We stayed overnight in a motel style accommodation behind The Miners Crib Cafe Bakery at Blinman on our way to the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges. We arrived late in the afternoon — just before sunset — so I only had a few minutes of photography. It was too late for me to do the large format photography in the area of the Blinman that I’d tenuously planned and hoped I could do.
I only walked a little way along the Parachilna Gorge Rd as the last rays of the sun were on the hills and the cloud formation. The light vanished moments latter and it was off to the Blinman Pub for a drink and an evening meal.
On our last full day in the southern Flinders Ranges we drove through Brachina Gorge which runs through the Heysen Range towards Lake Torrens. We started from the Blinman Hawker Rd, exited on the road to Parachilna + Leigh Creek, then returned to Hawker via the Moralana Gorge Rd through the Elder Range in the late afternoon.
We walked around the area known as the Golden Spike which marks the geological reference point for the Ediacaran Period. This is where we ran into Natalie and Ryan McMillan from the Flinders and Beyond Camel Treks who were spending an afternoon looking for fossils. We chatted for a while and then I concentrated on slowly walking around and photographing the gorge walls:
The rock formations were easily accessible for large format photography as there was no need to walk kilometers up a creek bed carrying the gear. The rock formations in the gorge wall were in open shadow and so they could be photographed during the day even when it was bright and sunny.
We left Balcanoona in the early morning and drove to Hawker via the Wearing Pass and Blinman. We were to spend two days in Hawker so that I could see if could find a road that would provide public access to Lake Torrens.
Late that afternoon I drove out to the 5 Ways Corner and the Hookina Creek floodplain that I had briefly explored whilst we were on our way to Balcanoona. There was a road sign at the corner that pointed to Lake Torrens.
I made several photos of the Balcanoona stockyards and sharing shed prior to the short walk along Acacia Ridge on the last day — Day 8. It was a short walk as we were to have a farewell lunch at the cafe/restaurant at the Arkaroola Resort. We were to leave Balcanoona to spend 2 days in the township of Hawker the following morning. Hawker is the gateway to the Flinders Ranges (as seen by the satellite of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission) .
It was an easy but fascinating climb to Acacia Ridge in this semi-arid mountainous landscape. There were seven species of Acacia along Acacia Ridge: Dead Finish, a spiky shrub; Mulga, a greyish tree; Elegant Wattle, a grey shrub with spines Barrier Range Wattle and Witchetty Bush. Some were flowering. We also saw some plants unusual for the Northern Flinders Rangers – eg., the delicate pink- flowered Fringe-myrtle and Green Fuchsia-bush which are both more common further south and can only be seen here in good seasons. There was also a strand of gum-barked Coolibah trees along the ridge that took advantage of the extra water that would flow down the rock face.
The ridge itself is of Blue Mine Conglomerate, one of the older sediments of the Adelaide Geosyncline. This conglomerate was formed from sediments laid down 800-900 million years ago —a stunning example of the deep time of the Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges.
The hike offered views of the old homestead of the Arkaroola Pastoral Station nestled in the series of ridges with the Arkaroola Rd from Balcanoona winding its way past the homestead towards the Arkaroola resort. It suggests that we need to dump the bifurcation of nature and civilization, or the idea that nature exists as something that sustains civilization, but exists outside of society’s walls. This has its roots in the aesthetic distance in the green Romantic view of nature as a bucolic respite from the horrors of industrial society.
The Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges are no bucolic respite or refuge. The views from Acacia Ridge gave a clear sense of both the folly of pastoralism in the Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges, and their sheer strange or uncanny wildness. This is not country where you go walking on your own off the marked trails, unless you are a highly skilled bushwalker.
Day 7, which was the second to last walk was in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. It was known as the Bararranna walk and it was a sign posted one.
The trail walk started near an old copper Welcome mine, then we walked up and across some shaley slopes with Mulga, Dead Finish and Rock Fuchsia-bush. Then we dropped down into a small creek that was a tributary of Arkaroola Creek. Arkaroola Creek was the main focus of the day’s walk– the creek rises off Mainwater Pound in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges and it flows south-east for about 55 km where it eventually discharges onto the plains surrounding the north-western edge of Lake Frome.
The small tributary had little waterfall formations which we clambered down and its walls included glacial tillite. There was no water in the tributary creek which looked as if there hadn’t flowed for a long time . The tributary lead to a junction with Arkaroola Creek where we came upon a large water hole with water, young Red River Gum trees shooting at the waters edge, and birds. It was great to see the burst of this new growth.
Day 6 involved driving up the road to Paralana Hot Springs, a walk along Kingsmill Creek, Arkaroola Creek and Tillite Gorge. It was a long day as left the shearer’s quarters at 8.30 am and returned late in the afternoon. We arrived back too late for the planned 5×4 session — moreover it was too dark and windy and I was tired from the days walk.
There was no water in Kingsmill Creek as we walked downstream past the the Sturt Desert Pea on the side of the boulder-strewn creek, the red river gums and over a mix of colourful and heavily marked stones and rocks. The bright yellow-brown and iron rich boulders stood out. They looked old and seemed to indicate the presence of the Paralana fault.
I was starting to think in terms of the geological history of the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges. No doubt a geologist would be able to read the various rock strata that I was seeing as if it were pages in an ancient archival book.
I had a sense that we were walking over glacial deposits that reached back to the Sturtglaciation, an intensely cold period of immense glaciation, which extended from the north pole to the south pole that has been described by some as ‘Snowball Earth’.
Prior to this was a significant event in South Australia, namely the formation of a giant rift valley to the east of Arkaroola some 850 million years ago. At this time, this was the east coast of Australia – there were no “eastern states” – and the Australian continent was found very close to the equator within a super-continent known to geologists as “Rodinia”. The rift valley, known as the Adelaide Geosyncline, occurred when the valley sides slowly “pulled-apart” along fault lines and the valley floor descended. This created, in a marine environment, a “geosyncline” into which eroding streams from adjacent mountains deposited their sediments.
Day 5 at Balcanoona was a rest day. I wanted to use it to both explore locations beyond the planned RASA walks and to scope for subject matter that would be suitable for a planned 5×4 photo session.
I photographed the rock walls of Echo Cliffs in the Balcanoona Creek plus some tree trunks and stones in the creek bed before breakfast. I was scoping possibilities for a 5×4 photo session. I decided that the wall of Echo Cliffs looked to be the more promising possibility for the 5×4.
Breakfast was in the sun on the veranda of the shearers quarters at Balcanoona In the late morning Suzanne and I drove 20 kilometres to Italowie Gap on the road to Copley. We had morning coffee in the Italowie camp ground, drove a kilometre or so into the Gap, and then briefly walked around the bed of the Italowie Creek.
The second walk was an easy one. It started from the Arkaroola Village complex. It follows the Mawson Valley and returns along the Spriggina ridge. The walk is named after two geologists who had a long association with the northern Flinders Ranges — Douglas Mawson and Reg Sprig. Or more accurately, Spriggina refers to a fossil from the late Ediacaran period in what is now South Australia that was found by Sprig. It is the oldest fossil organism to be described with a “head”.
We walked along the Mawson Valley towards a large, pinkish granitic rock known as Sitting Bull. Why did Mawson in 1945 name this rock complex in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges after an American Indian? Why didn’t he give it an Adnyamathanha name? They are the people who historically lived in and belong to these Ranges, not the American Indians who lived on another continent across the Pacific.
The first days C grade walk on the RASA Bushwalkers camp was in the Balcanoona Range. It was overcast as we walked along Worturpa Creek to Weetoolta Spring had morning coffee at the junction of the Balcanoona and Worturpa creeks, then walked along Belcanoona Creek to Grindells Hut. We had lunch at the hut, which is a stone cottage with a wrap-around verandah. We then returned along Belcanoona Creek to the carpark near the Weetoolta camp ground. It was warm, sunny day around 28 degrees, after the morning clouds had vanished.
We did not walk to Bunyip Chasm that day. It would have been more interesting than Grindells Hut and I’m not sure why we didn’t. Probably because it was too far away. It really requires 4WD to access Grindells Hut and then the Loch Ness Well campsite further on, which is one starting point for the Weetootla Hike Network. I gather that it is then a long walk up a creek bed to Bunyip Chasm.
My time in the early morning before breakfast at Balcanonna was spent wandering around and inside the old shearing shed. I didn’t have that much time in the morning to wander too far between sunrise and breakfast as we had to be ready to meetup for the daily walks between 8.30-9am.
The shearing shed was ideal. So I potted around exploring its various spaces inside and out with a hand held digital camera.
This central aspect of the pastoral world of yesteryear in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges was now a kind of museum. You could wander around it trying to imagine what the life on this station was like with the Afghan camel trains passing through.