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.
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 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.
I found the turnoff near a bend in Hookina Creek on the Five Ways road near the ruins of the Hookina township. Hookina Creek is a drainage creek to Lake Torrens — it drains water from the area south of Wilpena Pound to Warcowie, Willow Plains and Cradock. Adjacent to the Lake Torrens turnoff and by a sweeping bend of the Hookina Creek I came across some old river gum logs lying on the floodplains above the creek.
I could sense the presence of long history. This is in the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area and Adnyamathanha country. These logs have been lying there for a long time and that is a very old creek bed, as are the southern Flinders Ranges in the distance. There must have been huge floods to cut such a broad and deep creek bed into the floodplain.
After leaving the side gorge with its rock drawings we continued walking through Mt Chambers Gorge (Marlawadinha Inbiri) with its high orange coloured limestone walls and big river gums during the afternoon of the 28th May. Ptilotus or mulla mulla with the purple, pink, silver, and yellow candlestick flowers were growing profusely in the creek bed that wound its way through the Wearing Range.
This is Hans Heysen country. It is arid, though not barren or bleak, and it has its own colours and textures. Associated with this visual tradition is a cultural formation about the Australian pastoral landscape representing a pastoral Acardia connected to Australian national identity, with its construct of Australia as a white Anglo-Saxon culture.
This cultural formation in a settler colonial society about a wilderness to be tamed into an Arcadia became a vehicle of national self-definition’ as well as a template for the construction of an idyllic settler colonial pastoral way of life highlights how the concept of the landscape as cultural construct is bound up with our national myths and visions.
Day 6 (ie .26th May) was one of clear skies, a cool wind, and puffy clouds during the afternoon. The day temperature was around 18 degrees. This is pleasant walking weather in an arid country.
We walked across a plain to the east of the Wirrealpa Range crossing the various creek beds that flowed into the southern end of Lake Frome. I slipped on a rock crossing a creek and fell, jarring my back. I walked slowly behind the camels. We crossed the Arkaroola Blinman Rd for the second time and then rested whilst we picked up a food drop in a creek bed by the side of the road.
I was grateful for the food drop rest as the muscles in both my legs and back were starting to hurt and I was now walking with difficulty. I walked at the back of the camel train.
What was being reinforced as I walked was that what people call drought conditions (ie; lack of rain) was actually the new normal. The rain ie., the big monsoonal rain — is now the exception. The winter rains from the south consist of little more than light sprinkles. The monsoonal rains are the key to life in the northern Flinders Ranges.
This arid country had been drying for 50,000 years. The water in the creeks rarely make it to Lake Frome in the east, or to Lake Torrens in the west. Climate heating is speeding up the drying process. According to the latest UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Report Australia’s land area has warmed by about 1.4C since 1910 and are now above anything that could have been caused by natural variation with Australia on track for 2C of warming and its heating faster than the global average. That means that some of the extreme temperatures we are seeing now will be closer to the average by the mid-21st century. Fait accompli.
On Day 5 there was a sprinkle of rain in the early morning, during breakfast and as we packed the camels. A sprinkle that just settled the dust and it cleared as we left Wirrealpa Creek. We were still on Wirrealpa Station, and Ryan and Kym spent some time in the mid-morning looking for a new way through the Wirrealpa Range. Whilst we waited for them to find a way that was suitable for the camels I started thinking about the human history of this region — and how colonial history with its sense of emptiness of nothern South Australia matters. It shapes the present, even if we are not aware of the region’s geological and the human history.
It slowly dawned on me that we were walking through the pastoral landscapes – a landscape where the physical transformation of the land into agriculture did not happen. The heroic pioneer narrative of turning wilderness into garden through the settlers taming nature did not make any sense of the pastoral landscapes in the northern Flinders Ranges. The pastoral landscape did not have to be created. It was already there. Pastoralists just used and extracted from the land and they badly damage it in the process of overgrazing. As they were, and are, unable to significantly transform it to their economic needs, they had to adapt the arid land, with its cycles of drought and flood just like the animals.
Secondly, a cooler Australia was once a vibrant and living environment of people, plants, animals and rocks that had not yet been disseminated by colonial and industrial forces. After the 1850s Aboriginal people had worked on, and traveled between, the sheep stations scattered among their tribal lands through these various ranges. The principal pastoral stations had supplied rations, clothing and a small wage to station-hands and domestics, supporting a network of extended family groups. The Adynamathanha participated in the colonial economy and maintained their traditional activities until they moved to Nepabunna in the 1930s, which was initially run by the missionaries, (1931-73) then the SA state government. They’d survived and increasingly they gained greater autonomy as a people.