Both the surveyed hundreds in the arid lands in the 1870s and the development of the old central railway north in the 1880s were done in anticipation of the continuing northward advance of cropping. ‘Rain would follow the plough’. The droughts of the early 1900s saw the retreat of agricultural and today many of the sections of these far northern hundreds are parts of large grazing properties (stations).
We were to stay at the Shearers Quarters during our 6 days of walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. The first walk the following day (31 July) would be in Weetootla Gorge and to Grindals Hut and return. In the early morning prior to this walk I wandered around an overcast Balcanoona taking a few photos.
The morning (1/6/21) of our short walk away from Lake Frome to our pick up point for the return to Blinman was heavily overcast. We could see rain in the northern Flinders Ranges. Lake Frome at the south eastern end of the Lake Eyre Basin to be an intersection point between the winter rains from the south and the monsoonal summer rains from the north.
We were fortunate to have been able spend the night camped on the edge of Lake Frome floodplain. The next group of 12 who would be walking back to Blinman from the pickup point beyond the old dog fence would only be able to spend an hour in the afternoon there.
The overall impression from being at Lake Frome is one of a long history and a deep time. Deep history restores the historicity to the aboriginal people who, despite being here for 50,000-60,000 years, were deemed to be a people without history by the colonial white settler culture. The latter’s thin and shallow history of 240 years, which was what was dished up in Australia’s classrooms, ignored the story of a peopled landscape of long duration. That was pre-history, even though there is no such thing as a people without history.
I never made it to Lake Frome proper as we camped on a sand dune on the edge of Chambers Creek floodplain near the western shoreline of this ephemeral lake or salt pan. This stretches over a depression approximately 30 miles wide and 60 miles long It is the most southerly playa in an arc of ephemeral lake bodies that lie to the southeast of Lake Eyre in the Lake Eyre Basin. The smaller playa lakes including Lake Frome and Callabonna are sparse as they are fed only by the ephemeral creeks and rivers from the localised catchment areas of the northern Flinders Ranges.
In the dry season, Lake Frome exists as little more than a dry crust of salt and minerals. However, when rains fall in the northern Flinders Ranges, or the floodwaters creep in (usually the overflow from another saltpan to the north, Lake Callabonna), the depression becomes a lake again, providing habitat for a large number of animal and birds. However, significant runoff reaching Lake Frome is rare.
Finally, the day (31st May) that we would reach at Lake Frome dawned. If the south-westerly wind was chilling on the morning of day 11, the early morning light was stunning, whilst the colours of the plants on the 2 tree plain were overwhelming. It was a magic moment, albeit one that didn’t last very long.
Ryan informed us over our breakfast by the fire that we would reach Lake Frome around lunch time. I had no idea what the lake would look like. I imagined a salt lake where I could stand at the edge of lake and photograph a lake of glistening white salt in the late afternoon light. I had Lake Hart between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy on the Stuart Highway in mind.
The photographs on the 2018 camel trek to Mt Hopeless were made naively, with little awareness of the geological history of the Flinders Rangers. I had a vague awareness that the southern Flinders Rangers were conventionally seen as barren, desolate, empty and hostile — a wasteland, desert or timeless land. This is in contrast to the romance of the bush or outback as evoked in the picturesque tourist representations of the Flinders Ranges as a warm, winter, restorative getaway for stressed, suburban Australians.
I didn’t have any knowledge of the recent history of the visual representations of the arid Flinders Ranges, apart from a nodding acquaintance with Hans Heysen’s paintings of the southern Flinders Ranges in the late 1920’s and early 1930s. I’d seen these when I briefly looked at Alisa Bunbury’s Arid Arcadia: Art of the Flinders Ranges in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s bookshop. This plays on the theme of South Australia as a rural arcadia for free immigrants and Heysen’s landscape paintings of the Flinders Ranges have became regional, if not national icons.
Naive in the sense that I just photographed what I saw around me:
Even though I spent little time in them. I was intrigued by the architecture of the towns of the Flinders Rangers, such as in Blinman above and in Hawker over the page.
Naive in the sense that I had no knowledge of the images of photographers who photographed during the 1980s-2000 period, such as Ed Douglas, Stravos Pippos, Michael Kluvanek, and Ian North; nor any sense of the critical writings about the landscape tradition in Australia apart from the central role of the landscape (representations of nature) determining Australia’s national settler identity. Nature as opposed to the development of civilization is central to the colonial narratives of settler history in Australia. The familiar colonialist narrative centers on the success or failure in the battle against nature to tame, master and possess the land. Colonial settlement was transformative: wasteland becomes productive land, nature becomes culture.
As I have been going through my archives I realised that my travelling along the long road to the north did not start with the trip to Lajamanu as I had previously thought. I had actually been to Andamooka twice on roadtrips. The first road trip to Andamooka was in the 1990s where I had made a few photos. I then returned to Andamooka around 2001 with Suzanne and we stayed there for several days. I had more time to photograph the landscape.
Andamooka, South Australia
The above image comes from the earlier trip in the 1990s. This was on my own–a road trip in the VW Kombi. It was a basically break from writing the PhD on Heidegger at Flinders University of South Australia. Judging from the archives only a few photos were made on the 1990s roadtrip. Continue reading →
At the end of the first day of walking we camped at a wonderful campsite close to Blue Mine Gap on the north western edge of the Gammon Ranges. We were walking in there of Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1906 explorations into the geology of the northern Flinders Ranges. In the 1920s and 1930s Mawson amongst others concentrated his research and fieldwork around the mineralization the northern Flinders Ranges, eruptions of the pre-Cambrian glaciation throughout the Flinders Ranges, the Cambrian strata of the Flinders Range, and the identification of uranium at Mt Painter Inlier, which is about 100 kilometres north east of Leigh Creek and south of the Mawson Plateau. South Australia is one of the world’s focal points for the study of the late pre-Cambrian era and glaciation.
After lunch on the first day we crossed a creek bed. The camels were playing up a bit, and this gave me 5-10 minutes or so to do some photography in and around the creek bed. Surprisingly, the light was still soft due to the continuing cloud cover, and the malaleucas in the creek made a welcome change to the bareness and environmental degradation of the stony hills with the loss of endangered plants and animals from the history of extensive pastoralism since the European occupation of the land.
malaleuca, creek bed
We had left the Umberatana Station track to walk in, and along, the Blue Mine Creek on the way to the campsite for the night. It was dawning on me that there was a history of extensive mining in the region for copper in the 19th century, and that the systematic regional mapping of the northern Flinders Ranges after 1945 centred around finding coal, petroleum and uranium. Mining was just as crucial as pastoralism in terms of land use. Increasingly it is now eco-tourism that provides the income and employment in the region. Continue reading →
I found the solution to my predicament about how I could photograph in northern South Australia. I could do a camel trek with experienced cameliers. The camels would carry the swag, food and water, we would do the walking and the cameleers would guide us through the remote, semi-arid landscape. So we booked a 12 day walk as part of a party of six starting on June 19th and finishing on July 2nd. The trek started from near Arkaroola and it finished at Mt Hopeless, reputed to be the northern edge of the Flinders Ranges. The group included 3 friends from Suzanne’s Heysen Trail walking group.
We left the stormy winter weather at Encounter Bay on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, and drove up to Alpana Station near Blinman. We arriving in the late afternoon and stayed overnight in the shearers quarters. This gave me an hour or so for a bit of photography wandering around the station before dinner in the North Blinman Hotel. I had no time to explore Blinman itself, to check out the Blinman mine, or scope the fascinating landscape around Blinman.
emu, Alpana Station, Blinman
I had a digital camera–the Sony a7R111– and two film cameras–a Leica M4-P and a Rolleiflex TLR. I decided against taking a carbon fibre tripod to use with the Rolleiflex, as the Sony has good low light capabilities and can be handheld in low light. This was to be a trial run to see if my body could handle the walking for 12 days, and whether or not I could do any photography. I considered using large format (ie., taking the 5×4 Linhof Technika IV) to be over the top. I understood that as everything centred around the 12 camels–the pace, the camp site, where to walk, and the loading and unloading of the camels each day— this might allow some time for photography. Continue reading →
I realized when I was at Karlu Karlu in 2016 hat I found the country in the northern part of South Australia (ie., north of Port Augusta) that we had passed through on the way to and from Lajamanu to be as interesting as the destination itself. I realized that wanted to explore this country rather than travel though for 12 hours a day to get to a particular destination. It was the journey, not the destination that was crucial for me.
Pylons+ Flinders Ranges
But how to explore the northern part of Australia? Aerial photography was too expensive; I didn’t have a 4 wheel drive; I wasn’t prepared to go into this semi arid county on my own; I wasn’t interested in just sticking to the main highways, stopping for a break and a quick photo; or just taking photos through a car window as I travelled through the landscapes limited.
The landscape looked interesting through the window: there were the salt lakes either side of the Stuart Highway, the various deserts, the pastoral landscapes north of Goyder’s Line, the Flinders Ranges themselves, and the country of the northern Flinders Ranges. This was a landscape that I didn’t know. Continue reading →
Our first overnight stop on the road to Lajamanu was Pimba and the caravan park at Spuds Roadhouse. Pimba is just down the road from the Defence -controlled town of Woomera and the Woomera Prohibited Area, which has been closed to the public since 1947, when it was used for Cold War rocket and nuclear tests by Britain and Australia between 1955 and 1963. Roxby Downs, BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam site and Andamooka are 100 km or so down the road.
Petrol station, Pimba
The history of this region is one of the suppression of information and dissent by the British military, Australian Governments and scientists about the radioactive fallout from the British nuclear testing. Marlinga has been declared “safe”, even though the buried long-lived plutonium waste (half-life 24,000 years) is in an unlined burial trench only 2-3 metres below ground – slightly deeper than we place human corpses– with no regard for its longevity or toxicity. Continue reading →