In a harsh environment, where the heat and the flies ensure that madness lurks just around the next boulder, myths are born and nurtured.
Explorers in no-man's land are blinded by the light and condemned to a fate without trace in a landscape so vast and hostile that rescue attempts are futile.
Silly giggly schoolgirls come over all mysterious and disappeary on a Victorian Valentine's Day picnic in the bush, some of them never to be seen, or sane, again.
Backpackers are flagged down on a dusty deserted highway in the Territory by a crazed druggie and subjected to an ordeal beyond imagining.
And cultish campers in the mystical Red Centre have their tiny baby whipped from underneath their noses by a devilish dingo.
And so it came to pass this week that one of the most gripping outback mysteries of the last half-century – the disappearance in 1980 of nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain from a campsite close to Ayers Rock, as it was called then – is set to be reprised. A coroner in the Northern Territory will open a fourth inquest in February to determine the cause of Azaria's death. Her mother was jailed for four years for her daughter's murder back in the 80s before her conviction was overturned. Now she wants her name cleared and has provided 'evidence' that dingoes attack children.
The case divided Australia. Fabulous details embellished the story. (They are easy enough to find online – just type 'dingo baby' into Google – or read the baby's mother's book.) A film was made and Meryl Streep proved once again how good she is at accents.
When animals kill people here – sharks and crocs being the most notorious culprits – the reaction is usually to kill the offender. People dash out to try to track down the Great White that killed a swimmer who ignored the signs warning of the dangers of swimming with sharks. When a boy was attacked and killed on Fraser Island in 2001, the two dingoes responsible were immediately put down and a further 30 dingoes 'hanging around the campsites' were culled to prevent a repeat of the attack. I haven't yet been able to determine whether or not any vengeance was exacted on the Stingray that robbed the nation of one of its great contemporary icons, Steve Irwin, in 2006.
The Fraser Island Dingo is believed to be the purest strain of the animal in Australia. Dingoes migrated from Asia to Australia via a land bridge between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago.
I have two questions. Why on earth would you take a nine-week-old baby camping in the middle of the desert? And how do you educate people to appreciate what they've got before it's gone?
In the meantime, deranged dingoes wouldn't get me to watch Wolf Creek.