Any Australian can tell you where the Outback is. It's out there, somewhere beyond the coastal fringe of the country where most of the population lives, beyond the chic café society of sophisticated cities like Sydney and Melbourne and Perth, beyond the green halo of productive farmland that surrounds them. But the Outback is more than just a place. It's a state of mind.

The first Europeans didn't settle in Australia until 1788, and their exploration of Australia's dry, desolate heartland produced heroic tales of hope and courage, triumph and tragedy. I saw for myself how remote and challenging the outback was in the fuzzy black-and-white photos and faded Kodachromes my parents took when they drove a 1937 Dodge Coupe right across the country, from Adelaide on the south coast to Darwin in the north, in 1955.

The stories of that trip were family legend. More than half a century later, I'm about to relive the legend, and reconnect with Australia's pioneering spirit. I'm heading north out of my old hometown, Adelaide, through lashing rain with photographer Julia LaPalme and videographer Jim Gleason in a Subaru Outback, a right-hand drive, Australian-spec version of our 2010 Sport/Utility of the Year with the 3.6-liter flat-six under the hood. We're heading for Darwin. We're heading for...the Outback.