5 Outback Books You Won’t Put Down

Outback Australia. Simpson Desert, Alice Springs

Are your outback travels over for the year and you’re in need of some inspiration?


Have you fallen in love with the outback and just can’t get enough?

(We know how you feel! It’s happened to us).

So, to see you through a travel slump or to just feed your thirst for information, we thought we’d share five of our favourite outback books.

They’re a mixed lot, several share stories of adventure and exploration, several show anyone who thinks the outback is a dead, barren, lifeless place just how wrong that is.

And one very special book that gives you an insider look at Aboriginal life in Alice Springs’ town camps. Not the fluffy tourist stuff but real life, Law, kinship, language.

We’ve included links below to help track each book down.

Get some summer reading in! It might just help you plan your next outback trip.

The Simpson Desert – Mark Shepherd

Why you should read it: This book will absolutely make you fall in love with the Simpson Desert.

And if you’re already in love with the Simpson, this book will deepen your love affair.

Simpson Desert, outback Australia, Mark Shepherd

The Simpson Desert is a beautifully written and illustrated book which tells the desert’s many stories: how it was formed, its stunning array of life, the Aboriginal people who live there, European explorations (most of which are skipped in school history lessons) and the advent of 4WD tourism.

Sadly, this book is many years out of print BUT you can find it secondhand online or in libraries across Australia.

I will warn you: copies are expensive and snapped up very quickly!

Try: Abebooks.com or Biblioz.com.au

Mr Stuart’s Track – John Bailey

Why you should read it: You’ve probably heard of the Stuart Highway and might have driven it, but what do you know about the man it was named after?

John McDouall Stuart was the man who won the race against Burke and Wills and found a route for the overland telegraph line to connect Australia to the world.

Most people don’t know he arrived in Australia two years after Adelaide was founded, worked as a government surveyor around Marree, and took three attempts to cross the continent from south to north, almost losing his life on the final attempt.

I’ll admit this is a book I took far too long to pick up and read, and when I did, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a perfect read for evenings around the campfire.

And if you’re travelling the Oodnadatta Track, you definitely should read this book, too.

Get it here:

Kindle ebook (You can read on your this on your iPad or Samsung tablet – see below)


The Dig Tree – Sarah Murgatroyd

Why you should read it: Most Australians know something about Burke and Wills and their disastrous attempt to cross the continent from south to north. Sarah Murgatroyd’s page-turning tale brings to life the mistakes, the personality clashes, the sheer folly of the expedition.

Do you know that Robert O’Hara Bourke took a bathtub, twelve sets of dandruff brushes and four enema kits along to cross the continent?

Or that by the time he got to Menindee, his arrogant personality had alienated the senior scientists and most of the experienced bushmen on the trip?

Or the behind-scenes-wrangling of Melbourne’s most influential gentlemen that led to someone as ill-prepared as Bourke leading the expedition.

Grab yourself a drink and a comfy spot around the campfire. This is a book once you start, you won’t put down.

Get it here:

Kindle ebook (Read on Ipad/Samsung tablets too. See below)


The Dig Tree, Mr Stuarts Track, Burke and Wills

Red Sand Green Heart – John Read

Why you should read it: If you’ve ever been to Coober Pedy and thought: WHAT THE HELL LIVES OUT HERE? this is for you. The desert is alive and full of stories.

Also, read it for the funny moments: like when a Wedge-Tailed Eagle steals a pair of shorts and flies off with all the vehicle and gate keys!

John Read is the man behind the Arid Recovery Reserve https://aridrecovery.org.au/ on the Borefield Track (near Roxby Downs).

Red Sand Green Heart, Arid Recovery Reserve, John Read

I’m guessing a few of you might have driven right past the Arid Recovery Reserve and seen the signs on your way to the Oodnadatta Track.

Well, Red Sand, Green Heart tells the story of how the 123 kilometre square feral-cat proof reserve came to be -and of the rare and often unheard of animals like the Greater Bilby, Burrowing Bettong, Western Quoll and the amazing Stick-Nest Rat- that the Reserve is striving to save.

The book is currently out of print, but you can often find copies in outback roadhouses, your library or try Abebooks.com.

The Hard Light of Day – Rod Moss

Why you should read it: If you’re a person who wants a real-life, no bullshit look at life in both Alice Springs and for Aboriginal people living in Alice’s town camps.

(If you don’t know what a town camp is, then definitely read this book).

Hard Light of Day, Alice Springs, Arrernte people, Rod Moss

Rod Moss is an artist and long term Alice resident with many Arrernte (pronounced AR-run-DUH) friends amongst those living at Whitegate Camp.

He tells the human story that city folk and Grey Nomads never hear about Aboriginal people. None of the fluffy environmental, woo-woo stuff nor the redneck racist garbage, either.

Moss tells the things we see and deal with all the time: endemic violence, alcoholism and ill-health which are common to Aboriginal people living in camps… and the fun, friendship, crazy chaos, the ceremonies, the Sorry Business and culture that is still strong.

Kindle ebook (can be read on Ipad/Samsung tablets too. See below)


Before you go:

I’ve mentioned that several of these books are available as ebooks on Kindle.

If you don’t have a Kindle ebook reader, no worries.

You can read them on your iPad or Samsung table using the free Kindle app (you still need an Amazon account to buy the book of course).

Get the Kindle app for iPad, Samsung or your PC/Mac here: https://www.amazon.com.au/kindle-dbs/fd/kcp

Also, please share this post to Pinterest or Facebook if you’ve found it useful.

I’ve even made graphic for you to share right here:

Outback Australia, Simpson Desert, Alice Springs, Stuart Highway


  • Darryl says:

    Thanks, perfect timing, I’m looking for some books like this to read right now.

  • Great book suggestions. Always love reading around a destination. Found a great book being remaindered in our library at Robe called Ayers Rock and beyond. By W.E. (Bill) Harney who was the first ranger for the area in the late 1950s. It’s pretty insightful for its time about the aboriginal culture and the destructiveness of European influence which he had been party to. The interesting parts so far for me have been the stories and background to some of the sites around Uluru which perhaps wouldn’t be shared these days..
    Am loving the rest of your site too. We head off in 4 weeks for a month of exploring sadly only in a 2wd so limited options but plenty of camping in there..

  • Shane says:

    Thanks you for the list, a couple there I’ll definitely hunt down.

    I’m presently reading a great book for those interested in the NT of early 1900s – A son of the red centre, the auto biography of Kurt Johannsen who was a great inventor and pioneer in the spirit of Tom Kruse (the Birdsville mailman) and others involved in transport and early life in that incredibly tough part of the country.

  • Dayv Carter says:

    You say above that “John McDouall Stuart was the man who won the race against Burke and Wills…”.

    I’m sorry but it’s widely accepted that the Burke and Wills Expedition (Burke, Wills, King and Grey) were the first to cross Australia from south to north.

    In fact news that Stuart had returned to Adelaide after an unsuccessful expedition to get to the north coast reached Burke when he was around Menindee, NSW.

    Yes, the Stuart Highway in is honour of his expedition and the telegraph come down that way.

    I’ll keep an eye out for that book.


    • Gary says:

      Hi there, it might be widely accepted that Burke and Wills were the first but ultimately unsuccessful in that they didn’t return which was how success was measured. Stuart was the one rewarded as he made it back after the successful crossing. It’s a great story nonetheless and had Burke and Wills worked collaboratively with Aboriginal people they would have made it.

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