The rangelands or ‘outback’ of Western Australia cover 85 per cent of the state, and generally represent a region of low rainfall with arid and semi-arid climate with also some tropical and sub-tropic climates in the far north.
The WA rangelands stretch from Shark Bay in the west, up to the Pilbara and Kimberley in the north, across to the deserts (to the Northern Territory border in the east) and down to Norseman and the Nullarbor coast in the south.
Most of the WA rangelands are flat to undulating. There are 20 bioregions wholly or partly within the rangelands portion of WA. Vegetation types range from tussock grasslands and shrublands to woodlands, but also include patches of monsoonal forests in the north of the state.
Pastoralism is the most dominant land use across 45 per cent (approximately 980,000 sq. km) of WA’s rangelands, settled from the 1860s on initially for sheep production in the south and beef cattle in the north. There is also some intensive horticultural production around the Gascoyne and the Ord River areas. Within decades, however, heavy grazing pressure has caused massive changes to vegetation and considerable erosion.
Australia’s rangelands also support a significant amount of the country’s valuable mining industry. In 2015-16, WA’s mineral and petroleum production was valued at more than $87 billion. This included gold at Kalgoorlie ($10,036m), Iron Ore in the Pilbara ($48,385m), oil and gas from the north-west shelf and diamonds in the Kimberley.
Tourism continues to be a growing enterprise in the rangelands, with the value of the WA tourism industry generating more than 97,000 jobs and injecting over $10 billion into the WA economy by Gross State Product in 2014-15.