ON THE ROAD — No need for a bird hide to get up close and personal with the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen, probably race telenocua). This glossy specimen came to greet us when we stopped the car near the walking track to the bird hide at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. “Over there”, he or she indicated with a gesture of the beak. Neither the Black-backed, nor White-backed, nor Western Magpies extend into the Top End of the Northern Territory, but with many races they cover most of the rest of the continent.

ON THE ROAD — surrounded by a large expanse of small desert shrubs, a small patch of greener and larger vegetation marks an artificial water point at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, Port Augusta. In the mornings and afternoons the water attracts many of the small birds that spend most of their lives very privately amongst the shrubbery. From a permanent bird hide about 15 metres away we saw the White-winged Fairy Wren (Malurus leucopterus, race leuconotus), Variegated Fairy Wren (Malurus lambertii), Crested Pigeon ( Ocyphaps lophotes) and Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata).

ON THE ROAD — About 700km south of Alice Springs the gibber landscape is suddenly dotted with conical mounds — looking like the work of giant ants. These ants are rugged Australians who for 100 years have been sinking mine shafts in the hope of rich reward created millions of years ago. About 150 million years ago an ocean covered the Coober Pedy region. As the sea water receded silica solutions were carried down to be deposited in cavities, faults and fractures. Over time those deposits have been transformed into opal. The Coober Pedy opal fields were discovered in 1915 by a group of men looking for gold. 100 years later Coober Pedy produces 85% of the world’s opal supply.

ON THE ROAD — South of Kulgera Roadhouse the temperature is heading past 40 degrees centigrade. A road train loaded with fuel for the north looks pixelated from the heat shimmer as it “drives through” a midday mirage. Across the gibber plains to the west the Ghan freight train pulls more than 30 railcars north towards Darwin. From Adelaide to the end of the line at Darwin is just over 3000km. The Ghan is named after the Afghan cameleers who arrived in Central Australia in the late nineteenth century. Feral camels now roam the desert. Some are caught and exported to the Middle East. Australia’s feral camels are highly regarded in their ancestral home.