Camel Trek to Lake Frome: Wirrealpa Mine

The Wirrealpa Silver-Lead Mine, which is around 37 kilometres from Blinman, was established in 1887 and though great hopes were held for its success, it closed down in 1898. It reopened in 1947 and closed again in 1951. All that remains is the wooden structure of the crusher tower and the lime kiln or chimney base. The ore in the 1880s was transported using bullocks and camels to Parachilna. Slow and expensive. The lack of water would also have been a problem.

Crusher tower, Wirrealpa silver mine.

It took me some time to search the hills above the creek to find the mine and I ran out of time to do any photography in the late afternoon when the light softened. I only had time for a quick photo whilst I made my way back to the camp before the sun went behind the hills. Dusk was short, and it got dark quickly.

Wirrealpa Creek, northern Flinders Ranges

As I walked back I puzzled over how would you photograph this country in a different way to the tourist approach? But I was also a tourist—sure, an eco one, but still a tourist. I didn’t live in this country or spend several weeks at a time walking though it and getting to know it. I was passing through a landscape.

However, I did have a sense of being in the country that was different to the way the pastoralist or the miner used and abused the land to create wealth and the myths they created about the frontier — namely, conflict, violence, and the subjugation of nature and indigenous peoples are legitimated as natural and inevitable for ensuring the ‘progress’ of civilisation.

The issues is about the relationship to land. Being in the country implied letting the country be, rather than subjugating and exploiting it. So how could I photograph the country differently to the tourist, pastoralist and miner? Could I tell a story different to the settler frontier one with its icons of pioneer, empty wilderness, settlement that form the basis of national identity?  

So, what story could I tell with the photos? I didn’t have an answer.

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