Reflections on 2018 camel trek

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.

Andamooka, South Australia

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.

Linhof Technika 70

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

walking in the Blue Mine Creek bed

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

The camel trek solution

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

re-assessing

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

Pimba and nuclear trauma

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

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

before and after Port Augusta

The landscape just south of   Port Augusta  (ie., after  Port Pirie ) is quite different to the landscape  north of Port Augusta on the way to Woomera.  It is a study in contrasts: farmland and desert.

The Princess Highway, south of Port Augusta,  runs  between Spencer Gulf and the lower Flinders Ranges,   and  the country between the highway and the Flinders Ranges  is primarily farmland.   The landscape looked very green and lush after all the winter and spring storms and rains.

lower Flinders Ranges
lower Flinders Ranges

The electricity grid  that extends down to Adelaide is very obvious in the landscape. Port Augusta is a transport hub and  a crossroads.  The old coal-fired power stations (the Playford A and Northern Power Stations) have been closed, as has the Leigh Creek coal mine.  There is a community push for a transition from coal to renewable energy (solar thermal plants) and to make Port Augusta a renewable energy power hub. 

Continue reading

on the Goyder Highway

Since the stops to take photos would be few and far between due to time constraints, I  choose to sit in the  back of the LandRover Discovery  on the Mildura to Pimba leg of our  road trip to Lajamanu. It was going to be traveling all day with an occasional stop. I  sat in the back so I could take snaps of the landscape through the window.

The picture below is of  pastoral/grazing  country  on   the Goyder Highway in South Australia,  on route to Port Augusta. This  highway   is an east-west link through the Mid-North region of South Australia, and this is the landscape  between the River Murray at Morgan and  Burra in the mid-north of South Australia.

It is  sparse,  saltbush country with a few small trees. It  looked  strange and   I wondered what would  it have looked prior to grazing? Would there have been more trees?  Probably a mallee woodland.

Landscape, Goyder Highway
Landscape, Goyder Highway

This landscape  is north of an imaginary line that separates the land in South Australia that receives 300 mm or more rainfall per year from the land that receives less than 300 mm per year. The imaginary line  is named after George Goyder, a government surveyor who first identified and mapped Goyder’s Line.

This line   indicates the northern limit of climatic suitability for intensive agriculture in South Australia. North of Goyder’s Line, annual rainfall is usually too low to support reliable  cropping, with the land  only being  suitable for grazing.

Continue reading