The indigenous keepers of the Outback’s secrets

Located a remote corner of the Great Sandy Desert, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is how the Outback used to look before European settlers arrived.

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The road to Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is an abrupt portal between two worlds. At one end of the road is Alice Springs, population 25,000, which is what counts in Outback Australia for an urban metropolis. At the other end are the isolated red-rock desert massifs, salt lakes and spinifex plains of the Great Sandy Desert, Australia’s second-largest desert, covering more than 280,000sq km. One moment you’re in town, sharing the tarmac with 50m-long road trains along the Stuart Highway. Then the traffic thins, and the road across the Tanami Desert narrows and turns to sand. All of a sudden, or so it seems, you’re deep in the desert in the heart of the continent.

Open for self-drive visitors at Easter, and from May to the end of September, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is known for its birdlife and the stark beauty of its desert landscapes. It is also what all of inland Australia once looked like.

50 REASONS TO LOVE THE WORLD – 2021

Why do you love the world?

“Because I grew up out here in the desert where healthy country means trees and animals. It’s my home.” – Alice Ellis, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary ranger

More Reasons to Love the World

White settlers arrived in the Central and Western Deserts of Australia’s interior – the Great and Little Sandy deserts and the Tanami, the Simpson and Victoria deserts – in the 19th Century. Before they did, indigenous Australians lived here in harmony with the land and with wildlife that was far more abundant than you might expect.

This is Warlpiri land, and it extends for hundreds of kilometres across the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts. The Warlpiri are one of the largest nations and language groups among Aboriginal people. Along with the Pintupi, their neighbours to the west, the Warlpiri were among the last people in Australia to come into contact with white Australia and leave behind the traditional, semi-nomadic way of life that had enabled them to survive in the desert.

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