I was privileged to be invited along for this journey by Ron and Viv Moon, authors of many Australian Guidebooks. We have been friends for years but had never done a trip together and this was a good opportunity to join the group, which included their long-time friends Neil and Chris, from Western Australia.
It had taken Ron nearly a year to get access permissions from the owners of 7 pastoral Properties we needed to cross.
We all met at Farina, an old Railway Siding on the erstwhile Ghan Railway, between the towns of Lyndhurst and Marree in South Australia. Originally called The Gums, Farina was settled in 1878 by some optimistic farmers who thought that the area might be good for growing wheat or barley but there was never enough rain at the right time for that. Until 1884 Farina was the railhead in the north. During the wet years of the 1880s, plans were laid out for a town with 432 ¼-acre blocks which may have been suitable for growing crops. The town grew to reach a peak population of approximately 600 in the late 1800s. In its heyday there were two hotels, an underground bakery, a bank, two breweries, a general store, an Anglican church, five blacksmiths, a school and a brothel. By the time the railway line closed in 1980 the town was lying in ruins. Farina also became well known for the 1143kg Iron Meteorite which was found just north-east of the town
In recent years a group of dedicated volunteers have been working on restoring some of the old buildings and the bakery is now in working order during the winter school holidays when thousands of tourists flock through the Outback. The owners of Witchelina Station, which lies adjacent to Farina, have provided camping facilities below the base of a small hill with the area covered in couch grass to make for relatively dust free camping. There is also the Farina Cemetery, now being restored and with interpretive boards as to the history of the place, perched up on a windswept hill where many of the original inhabitants of Farina are resting
That evening friends from Melbourne, Adam and Kir, who had been travelling the Kimberey region, dropped in and stayed over with us. It was a good get-together.
We crossed the Oodnadatta Track after leaving Farina and started our journey along station tracks and passing through saltbush plains. Digital mapping was of great help although our maps show tracks that have not existed for some years. We had started off on Witchelina Station and were on the vast Mount Lyndhurst Station for most of the day. The latter station is 865,000 acres in size
A bit of Googling found this interesting note on Mount Lyndhurst Station pertaining to Angel Hair
“ Winter 1914 Mid-afternoon Ca 60mins. Mount Lyndhurst Station Far North of South Australia (30.12S 138.34E)
“I would like to add my experience with this silk like substance which has fallen on farms recently. During the unusual weather conditions following the break of the 1914 drought, in the Far North of SA (at a boundary riders hut called Leslies Well on Mount Lyndhurst station) the weather was cool and damp following the first winter rains.
In mid-afternoon, on a steady light breeze from the south-west, this substance floated by at a constant altitude. Some pieces, six to nine inches long, fell to earth and dissolved in about minutes, leaving no trace.
This visitation lasted about an hour, and was followed by another two or three weeks later, in the same conditions. My late father spoke of several visitations, especially after the great drought of the 1860’s. The consensus was that the substance was an atmospheric fungus.”
1. Letter to the Editor from E C Finn, Seaview Road, Lynton. Adelaide Advertiser. 25 May 1968.
We called in to the homestead to touch base with the Manager and then started heading for the foothills of the Northern Flinders Ranges. Very soon we were in country with many dark sedimentary rocks protrude at acute angles from the surface of the earth. This area, which is close to the ranges, is also the breeding ground for the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface bird which is popular with Birders.
The track we were following was originally built and used to transport raw materials from mines and to take supplies to. It ran from Milparinka and the Mount Brown Goldfields in Western New South Wales, to the Railhead at Farina Siding from the early 1880’s. The freight was usually carried by camel trains.
We camped on the banks if the Frome River the first night and sat all rugged up around the fire till late. Early morning Dingoes gave us a mournful serenade just before sunrise.
At Balparana Well we found the dam in ruins as well as a shepherds hut. In the creek there was some more modern day graffiti, where names were written on a flat stone in eloquent lettering, dating back to 1875.
What was noticeable along this route was the absence of sheep. I assume that the station has destocked their flock due to the drought conditions which are prevalent now.
The track from there onwards was slow going through the hills but it was a good morning for sighting many Kangaroos and some Wedgetail Eagles as we made our way off Mt Lyndhurst Station past Umberatana Station along a public road and then entered Mt Freeling Station for access to the Yudnamutana Mining Area. The last 10 km in to Yudnamutana was quite spectacular as we crested the hills into valleys below and the caravans made the tow rigs work hard through the dips and gullies.
I was sent on ahead to secure a camp spot. The area was strewn with small rocks and some old bricks and we thought that there must have been a brick-making kiln nearby in earlier times. There was enough dry wood lying around and we had a roaring fire to keep the cold away.
The Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people lived here as Stone Age Hunter Gatherers until the arrival of the Europeans. The copper ore deposit was discovered in 1859 and mining commenced in 1862. Problems with obtaining water for the draught animals who worked the mine saw its closer a couple of times and the last time being 1912. All that remains are the boilers, some ruins, mine shafts and a cemetery.
Our next destination was Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and Resort. Located 600km north of Adelaide and 130km east of Leigh Creek, and in the ruggedly spectacular northern Flinders Ranges, this 610sq km Wilderness Sanctuary, contains some of Australia’s most spectacular mountain views and offers a range of accommodation facilities, tours, walking trails and 4×4 self-drive tracks.
Arkaroola features rugged mountains, towering granite peaks, magnificent gorges and mysterious waterholes. It is the home to over 160 species of birds and the endangered Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby.
We found a quiet campsite in the campgrounds away from other groups and I managed to rustle up some wood for the fire while the others went to the restaurant for dinner. We did not spend any time looking at the surrounds as we had been here before on a few occasions.
The following morning we drove south out of the Sanctuary, through the Gammon Ranges National Park and then turned north at the park headquarters at Balcanoona for a 70km run up to where we were to turn east again en route to the South Australia – New South Wales Border and the Dog Fence.
Over the next two days we drove along station tracks across the pastoral leases of Mooloowatana, Frome Downs and Quinambie. At Mooloowatana Ruins I found an Aerated Water bottle which was made in a bygone era in my town of Peterborough. About a kilometre past the ruins we crossed through the Dog Fence for the first time.
‘ The Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is a pest-exclusion fence that was built in Australia during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world’s longest fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby through thousands of kilometres of arid land ending west of Eyre Peninsula on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain above the Great Australian Bight near Nundroo. It has been partly successful, though dingoes can still be found in parts of the southern states. Although the fence has helped reduce losses of sheep to predators, this has been countered by holes in fences found in the 1990s through which dingo offspring have passed and by increased pasture competition from rabbits and kangaroos. (Dog Fence Source: Wikipaedia) ‘
I had always had a notion to get to Lake Callabonna. Having read up on some of the fossil finds there mainly of the extinct marsupial, the Diprotodon and the flightless mega fauna birds, the Dromornithids
I became intrigued with the place. But the South Australia Museum controls the area where the fossils have been found and as there are no public through roads to the area access is non-existent. Our drive took us right past the southern extremity of Lake Callabonna. To get a better view I drove up on to a small mound only to find that it was a large rabbit warren and the Datto bogged to its axles immediately. I managed to extricate myself from the predicament and then found a place where I could walk down to the lake to take some photos
Our first artesian experience was on Frome Downs Station at Mooloowatana Bore where the waters were running non-stop. The water does not have a large outflow though as it sinks into the earth after about one hundred metres. It is a cattle watering point. From this bore the track is known as the Mount Brown Track as it was the main access from the Mount Brown Goldfields to the Farina Railhead.
At Lake Wittakilla(dry) we found a transportable building and a huge Trench Excavater machine and wondered what on earth had been going on there. There was evidence of a great thirst according to the number of beer cans in one of the rooms in the building.
Healthy looking Black Angus cattle roamed in the dune corridor of the Strzelecki Desert finding rich sustenance in the arid area plants. A dead poddy was the interest if a Dingo when we came along but it soon decamped to a distance far enough to watch us suspiciously, waiting for its chance to go back and have a feed.
We spent the night near Yandama Artesian Bore. Artesian Bores were drilled into the Great Artesian Basin from the 1880’s to depths of 1000 metres. By 1915 there were 1500 free flowing artesian bores in Australia. Yandama Bore was drilled in 1900 and at one stage the water outflow ran for 24 kilometres before a restriction was placed on the bore head to stop the high volume flow. The artesian waters normally have a sulphur taste to it and can be hot up to 100°C. Yandama Bore would be flowing out at about 50°C. Hot to touch but about 50 metres away the water is bath temperature and after not having a decent wash over the past few days my bath in the desert was especially nice.
An Outback Character by the name of Fred Blakeley, a man of little consequence according to recorded history, but who managed to write and publish two books over his lifetime, was riding his bicycle along the Mount Brown Track in the dead of night around 1910, when he came across Yandama Bore. The noise fascinated him and so he walked closer and struck a match only to see a sign stating ‘No Naked Flames…Volatile Gas Emissions”. Luckily he was spared an accident when he quickly extinguished the flame.
Our camp was good and initially we worried about the thousands of Corellas making a nose through the night but they flew off to roost somewhere else. The cattle too had their drink and then moved off into the dune country for the night.
In the early morning the Corella’s returned and shortly after sunrise took off again with a great noise. We then saw a Black Dingo loping through the flutter of wings against the dune background. It carried on along the dune corridor and later gave its mournful howl to rustle up other members of its pack who were hunting somewhere else no doubt.
The next morning we unexpectedly came to an obstacle in the form of a washed out creek crossing although the station owners had said that the track had been graded recently. Recently in country speak could mean this year or last year or the year before. Context is used loosely sometimes.
The shorter route across the obstacle was chosen but this turned out to be the more difficult one and we had a bogging, as towing a relatively heavy caravan over these tracks, does make things a tad complicated at times
Being the only non-towing vehicle in the group, I scooted across the sand, and then set up to snatch the stricken rig from its predicament. This took two snatched and quite a bit of fiddle around to get the rescue right. Then we had a cuppa tea.
At Coonans Bore we were surprised by more buildings, some of which looked like rolling railway stock. We can only surmise that these buildings are used for stockmen when mustering is taking place.
That night we camped near Bluebush Dam on Quinyambie Station on a small clay-pan. Neil wandered off to bag some rabbits and to report on a baited carcass and a dead Dingo nearby. I took the opportunity to have an afternoon snooze while the others found things to amuse them. Ron had problems with the wheel-nuts coming loose on his truck and it then that we realised that he had fitted the new tyres he had bought, to non Nissan rims.
To save Ron the hassle of having to drive back to Peterborough I suggested that we swap wheels in the morning as I had spare Nissan rims at home and seeing as we were meeting again in Alice Springs at the end of August, I would have the tyres swapped over on to the Nissan rims and we could do the change over when we meet up. And so that is what we did, with Neil lending a hand.
In the morning it was a short journey to Hawker Gate on the South Australia –New South Wales Border and still part of the Dog Fence. I said goodbye to the group as I needed to get home that evening.
My journey to Broken Hill was 280km in distance and the first 140km was a sandy or gravel surface. One passes through a number of stations and I counted 36 gates, 16 of which I had to open. I also had to tighten the wheel-nuts every 150km or so as they still tended to work their way loose. I arrived home just on dark having driven 580km for the day.