Gibbers — the Plain Truth

One of the interesting sights of the Australian Outback is the gibber plain. That’s “gibber” with a hard “g” as in “get”. (“Gibber” with a soft “g’ as in “giraffe” is different altogether, and means “chatter” or “speak inarticulately”, as in “When he was stoned, he turned into a gibbering idiot.”)

In the Dharuk aboriginal language, “gibber” means “stone”. A gibber plain is usually (but not always) mostly devoid of vegetation, and is covered with rocks of various sizes, sometimes as big as a brick. There are various theories as to how a gibber plain is formed, the most popular being that it’s due to the gradual removal of sand, soil and other small-particle matter by wind and intermittent rain, leaving the rocks as a protective surface layer. Gibber plains are often very extensive, stretching as far as the eye can see.

F1000018 (5)Sometimes the rocks are coated with a hard shiny layer of “desert varnish”, a thin coating of manganese, iron and clay, which has been baked in the sun for thousands of years.

IMG_0799The variety of colour is sometimes quite dramatic.

IMG_0810As you can imagine, most hard-hoofed animals such as sheep, cattle and horses are unsuited to travel on gibber country. Some of the early explorers who used horses discovered this to their sorrow. (They weren’t even carrying Swiss Army knives, which have that special little tool for getting stones out of horses’ hooves.) Camels have only vestigial hooves, and hence can handle gibber country far better than horses. As far as I know, there are no Australian native animals with hooves.

Working dogs which have to operate in stony country have sometimes been fitted with leather boots to protect their feet from the stones.



About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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4 Responses to Gibbers — the Plain Truth

  1. Jo says:

    Hi Rob, was going to say it looks just like Jordan…until I saw the pic of the emus! When I am in the city I miss the gibber plains but when I am in the gibber country I remember how uncomfortable it is to camp on.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      That’s right — gibbers and camping don’t go well together. I’d be good if we could find an overseas market for gibbers. We could just scrape ’em up into heaps and send ’em off to China or somewhere. But then the government would probably introduce a gibber tax.

  2. Not so easy to walk on even for creatures without hooves — like hikers. Still, wonderfully dramatic and fascinating region. I was always fascinated by the gleaming coat left by the “desert varnish.” Great post and photos — thanks.

  3. Ros B says:

    The photos are terrific, such strong colours. It seems that even camels sometimes had special shoes to cope with the stones. In her book, The Dig Tree, Sarah Murgatroyd writes about the tragic tale of Burke and Wills journey across Australia. She descibes how the camels were the pride of the expedition and besides being fitted with a waterproof rug, complete with a hole for the hump(!), each camel had two sets of camel shoes, made of several folds of leather, and shod with iron, designed for travelling over stony ground. She adds the camels enjoyed a level of care normally reserved for visiting English opera singers. Lucky them!

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