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.
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.
I was able to do some hand held film photography with the Rolleiflex TLR in the early morning of Day 4 in the creek bed opposite our camp. (The film still needs to be processed). I was starting again after losing the previous roll of photos made during the previous three days.
This was Adnyamanthanha country, and I was a stranger walking through it with no knowledge of their history, the geography of the various watercourses and creeks that came down from the northern Flinders Ranges and flowed east towards Lake Frome or the historical geology of the country. I knew nothing about the frontier wars in the northern Flinders; nothing about the sites of significance for the Adnyamanthanha people; the stories for those sitesor the power of particular places in this country.
I presumed the pastoralists in the mid-nineteenth century regarded the country — including the waterholes and springs — as their land despite only having a lease. The Adnyamanthanha people were free to move across the pastoral leases which were for grazing purposes only. Both pastoralists and the Adnyamanthanha people shared the land according to the High Court’s 1996 Wik Judgement’s interpretation of the nature of the pastoral lease.
However, the pastoralists viewed the Adnyamanthanha people as invaders with no rights to the land, and they had no reservation about killing the Adnyamanthanha whilst taking their water and hunting grounds from them. The Adnyamanthanha people, especially during the drought in the mid-1860s, raided the stock and the colonists huts for food and killed the hut keepers. The pastoralists retaliated and the police would then be sent to hunt the Adnyamanthanha down to protect the pastoral industry.
This was the frontier. The logic was simple: –the border wars were about the ownership and control of the land, about taking it by force from those who had been in possession for 40-50,000 years.
The pastoralists kept expanding — by the 1860s they had moved beyond Mt Hopeless to Lake Blanche. The Lutheran mission (Bethesda) was established at Lake Killalpaninna in 1868, where the missionaries tried to create a German agrarian community based on sheep, goats and growing vegetables in Dieri country that was shaped by the extreme cycles of drought and flood. The Nepabunna mission in the northern Flinders was established in 1931.
So what happened to the Adnyamanthana people between the 1860s and 1931? They had survived the loss of their country. But how? What was the long, entwined colonial history between the Adnyamanthanha people, pastoralists and the state? Were the Adnyamanthanha people more than fringe or camp dwellers near the station’s homestead?
The historical discourse of Australian history has been one of the displacement of Aboriginal people and the establishment of settlers as the natural occupants of the land. The historical narrative is one of a progressive embrace of modernity. So where were the memorials or monuments to the more than 20,000 indigenous people killed in the frontier or border wars in Australia?
We were still walking on Angoriachina Station walking in a north easterly direction from our starting point at Blinman. We walked close to Red Hill and the western boundary of Wirrealpa Station as we traversed various ridges and tablelands with their various water erosions. It was slow going for the camels as we made our way through various old pastoral fences that were in a rundown condition. Sometimes we found a gate, other times we looked for a fallen part of the fence lying flat on the ground. I didn’t understand why the fences were where they were. Were they to prove the pastoralist’s developing the unimproved land?
It was hot, dry and dusty walking across the clay and stony plains with their minimal salt and blue bush vegetation. Lots of flies. The country looked to be in a bad condition from excessive grazing –some of it looked too degraded to rehabilitate. Rehabilitation would need to be on a massive scale and very expensive.
We crossed the road from Blinman to Wirrealpa (which takes you to the Junta-Arkaroola Rd) and then walked along Eregunda Creek which discharges into Wirrealpa Creek. We made our camp adjacent to a creek bed near the ruins of the small Wirrealpa Silver-Lead Mine. The cliffs of the creek bed or water course were limestone. There was no water in the creek that came from the ranges in Wirrealpa station.
The morning of Day 3 was overcast, but the welcomed cloud cover quickly disappeared after we had loaded up the camels for the days walk. We started walking around 9.30am and Greg was picked up early in the morning by Ed from Angoriachina Station, who dropped him back at the North Blinman Hotel, so that he could make his way back to his home in Sydney. Peter, his Sydney friend, continued on the camel trek with us. This was his second camel trek. A large number of people on the various camel treks are returnees.
The walking pace to Lake Frome picked up as we did not have to stop and wait for people to catch up. The morning was spend crossing 3rd plain, and prior to entering Tea Tree Gorge in the late morning, e saw bullock bushes, a rough blue bell bush, and a young bearded lizard.
By late morning we were walking along the creek bed through Tea Tree Gorge. Lunch was in the gorge. Firewood is collected, a fire is lit, and the billy is boiled. I had a wrap with left overs (sweet and sour chicken wings, hokkien noodles and veges) from the previous nights dinner that had been cooked on a camp oven. I noticed the grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) growing high up on the gorge walls whilst eating a slice of fruit cake with a cup of licorice tea.
I mentioned in the earlier maps and territories post that on Day 8 we’d made our way to a camp near Terrapinna Gorge in the north east of the Flinders Ranges, and that we had an afternoon to explore both the gorge and the Terrapinna Tors. By this stage I was beginning to develop a vague sense of the geography– ie., Hamilton Creek flowed north east to Lake Callabonna and that we were on the southern edge of the arid interior.
What I didn’t I know was the geological history of the arid zone: ie., the historical past of the Pleistocene (2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago,) and the latter Holocene-— the time since the end of the last major glacial epoch, or “ice age around 11, 600 years ago. Nor did I know the history of the different deserts, that of the desert societies prior to colonisation, or how the various desert people were subsequently drawn into various missions and government settlements.
The map I had of this territory was the white settler-colonial one one in which Lake Callabonna was seen to be part of an arc that included Lake Blanche and Lake Gregory — a chain of large salt lakes. The map was based on E.J. Eyre’s 1840 expedition to northern South Australia, in which Eyre following the Flinders Ranges found his route blocked to the west, north and east by a chain of large salt lakes. Eyre thought this chain formed a single large ‘horseshoe lake’. He suggested that it was an old arm of the sea. This was the dead heart of settler Australia–a part of the ‘country that was once covered with salt water’; a territory that Charles Sturt understood to be a great inland sea.
In the afternoon of day 8 walking I wandered into Terrapina Gorge on my own as the rest of the group had decided to walk along the Terrapinna Tors trails, rather than entering the gorge. As I slowly made my way upstream, the stranded logs in the trees gave me a sense that a lot of flood water would have flowed through Hamilton creek when the northern monsoons reached the northern Flinders Ranges. As I walked along the rocky walls and sculptured basins I realized that many of Australia’s meandering ephemeral rivers drain inland, that they often end in ephemeral salt lakes (eg., the Lake Eyre drainage basin) and that many of the features of the internal drainage pattern have a very long history.
I wondered how was this gorge part of Australia’s geological past, its deep time of settlement and it being the home for the oldest continuing cultures in human history? From memory the last glacial period was at its most intense about 20 000 years ago, and by around 11,700 years ago the ice had retreated, the sea level had risen, and the land bridges to New Guinea and Tasmania (which had formed the single continent of Sahul) began disappearing under the rising sea. Around 6000 years ago Australia became an island continent. If the First Nation’s people had been in Australia for 65,000 years, then they would have lived through the last ice age and the subsequent dry periods.
I mentioned in this previous post that we would start walking through the Hamilton Valley on days 5 and 6 of the camel trek. The promise was that the creeks in the valley would mean that this area would be greener than the extremely dry pastoral landscape of Mt Freeling Station that we had walked through in the previous days. The Bureau of Meteorology classifies the climate of this region as a desert climate characterised by hot and persistently dry seasons.
It turned out that walking through the Hamilton Valley pretty much meant us slowly making our downstream of a very dry Hamilton Creek: making our way through and around the malaleucas (White Tea-tree) that were growing in the creek bed. Walking the creek bed was the camel way, as the camels do not like going up and down hills. They panic going down a slope.
Basically we were roughly following the footsteps of Warren Bonython, who had walked the Flinders Ranges from end to end. His 1971 book Walking the Flinders Ranges is an account of his epic 1967-1968, 1011 kilometre trek along the Flinders Ranges from Crystal Brook in the south to Mt Hopeless, which marks the end point of the northern Flinders Ranges. In 1840, the explorer Edward John Eyre climbed a low ‘haycock- like’ peak on the plains and described the scene as ‘cheerless and hopeless’. He turned away and beat a hasty retreat to the south.
Bonython had subsequently proposed an extension of the Heysen Trail from Parachilna Gorge in the central Flinders Ranges to Mt Babbage in the northern Flinders Ranges. This proposed extension is no longer on the Heysen Trail agenda, but it remains an option for wilderness walkers. In this region you can walk for 10 days or more and not meet anyone. The group had a copy of Bonython’s book and we read the relevant sections each evening.
We are in the process of deciding whether or not to return to walking in the northern Flinders Ranges in 2021. The two options currently on the table are either walking in the Gammon Ranges with Suzanne’s walking friends under the umbrella of the ARPA Bushwalkers; or doing another camel trek, this time from Blinman to Lake Frome.
I have returned to looking through the archival photos made on the earlier 14 day camel trek in the northern Flinders Ranges we did in 2018. This picture is from the morning of day 2 just before we started the days walk:
Day 2 was a short walk and it enabled us to spend the afternoon exploring the ruins of Yudnamutana mine and the smelter site. Yudanamutana also refers to the copper field of this name.
This mine was worked intermittently for copper from around 1862; work was abandoned in 1867, then picked up by the Flinders Copper Mining Company and worked between 1914 and 1918.