored by an expedition led by Captain J. M. Thompson in 1935. The explorers described a cave that was 1,200 feet (366 m) in length, 160 feet (49 m) wide and 150 feet (46 m) deep. After progressing a further 250 feet (76 m) the group found the passage forked into two passages one of which continued a further 1,500 feet (457 m) leading to a huge cavern.Photographs of the cave were published after the 1935 expedition.It was a well documented cave by the 1960s.Across the Nullarbor
Across the Nullarbor is a 1951 book by Ion Idriess. It was based on a trip he took across the Nullarbor Plain.Balladonia, Western Australia
Balladonia is a small roadhouse community located on the Eyre Highway in Western Australia. It is the first stop east of Norseman on the long journey east across the Nullarbor Plain. Between Balladonia and Caiguna is a 146.6-kilometre (91.1 mi) stretch of the highway which is one of the longest straight stretches of road in the world.Cocklebiddy, Western Australia
Cocklebiddy is a small roadhouse community located on the Eyre Highway in Western Australia. It is the third stop after Norseman on the long journey east across the Nullarbor Plain. The area is noted for its caves and lakes.
It is the nearest locality to the south coast feature of Twilight Cove, which is 26 km to the south.Forrest Airport
Forrest Airport (IATA: FOS, ICAO: YFRT) is an airport located in the tiny hamlet of Forrest, Western Australia. The airport is clearly visible from the Indian Pacific train which services the Trans-Australian Railway.
In the 1930s and for current planes with short range flight capacity, it is an important stopping place for refuellingIndian Pacific
The Indian Pacific is an Australian passenger rail service that operates between Sydney, on the Pacific Ocean, and Perth, on the Indian Ocean. It is one of the few truly transcontinental trains in the world. The train first ran in February 1970 after the completion of gauge conversion projects in South and Western Australia.
The train's route includes the world's longest straight stretch of railway track, a 478-kilometre (297 mi) stretch of the Trans-Australian Railway over the Nullarbor Plain.The service was originally operated jointly by the Department of Railways New South Wales, South Australian Railways, Commonwealth Railways and Western Australian Government Railways, until February 1993 when Australian National took full ownership. In October 1997, the Indian Pacific was sold to Great Southern Rail.
A one-way trip takes between 70.5 and 75 hours, depending on scheduling and daylight saving periods. The train currently has two classes, branded as Platinum and Gold Service. A motorail service conveys passengers' motor vehicles between Adelaide and Perth.List of caves in Western Australia
This is a list of caves in Western Australia. It includes all named caves that occur in the Australian Speleological Federation Karst Index Database (KID).Loongana railway station
Not to be confused with Loongana in northern TasmaniaLoongana is a remote siding on the transcontinental railway line in the Australian state of Western Australia.
The area was formerly the site of a lime mine and processing plant. The town was dependent on the Tea and Sugar Train for the delivery of supplies until 1996 when the train was withdrawn.
The Indian Pacific, run by Great Southern Railway, still passes here but does not stop. The longest dead straight track extends from East of Nurina, to just East of Watson, a distance of 478 kilometres (297 mi).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.Murrawijinie Cave
Marrawijinie Cave is cave located in the Australian state of South Australia within the gazetted locality of Nullarbor on the Nullarbor Plain.
This cave is open to the public but safety precautions should be taken before driving off the Eyre Highway. The entry is located approximately 10 kilometres (6 mi) north of the Nullarbor Roadhouse along a rough track.The main entry is a doline, a collapsed cave, another two entries are close by which is typical of the Nullarbor's karst topography. Hawks and Swallows use the caves as nesting sites.One of the entries has hand stencils made from ochre drawn by Indigenous Australians on the walls.Since June 2013, the cave has been located within the protected area known as the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area.Nullarbor National Park
Nullarbor National Park is a protected area in the Australian state of South Australia located in the locality of Nullarbor about 887 kilometres (551 mi) west of the state capital of Adelaide and about 400 kilometres (250 mi) west of Ceduna.Founded in 1979, its extent was reduced in 2013 from 5,781.27 square kilometres (2,232.16 square miles) to 323.10 square kilometres (124.75 square miles) by the proclamation of the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area. As of 2013, it is bounded to the west by the Western Australia - South Australian state border, the north by the Nullarbor Regional Reserve and to the east and the south by the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area.It is classified as an IUCN Category VI protected area. In 1980, it was listed on the now-defunct Register of the National Estate.Nullarbor Regional Reserve
Nullarbor Regional Reserve is a protected area in South Australia located about 300 kilometres (190 miles) west of Ceduna.
Its boundaries are defined by the Trans-Australian Railway to the north and by the Nullarbor National Park, the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area and the Yalata Indigenous Protected Area to the south. Its western boundary is with the Western Australia - South Australian state border while its eastern boundary adjoins the Yellabinna Regional Reserve.The northeastern corner of the reserve is the locations of Ooldea, and central north Cook on the railway line, and the northern boundary is adjacent to the Maralinga Tjarutja Aboriginal lands.The northern boundary has the abandoned railway locations of Hughes, Denman, Fisher, O'Malley and Watson, as well as being the section of line that is the known as the longest railway straight.The Nullarbor Regional Reserve and the adjoining Nullarbor National Park protect the world's largest semi-arid cave landscape, which is associated with many Aboriginal cultural sites. Wildlife inhabiting in the regional reserve includes the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat
The regional reserve is classified as an IUCN Category VI protected area.Penong, South Australia
Penong is a small South Australian town on the Nullarbor Plain. It is the last town on the Eyre Highway before Border Village which makes it a popular rest-stop for travellers.
The 2016 Australian census which was conducted in August 2016 reports that the localities of Penong and Bookabie shared a population of 289 people.Penong is the closest town to the Chadinga Conservation Park and Lake MacDonnell, which has rich reserves of salt and gypsum. The town is 20 km north of Cactus Beach, a popular surfing beach. Cactus Beach is on the western side of Point Sinclair, while Port Le Hunte is on the sheltered eastern side, also known as Port Irvine.Shire of Dundas
The Shire of Dundas is a local government area in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. The shire covers an area of 93,179 square kilometres (35,977 sq mi) and its seat of government is the town of Norseman. Its territory lies between Norseman and the border with South Australia (including much of the Eyre Highway), and is between 700 and 1,500 kilometres (430-930 mi) east of the state capital, Perth.Tea and Sugar Train
The Tea & Sugar was a dedicated train that serviced isolated Australian towns on the Nullarbor Plain between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie along the Trans-Australian Railway. The train was significant because it provided all the supplies used by remote towns in South and Western Australia.Wangkatha
Wangkatha, otherwise written Wongatha, Wongi or Wangai, is a language and the identity of eight tribal groups of the Goldfields Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia.Yalata, South Australia
Yalata is an Aboriginal community located 200 kilometres west of Ceduna on the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. At the 2016 census, Yalta and the surrounding area had a population of 248.Zanthus, Western Australia
Zanthus is a remote outpost on the Trans-Australian rail line approximately 210 kilometres (130 mi) east of the regional city of Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia.
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