Abstract: Many intertwined factors contribute to sustainability in the desert settlements of Birdsville and Bedourie. Taking one factor, the commitment to, and achievement of, full employment for all local residents, this paper draws data from a larger research project into desert settlement sustainability to unpack the components that have interplayed through history and into the present to make that local goal achievable. Current sustainability in these two settlements can be seen as an effect of astute and entrepreneurial adaptation of contemporary opportunities, both external such as policy and internal such as local resources. Yet, the capabilities underpinning such adaptations and the aspirations that drive them have a local history that exists in complex relationship to broader socio-political developments. The ways in which these settlements have resolved past conflicts, addressed past challenges and invested in certain directions over others can all be seen as contributing factors in present sustainability (and associated vulnerabilities). The analysis of this paper suggests that whilst changes in national and state level policy can be swift and impose short timeframes for producing outcomes, the achievement of sustainable settlement outcomes depends on social dynamics and path dependencies that have developed slowly, over time in the particular geographical locale. Settlements inevitably build upon, rather than act outside of, their own legacies, and this is too rarely apprehended in the process of external policy intervention in settlements. The case study of this paper suggests that, as best case scenario, external policy is one component to be employed in what is essentially a local creative process, and it is this creative process that, if tapped, produces sustainability.