In the history of colonial exploration was Babbage who found a passage through the salt lakes of Lake Kati Thanda Eyre and Lake Gregory to the north of the South Australia, thereby dispelling Edward John Eyre’s myth of a series of salt lakes (Lake Torrens, Kati Thanda Lake Eyre (North and South), Lake Gregory, Lake Blanche, Lake Callabonna and Lake Frome) encircling the Flinders Ranges. Babbage was the first European to verify that there is a gap between Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre.
I’d been hoping that we would make camp amongst the granite outcrops that we walked through in the mid-afternoon so that I would be able photograph them in softer light.
It was such a stark, arid old landscape. Had this part of South Australia been photographed with a frontier lens I wondered? Presumably, both H. H. Tilbrook on his 1894 trip to the Flinders Ranges and Frederich Allen Joyner when he accompanied Hans Heysen to the Flinders Ranges 1927, only photographed in the southern Flinders Ranges. Maybe George Aiston as he was based as a mounted police trooper on the Birdsville Track about halfway between Marre and Birdsville, though he usually traveled north rather than south. He provided all the photos for Savage Life In Central Australia.
We pushed on past Mt Babbage. There wasn’t enough food to camp on the stony, granite plain here for the camels that night. We ended up making camp near a slight creek bed on a sandy, plain with its Acacia victoriae that provided the necessary food for the camels.
We placed our swags for the night amongst the strands of melaleuca in the creek bed. I couldn’t help wonder about the colonial history of exploration and its maps laid over the territory in the light of my vague memories of the South Australian Museum’s 1986 Art and Land exhibition of the enigmatic toas of the Diyari people that I’d seen over 40 years ago.
The Diyari and related peoples who lived in the salt lake country (the eastern Lake Eyre region) prior pastoralism, the fatal collisions of the colonial encounter, the complexity of the colonial frontier and the establishment of the remote, desert mission of Killalpaninna, regularly walked this arid landscape on their trading routes. They would have had expert knowledge of the terrain of Northern Flinders Ranges in contrast to the empty landscape (a terra nullius) of explorers such as Sturt, Stuart, Babbage and Gregory.