1st Edition

The Australian Desert Nature, Culture, Future

By Roslynn Haynes Copyright 2025
    352 Pages 113 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    352 Pages 113 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This unique book is the only fully interdisciplinary and comprehensive study of the Australian desert and its pivotal role in the cultural history of Australia.

    Beginning with the prehistory of the continent it engages with geology, prehistory,  the arrival of the first Australians, Aboriginal culture of the Dreaming, anthropology, colonial history and the cult of the inland explorer-hero, and integration of the central deserts (n.b. plural) through the responses of writers, artists, and film makers into the national identity.  This book explores the unique way Indigenous artists have evolved a method of expressing their spiritual relationship to Country, while hiding from uninitiated eyes the secret-sacred meaning beneath the paint. It takes us on a journey through the politics of Land Rights for First Nations peoples, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and an analysis of Indigenous ecological principles which may suggest a new and radical approach to navigating climate change in the Anthropocene.

    This book is written for scholars of fine arts, anthropology, literature, film studies, cultural history, Indigenous studies, ecology and tourism and for anyone interested in deserts.

    INTRODUCTION. PART I: THE GIVEN 1.  Two Creation Stories 2.  The Diversity of Australian Deserts PART II: THE FIRST AUSTRALIANS 3.  The Mystery of the Gwion/Bradshaws 4. Arriving and Surviving 5.  Dreaming the Land 6.  Narrating the Land in Song and Dance 7. Traditional Aboriginal Art PART III: ENCOUNTER: EXPECTATION, EXPLORATION 8. A Clash of Cultures 9. European Myths of the Desert 10. 'Footprints on the Sands of Time': Imperatives for Exploration 11. Geography is never Innocent: How the Explorers created a Landscape 12. The Art of Exploration: Visualising the Desert 13. Heroes for the Nation: Mythologising the Explorers 14. Boys’ Own Adventures at the Edge of Empire Part IV: ENGAGEMENT 15. From Dead Heart to Red Centre: Tales of Travel and Reefs of God 16. Getting over the Colour Green: Western Artists Discover the Desert 17. The Gothic Desert: Psychodrama in Fiction and Film 18. Figures of the Subconscious: Re-visioning the Explorers 19. Transforming Myths: Re-telling the Stories of Exploration 20. The Language of Landscape 21. The Lure of the Desert: Self-Discovery and Renewal 22. Hidden in Full Sight: Indigenous Desert Art 23. Selling the Centre: Desert Tourism 24. What can we Learn from Aboriginal Culture in the Anthropocene?



    Roslynn Haynes is Adjunct Associate Professor of Arts and the Media at UNSW and has published ten books on deserts, literature, art, science and Aboriginal astronomy. As a graduate of both science and literature, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, Roslynn Haynes is fascinated by the intersection of disciplines.


    “Readers familiar with Roslynn Haynes’s important earlier book Seeking the Centre will be excited to discover The Australian Desert: Nature, Culture, Future. The new work is a comprehensive and authoritative study of Australian desert culture, placing special emphasis on Aboriginal art and storytelling and what non-Aboriginal people can—and perhaps must—try to learn from Indigenous people about how to live on our increasingly desert-like planet.”

     —Scott Slovic, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Humanities Emeritus, University of Idaho, and  Editor of Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest

    “Bringing together the art, literatures, histories and science of Indigenous locals and Western outsiders, Roslynn Haynes’s luminous prose shimmers like the desert itself, which she places at the heart of Australia. A uniquely multidisciplinary but very readable work of subtlety and deep learning which makes ambivalence a virtue.”

    Associate Professor Richard White, Department of History, University of Sydney, Author of Inventing AustraliaThe Oxford Book of Australian Travel WritingCultural History in Australia and co-editor of Symbols of Australia: Imagining a Nation