Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound on satellite photo

Driving north from Clare, it is fairly conventional Australian farmland scenery till you get to Hawker, then the outback starts. Farming disappears, as does habitation. It can be hundreds of km. between small towns, and you have to watch your petrol consumption as you cannot rely on individual petrol stations being open. They all seemed to close for holidays here, as it was the low tourist season.

During the late 1870s the push to open agriculture land for wheat growing north of the Goyder's Line had met with unusual success, with good rainfall and crops in the Flinders Ranges. This, along with the copper mining lobby (copper was mined in the Hawker-Flinders Ranges area in the late 1850s and transported overland by bullock dray), induced the government to build a narrow gauge railway line north of Port Augusta through Pichi Richi Pass, Quorn, Hawker and along the west of the ranges, eventually to Marree. (It was intended to service the agricultural and pastoral industries in the region). The rainfall then decreased to its previous, normal pattern for the region, causing many of the agricultural farms to collapse. Remnants of abandoned homes can still be seen dotted around the arid landscape. Wilpena station, due to its unusual geography, is now the only location north of Goyder's Line able to sustain any crops - although it has now been left to the wild and is only a tourist location. Today kukri, unpopular with most Australian farmers as it yields 10-15% less grain than other varieties of wheat, is being grown for export to India.

   

We stayed in one of the Rawnsley Park Station Eco Villas. Not cheap, but very, very good. We have travelled extensively, and this was one of the best places we have stayed at. We stayed three nights in one of the Eco villas. The villa had a large living area come kitchen, and separate bedroom. Verandah with BBQ. Excellent ingredients for breakfast provided, including fresh eggs from their chickens. They also throw in a bottle of wine for you to enjoy. The interesting gizmo in the bedroom were two opening windows in the roof, so you could lie in bed and watch the amazing stars in that clear outback air. There are plenty of walks and drives to keep you amused for days. We were a bit unlucky in that we stayed in January, when everything in the Flinders closes, and the locals go on holiday. You will find places like the Prairie hotel closed, and even a number of petrol stations. Margaret, who checked us in, was assured and very welcoming. Two of the other receptionists we dealt with were a bit less assured! We ate one night at the Woolshed restaurant - it is franchised out to separate owners - and did not enjoy either the quality of the food, nor the ambiance. But overall I thought this place was fantastic, and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to stay in the Flinders, and the Flinders are well worth visiting

We found our meal at The Woolshed disappointing. The quality of the meal was poor, and the service "cold". They just want to get you out, and they were not busy when we were there. The ambiance of the Woolshed at night was not warm either. The lighting was not atmospheric, and even the candle on the table was not lit until we asked, and then we were the only table with a candle. As I understand it, the Woolshed is franchised out to other operators, who presumably have a fixed lease. Anyway, I felt that it was a mistake eating in the Woolshed. We should just have cooked yet again for ourselves in the very nice kitchen in the villa.

   

Although from the outside the Pound appears as a single range of mountains, it is actually two: one on the western edge, and one on the eastern, joined by the long Rawnsley's Bluff at the south. A gorge called Wilpena Gap has been cut in the eastern range, and most of the inside of the Pound drains into Wilpena Creek which exits through the Gap. The highest peak in the Pound, also the highest of the Flinders Ranges, is St Mary Peak (1170m), on the north-eastern side. To the south of the Gap on the eastern side, the highest peak is Point Bonney (1133m). On the north-western side of the Pound, the highest point is Pompey's Pillar (1165m), and Rawnsley's Bluff (950m) at the southern end is the other major summit. The wall of mountains almost completely encircles the gently-sloping interior of the Pound, with the only breaks being the gorge at Wilpena Gap and a high saddle in the south-western range over which the Heysen Trail passes. This latter saddle is called Bridle Gap, supposedly because it's the only place other than the gorge where a skilled horseman might ride into the Pound. The interior of the Pound does not rise to a height at the northern edge, but instead simply drops off very steeply to the plain below in a series of steep gullies.

The first European to see the distant mountains of the Pound was almost certainly Edward Eyre from the western plains on his first 1839 expedition to the vicinity of Lake Torrens. But Eyre did not investigate the ranges on his trip. The first European to investigate the ranges at first hand is likely to have been either the pastoralist C.N. Bagot (who applied for a lease in the area in 1851) or the bushman William Chace (whose employers, the brothers William James and John Harris Browne, had applied in 1850). In an attempt to sort out their conflicting claims over the pastoral lease, Bonney and Surveyor-General Henry Freeling employed H.C. Rawnsley to go north and survey the area. In a controversially expensive trip, Rawnsley, of dubious skill and experience, only made it to the southern end of the Pound, which had been privately surveyed by Frederick Sinnett (employed by the Brownes) only a month or two earlier. On his arrival, Rawnsley found that the Bluff was already named after him by the locals, perhaps in an ironic wink at his shaky reputation (he was sacked by the Governor early the following year). The Browne brothers eventually won the claim for Wilpena from Bagot, and the young Henry Strong Price opened up and ran the 40,000-hectare station for them. In 1861 Price purchased Wilpena from the Brownes. By 1863 Wilpena consisted of well over 200,000 hectares, but was nearly ruined by the drought of that decade. When Price died in 1889 the immediate 8,000-hectare area of the Pound was separated from the main run and leased separately. When the Hill family obtained this lease in 1901, they decided to try farming, something never before attempted so far north. Goyder's Line had proven rather accurate with regard to agricultural expansion in the great drought of the 1880s, and Wilpena is some 140 km north of the Line. But being in the shadow of some of the highest mountains of the Flinders, rainfall in the Pound is a little higher and the Hills were determined to try. After the immense labour of constructing a road through the torturous Wilpena Gap, they built a small homestead inside the Pound, which still stands today, and cleared some open patches in the thick scrub of the interior. For several years the Hill family had moderate success growing crops inside the Pound, but in 1914 there was a major flood and the road through the gorge was destroyed. They could not bear to start all over and sold their homestead to the government. The Pound then became a forest reserve leased for grazing. In 1945 the tourist potential of the area was recognised when a "National Pleasure Resort" was proclaimed. A hotel called the Wilpena Chalet was opened on the southern side of the creek just outside the gorge, and it has been run by various private companies ever since. The Pound also later became part of the Flinders Ranges National Park.

We took the track across the ranges running west from close to Rawnsley Park, it ran through the National Park and eventually to Parachilna

Parachilna is a country town, first surveyed in 1863 due to its closeness to a government water well. It is on the railway line and road between Port Augusta and Leigh Creek. Today, the Prairie Hotel, railway station, airstrip and a few buildings remain The Prairie Hotel, dating from the days when the rail was supreme, fronts the railway line and the now derelict station building. The old hotel has been restored and extended, but as luck would have it, this outback legend was closed for holidays when we got there. There are now no passengers on the line that once ran from Adelaide to Marree and connected with the old Ghan line to Oodnadatta and Alice Springs, instead a regular 3km long coal train runs south from Leigh Creek Coal Mine.

The road east into the Flinders Ranges leads through Parachilna Gorge, recognised for its scenic beauty, to Blinman.

At Blinman the land was taken up for sheep farming in the 1850s. A shepherd employed by the station, Robert Blinman, discovered a copper outcrop in 1859. Blinman gambled some of his money on the presence of more underground copper and received a mineral application in 1860. Mining was successful in the first year and the mine became known as Wheal Blinman. The original four leaseholders sold their mine in 1862, for about 150 times the purchase price. The new owners were the Yudnamutana Copper Mining Company of South Australia, who also owned a rich deposit north of Blinman. The mine was very successful during the 1860s and the site became permanent, with buildings being constructed and more miners moving to the area, some from the Burra mine. The hardest problems at the time were the transport of Ore and the finding of water. Over the next 20 years, railways were developed and wells were sunk at regular intervals, making life easier for all. And mining continued until 1918 when the ore ran out. The busiest time for the mine was 1913-1918 with a town population of 2,000. Today the population is about 20

 

 

Hawker was a thriving railway town from the 1880s until 1956 as it was on the famous Ghan railway line, until the route was moved further west when the line was upgraded. Today it has a population of about 200 and survives mainly on supplying tourists.

On to the Barossa

Australia 2013/2014