The concept of 'back' country, which initially meant land beyond the settled regions, was in existence in 1800. Crossing of the Blue Mountains and other exploration of the inland however gave a different dimension to the perception. The term "outback" was first used in print in 1869, when the writer clearly meant west of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Early European exploration of inland Australia was sporadic. More focus was on the more accessible and fertile coastal areas. The first party to successfully cross the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney was led by Gregory Blaxland in 1813, 25 years after the colony was established. People, starting with John Oxley in 1817, 1818 and 1821, followed by Charles Sturt in 1829–1830, attempted to follow the westward-flowing rivers to find an "inland sea", but these were found to all flow into the Murray River and Darling River which turn south.
Over the period 1858 to 1861, John McDouall Stuart led six expeditions north from Adelaide, South Australia into the outback, culminating in successfully reaching the north coast of Australia and returning without the loss of any of the party's members' lives. This contrasts with the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in 1860–61 which was much better funded, but resulted in the deaths of three of the members of the transcontinental party.
In 1865 the surveyor George Goyder, using changes in vegetation patterns, mapped a line in South Australia, north of which he considered rainfall to be too unreliable to support agriculture.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) started service in 1928 and helps people who live in the outback of Australia. In former times, serious injuries or illnesses often meant death due to the lack of proper medical facilities and trained personnel.
Riversleigh, in Queensland, is one of Australia's most renowned fossil sites and was recorded as a World Heritage site in 1994. The 100 km (39 sq mi) area contains fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles of Oligocene and Miocene age.
The total population of the Outback in Australia declined from 700,000 in 1996 to 690,000 in 2006. The largest decline was in the Outback Northern Territory, while the Kimberley and Pilbara showed population increases during the same period. The sex ratio is 1040 males for 1000 females and 17% of the total population is indigenous.
While the early explorers used horses to cross the outback, the first woman to make the journey riding a horse was Anna Hingley, who rode from Broome to Cairns in 2006.
Culturally, the Outback is deeply ingrained in Australian heritage, history and folklore. In 2009, as part of the Q150 celebrations, the Queensland Outback was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a "natural attraction".
Capitalising on the lack of pasture improvement and absence of fertiliser and pesticide use, many Outback pastoral properties are certified as organic livestock producers. In 2014, 17,000,000 hectares (42,000,000 acres), most of which is in Outback Australia, was fully certified as organic farm production, making Australia the largest certified organic production area in the world.