Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Gibson Desert

The Gibson Desert is on the central Western Australia plateau south of the Great Sandy Desert, east of the Little Sandy Desert and north of the Great Victoria Desert. At its highest point it reaches 500 m. Having an area of about 155,000 km2 (60,000 miles2) of Western Australia, the Gibson Desert is the 5th largest in Australia, after the Great Sandy, Great Victoria, Tanami Desert and Simpson deserts, and is still largely in an almost "pristine" state. It is situated between Lake Disappointment and Lake Macdonald on the Tropic of Capricorn. The Gibson bioregion includes extensive areas of undulating sand plains and dunefields, with some low rocky or gravelly ridges, the pebbles have been laterised - an iron coating. There are also large areas of upland and there are some saline lakes in the centre. There is a series of small salt water lakes along a palaeodrainage channel to the southwest. Groundwater is present under the desert where it covers parts of the Officer Basin and the Canning Basin. Large areas of the Gibson have a surface of gravel, as noted by early Australian explorers such as Giles (discussed below). Geographically, the Gibson Desert area forms part of the plateau of central Western Australia.

Rainfall in the desert ranges from 200-250 mm/year and evaporation is about 3600 mm/year. The average maximum temperatures range from 18o C in winter to 40o C in summer. In winter night time temperatures can get as low as 6o C.

The wildlife of the area includes red kangaroo, emu, greater bilby, bush stone curlew, spiny or mountain devil, the perentie (Varanus Giganteus) - the largest goanna in Australia. Feral camels are also present.

The desert was named after Alfred Gibson. Gibson perished while looking for water when attempting to cross it in 1874, on an exploratory expedition with Ernest Giles. Giles, who successfully crossed the region in 1876, only narrowly avoided a similar fate, subsisting for weeks on dried horse meat and extremely limited water supplies.

In much of the region, especially the drier western portion, the only human inhabitants of the area are Aboriginal People, many of whom have had very limited contact with the outside world. In 1984, due to a severe drought which had dried up all of the springs and depleted the bush foods, a group of the Pintupi people who were living a traditional semi-nomadic desert-dwelling life, walked out of a remote wilderness in the central-eastern portion of the Gibson Desert (northeast of Warburton) and made contact for the first time with European-Australian society. They are believed to have been perhaps the last uncontacted tribe in Australia. On the eastern margin of the region, population centres (which include people of European descent) include Warburton, Mantamaru and Warakurma.

The plains of the Gibson Desert are covered with a layer of ferruginous stones produced by the weathering of mesas of the area, that are capped by ironstone.


  1. Mary E White, Running Down, Water in a Changing Land, Kangaroo Press, 2000
  2. Twidale, C.R. & Campbell, E.M., 2005, Australian Landforms: Understanding a Low, Flat, Arid, and Old Landscape, Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated 02/04/2020


Gibber Plains
 Mt Poole
Gibson Desert
Great Sandy Desert
Great Victoria Desert
Riverine Desert
Simpson Desert
Strzelecki Desert
Sturt's Stony Desert
Tirari Desert
Tanami Desert


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