A pan across a skeleton-littered desert of ‘prehistoric bones’ sets the scene. As the camera sweeps across this vast landscape, the voice-over narration tells of the Aborigines, explorers, settlers, prospectors and drovers who travelled up and down the land defying ‘loneliness, droughts, dust storms’.
Emerging over the sand hills in his reliable Leyland Badger, comes Her Majesty’s Royal Mailman Tom Kruse, with his passenger William Henry and a little traveller in the back, ploughing through the desert to bring the mail to the people living on stations and outposts along the track – 'their only link to the outside world’.
The poetic narration in these opening scenes is used throughout the film and adds to the documentary’s romantic image of the ‘never-never’ country. This builds up a narrative rhythm that, with the layers of metaphor, casts the film into the realm of folklore. The narration describes the Birdsville Track as a place ‘disappearing into the mirage over the edge of the world’; Marree as a ‘corrugated iron town shimmering in the corrugated air; and Birdsville as ‘seven iron houses burning in the sun between two deserts’. Heyer employed poet Douglas Stewart to co-script the narration, and his turn of phrase is evident in descriptions such as these.
The narration also describes the landscape as the 'path of a vanishing race, the Australian Aborigines, who travelled up and down for centuries’, reflecting the belief, commonly held at the time, that Indigenous Australians were a dying race, part of the continent’s history but not its future.