The painted desert

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  • Published 20031202
  • ISBN: 9780733313509
  • Extent: 236 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

FITZROY CROSSING, IN north-western Australia, is a group of settlements set between abrupt scarps of sandstone. The weather oscillates between the furnace heat of the dry season and the lashing rains of the wet, when saturated rocks glow red against lush grasses and wide swags of clouds hang above the flood plain. Even by the harsh measure of the outback it is a remote place – closer to Jakarta than to Sydney.

The town was formed around 1900 and became known as the only place for hundreds of kilometres where the Fitzroy River was shallow enough to be crossed on horseback. The outpost now serves the region’s graziers and miners; most of the residents, however, are Aborigines who were forced off their lands by white settlers during the past century. For many years the town was impoverished and unlovely, notorious for the brawls that regularly erupted at the Crossing Inn – and for the carpet of crushed beer cans that spread so far in every direction that it became known as the Fitzroy Snowfields. The tinnies are gone now and the town has begun to achieve a different reputation: it has become home to a thriving community of contemporary artists.

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