The incredible difference Outback Cleanups Australia is making to our local land- and sea-scape.
You might think 61,000 kilograms of rubbish removed from remote Australia would involve heavy machinery, teams of people and a big government budget.
That’s a fair assumption. But in this case, you’d be wrong. Boe and Kim, two young South Australians, have been hard at work since January 2019, and have managed to remove that incredible amount of rubbish from Australia’s most remote and stunning landscapes.
And there’s not a piece of heavy machinery in sight. Just four hands, an old Toyota LandCruiser, and a homemade trailer.
And with 61 tonnes of waste and 120,000km of driving logged, Outback Cleanups is making a real difference to the rubbished and remote parts of Australia.
Originally hailing from Mintabie – a tiny opal mining town in the remote northern reaches of South Australia – Boe Langford is the driving force behind Outback Cleanups.
Over the years it has progressed from good idea to not-for-profit organisation, and will soon be registered officially as a charitable organisation. But like so many good ideas, it’s something that germinated over many years from experience as a kid.
The family left Mintabie when Boe was five, presumably because mum thought there might have been better places to raise kids. They moved 1160km to Sellicks Beach, south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
And from that young age, he can remember the impact of rubbish on the area.
“There were schools of squid and garfish and that kind of thing. And you don’t see any of it now, but you might see a chip packet or a muesli bar wrapper or something blowing by,” Boe said.
Fast-forward some years, and Boe is working in the area as a carpenter. While not working, he was a keen dirt bike rider. Boe built himself a trailer, with the idea of travelling and working around Australia with his bikes in the trailer.
A workplace accident put Boe into a rehab course over 10 months. Every cloud has its silver lining, and Boe got plenty of time for contemplation.
“Because I was on [the beach] for hours every day, I really got to know how much rubbish was there, and where it was coming from,” he said.
“You’d literally clean the same spot, and the next day you’d see how much would just come in overnight with the wind and the tide and people.”
Joining groups like Sea Shepherd helped Boe make a difference, but he wanted to do more. He wanted to go big-time.
“I spent three months travelling down across the Nullarbor and south-western WA, and was just shocked at the amount of rubbish out there. I thought to myself ‘this is full on’. Like, there’s got to be someone that just travels around and just picks this shit up. It’s such a bad problem.
“I pulled into Esperance library and spent three days just to find a charity, or someone I could join. Someone I could notify about it, or just to do something about it. And there wasn’t one.
“So, I thought, well, my back’s buggered, what can I do about it?”
A lot, is the answer.
Outback Cleanups Australia – in earnest
From that point, the Outback Cleanups movement has gone from strength to strength.
Initially, Boe’s only companion was his beloved Toyota LandCruiser Troopcarrier: a 1993 HZJ75 RV with the stoutly reliable 4.2-litre 1HZ naturally aspirated diesel engine under the bonnet.
The Toyota has 480,000km on the clock, 120,000 of which have been clocked chasing rubbish across the country. It earned the nickname ‘Boomy’ after the gearbox made a loud boom as it blew up.
Boe has since been joined by his now partner Kim, who is an active member of the Outback Cleanups team.
And while the idea of travelling the country and visiting beautiful areas while picking up rubbish might sound romantic and appealing, Boe explains that what they do is hard yakka.
“You’re out in the dust picking up people’s rubbish with flies. You’re covered in shit, you’re not going to have a shower for the next three days. It’s proper hard work.
“So, we’ve taken people out before and within half an hour they’re bent over panting in the heat and they just can’t cook it, you know? Can’t cope.”
It’s not just picking up the rubbish, either. Every load of rubbish gets weighed, sorted and logged as well, giving Outback Cleanups a unique and powerful database of trends across Australia.
And, of course, there are boggings. Something that comes with the territory when you’re spending so much time off-road. One of the worst was crossing the Victoria River in the Northern Territory, which included two days of winching and digging, a visit from a helicopter, and help from the locals.
“I spent the morning walking up the Victoria River looking for crocodiles,” Boe said.
Boe clarifies: “Not looking for crocodiles, but I was ready with an idling chainsaw and a hand spear. Then I cut down about 12 little trees. There are trees everywhere out there”.
The trees worked as traction boards to help get to the other side of the river, but he got stuck once again in his attempt to climb out.
“The Indigenous ended up coming out from Yarralin community, and they skull-dragged it out with two old petrol 75 Series utes chained together.
“I only had $100, so I gave them $100 and we called that a day. But that was a day and a half just trying to get across the river.”
Another notable bogging was near Dundee Beach, once again in the Northern Territory. Bogged down to the axles in the middle of a saltpan, they had no choice but to spend six hours burying both spare wheels to winch themselves out of the treeless salt plain.
“Lots of digging. Lots of digging in 40-degree heat, that was shit.”
What about disposing of their haul? When they are full to the brim, the team will descend upon the closest local municipal tip or waste disposal centre, hat-in-hand. But often it’s Kim and Boe sticking their hands in their own pocket to properly dispose of the waste.
“So we just roll in and explain what we’re doing. If they want to waive the fee or discount it, brilliant. If not, we’ll just pay it. It sucks to pay to dump someone else’s rubbish, I won’t deny that. But it makes the organisation function.”
And when Outback Cleanups is largely self-funded, they are running a delicate balancing act of reducing costs as much as possible, while also removing as much rubbish as they can.
Outback Cleanups Australia
Amongst those 61,000 tonnes, Boe remembers a strange mix of rubbish: guns, sex toys, whale bones and outboard motors.
The team has managed to return four phones in the last 12 months, and returned a wallet that spent a month on a beach along the Nullarbor.
A Woolworths plastic bag – dated from 1976 – was pulled out of the sand of the Eyre Peninsula. It was still in good enough condition to be used; a scary reminder about plastic waste.
The future looks promising for Outback Cleanups. They will soon be a fully-fledged charitable organisation, which will reduce operating costs and allow additional support through companies and individuals.
For example, this would help reduce the fuel bill, which averages around $35,000 per year.
From this point, Boe and Kim are looking to grow their movement through increased awareness, and perhaps adding another vehicle for increased carrying capacity.
“I suppose our underlying mission is to bridge a gap between your hardcore petrol GQ bogans on 35s, and then your vegan latte-sipping, full on left-wing people,” Boe said.
What about individuals who might want to help Outback Cleanups? Boe is quick to answer:
“The eco-friendly way: buy an OCA Sack off our website and go and pick some rubbish up.
“They’re made from recycled shade cloth that goes to landfill normally. So, just by manufacturing and selling our sacks every year, we reduce about half a tonne from landfill just doing that.
“But financially supporting us, if people don’t want to pick up rubbish or don’t have a cleanup, we’ve got a whole heap of sustainable made hemp T-shirts online.”
To find out more about Outback Cleanups Australia, or stay up to date, follow them on social media:
Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.