We returned to walking in the northern Flinders Ranges in the winter of 2022. This time we would be on our own both in terms of accommodation at Nudlamutana Hut and walking the various trails in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park and the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

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.

clouds, Blinman

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.

Acacia Ridge walk

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) .

stockyards, Balcanoona

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 VulkathunhaGammon 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.

homestead, old Arkaroola Pastoral Station

The VulkathunhaGammon Ranges are no bucolic respite or refuge. The views from Acacia Ridge gave a clear sense of both the folly of pastoralism in the VulkathunhaGammon 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.

Hookina Creek: deep history

Two months after the camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome we returned to the Flinders Ranges to walk in the Vulkathunha–Gammon Ranges National Park under the auspices of the Retire Active SA Bushwalkers. On the way to Balcanoona we stayed at Hawker in the southern Flinders Ranges and in the afternoon I went looking for the road to Lake Torrens in the locality of Barndioota. The latter was proposed as a possible site for a nuclear dump.

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.

Hookina Creek, southern Flinders Ranges

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.

at Stokes Hill Lookout

As mentioned in an earlier post we stopped at Stokes Hill Lookout on our way to Hawker from Blinman the day after finishing the camel trek. The lookout offered a view of Wilpena Pound after the overnight rain. The deep past of the Flinders Ranges was historically defined as terra nullius: a land belonging to no one.  Reading a landscape is an activity mediated through the viewer’s cultural lens.

Stokes Hill Lookout

Looking at the Flinders Ranges from this topographical perspective you could see that this was a very old landscape, geologically speaking. What you couldn’t see, and what the bronze tourist diorama at the lookout didn’t mention, was that this old landscape was also a peopled landscape. The Ikara-Flinders Ranges were glacial refugia for the aboriginal people during the Pleistocene, roughly 25-16 thousand years before the present. So we have a long pre-colonial history.

E.C. Frome’s expedition to Lake Frome

Three years have passed since the 2018 camel trek from Umberatana to Mt Hopeless. In early 2021 we decided to undertake another camel trek, this time to go east from Blinman through the Flinders Ranges via Chambers Gorge then follow Chambers Creek to Lake Frome.

Early in 2021 I had come across some historical material about E. C. Frome, South Australia’s third Surveyor-General. Frome had succeeded Colonel William Light as Surveyor General of the newly established colony of South Australia, and in 1841 he surveyed large areas of the colony, including mapping and recording new territory around Orrorro, north of the newly established city of Adelaide. In 1843 he explored the eastern flank of the Flinders Ranges as far as Mt McKinley (which he mistook for Mt Serle that had been named by E. J Eyre in 1839-40) in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park.

Frome was mapping the country looking for permanent water that the pastoralists needed to establish their sheep runs. In doing so he saw the eastern plains up to Mt Hopeless and Lake Frome which he described: ‘a more barren sterile country could not be imagined.’ The land eastwards of the Flinders Ranges simply was not suitable for agriculture or pastoralism.

Frome made a water colour of these plains in 1843, which he entitled ‘First view of the salt desert–called Lake Torrens’:

The salt lake is now called Lake Frome. Lake Torrens is on the western side of the Flinders Ranges.

The reason for the misnaming is that three years earlier (1840-41) Edward Eyre had explored north and west of the Flinders Ranges, and after sighting several salt lakes concluded that a continuous horse-shaped Lake Torrens created a barrier to the north of the continent.

In his journal Eyre describes the extent of Lake Torrens as he sees it, stretching in an arc from the west around to the east and with the surface too soft and yielding for any attempt to cross. His expectations of a route to the north and the possible discoveries of pastoral land, flowing rivers and lakes of fresh water, were barred by the appearance of an enormous horseshoe shaped salt lake.

SA colonial photography: a note

I am not having that much success in my research on expedition photography in South Australia. I recently came across a book on colonial photography in Australia entitled Shifting Focus: Colonial Australian Photography 1850-1920 ed., Anne Maxwell and Josephine Croci (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2015). It looked promising as the Introduction states that photography circa 1850-60 was shown in the technology section (optical instruments) of the Great Exhibition in London (1851) and not in the fine art section. Photography, they continue, shared with science common roots in empiricism and positivism, an optimistic faith in progress, and common agendas to see and know the world. Photography entered the nineteenth-century imagination as a way of capturing the world in precise detail, and bringing it home for careful study. References to travel, geography, topography, and landscape are common in this period.

This insight references Joan Schwarz’s article ‘Records of Simple Truth and Precision: Photography, Archives and the Illusion of Control’ (2000) that is based on her PhD thesis. Schwartz argues that in the 1840s travel was embraced as a way of seeing and knowing the world and photographs offered a new means of acquiring, ordering and disseminating geographical information. This was an era when geographical movement was embraced as intellectual method,and observation was the paradigm of knowing, photography made it possible to gather and disseminate all kinds of information in visual form, with unprecedented ease and accuracy. Photography’s links with science meant that it was seen as a method for observing, representing, and knowing the world. Photography was seen as an enhanced form of visual note taking, a tool of observation, and an accurate and reliable means of documentation.The photograph as a means of extending human powers of scientific observation is characterized as the topographical tradition, with the positivist rhetoric of unmediated representation being expressed as a “mirror” of nature, a “window” on the world, and a “mirror” with a memory.

Captain Samuel Sweet, Palmerston township, 1870

Expedition photography in South Australia would fit snugly within the emergent role of photography in making and communicating new knowledge and its significance for natural history as part of the work of empire. Bernard Smith in his European Vision and the South Pacific says that the development and introduction of photography represented a significant juncture in the use of images as records and for interpreting visible phenomena. This emerging photographic culture was directed, as needed, towards fulfilling an official agenda of satisfying the appetite of a European public eager for curiosities suitably composed to current tastes. Images of natural history subjects were produced not only as scientific documents or as artistic conceits but also to validate and promote Britain’s expanding empire.

Shifting Focus does mention expedition photography in South Australia: — namely, Tim Smith’s and Kitty Magee’s articles on Goyder’s 1869 Northern Territory Survey Expedition to survey this territory so as to establish colonial settlement in and around Port Darwin. Joseph Brooks and especially Captain Sweet photographed the early stage of this part of Australian colonial settlement process — ie., they, and especially Sweet, made positive views of colonial development, progress and prosperity.

Sweet’s Darwin photos were taken while he was working as a ship’s captain for the South Australian Government, commanding a supply vessel supporting the exploration (1869) and settlement (1869-71) of Darwin and the construction of the Overland Telegraph (1870-72). Sweet was not employed as a photographer when he took these photographs and his Darwin photographs can be also understood as a surrogate for travel at a time when travel was the premier avenue to knowledge of the world. Photographs were cheaper, more truthful, more accessible, more convenient, and more egalitarian than other forms of visual imagery.