Heading for the Flinders Ranges…

We have been so fortunate to experience the Murray River and follow its serpentine path from the mountains of the Great Dividing Range in far north-east Victoria to the desert country and wide-open plains of South Australia, but now, sadly, Morgan was our last contact with the ‘Mighty Murray’ as it flowed in its southerly directions towards the Southern Ocean.

The Flinders Ranges National Park, or ‘Ikara’ as it is known to the Adnyamathanha, the traditional owners of this land – ‘Ikara’ meaning ‘Meeting Place’, was high on our ‘bucket list’ as a ‘must do’ Outback destination on this Aussie trip.

There are 3 distinct regions that make up the Flinders Ranges and the next part of our journey would take us through the Southern Flinders Ranges which incorporates many of South Australia’s mid north towns.

The Southern Flinders Ranges stretches from Port Augusta and Quorn in the west through to Peterborough on the Barrier Highway in the south east.

The Central Flinders Ranges stretch from Hawker to the Parachilna and Blinman area in the north and includes Wilpena Pound, the Brachina and Bunyeroo Gorges and Parachilna Gorge which cuts through the ranges from Parachilna to Blinman.

The rugged Northern Flinders Ranges stretch in the west from Parachilna through to the coal mining town of Leigh Creek then just north to the small township of Lyndhurst, the start of the Strzelecki Track leading to Innamincka.

On the eastern side it stretches from Blinman through to Arkaroola and the northern tip of the ranges near Moolawatana with the main feature of this area, the spectacular country of the Gammon Ranges National Park and the privately-owned Arkaroola Resort.

The remote Flinders Ranges are a treasure trove of South Australia’s geological, natural and cultural heritage, with a history dating back much further than when Captain Matthew Flinders explored it in 1802 (who the ranges were named after), or the legendary explorer Edward John Eyre who headed north in 1839 on the first of a number of expeditions and who Lake Eyre was named after.

The Adnyamathanha people have called these ranges home for thousands of years with all the features of these ranges having a special spiritual significance to them, even today.

Adnyamathanha means ‘hills’ or ‘rock people’ and their Dreaming stories record powerful ancestral beings. These beings were sometimes human and sometimes in animal form and created all the features of this land.

Come with us and let us take you on a journey through the small villages of the Southern Flinders Ranges of South Australia to the beautiful towns of Burra and Peterborough… and other towns that time seems to have forgotten and are now just a train station in the scrub!

Then be amazed at the awe-inspiring scenery of the distant magnificent ranges as we head from Hawker to explore Wilpena Pound and the Central Flinders Ranges.

Since leaving Morgan we had frequently passed abandoned stone buildings, all in disrepair and standing crumbling in the lonely countryside. Some still had corrugated rooves but most were only a few low walls surrounded by stone.

The landscape was ever changing and there was no greenery anywhere to be seen as we continued on across the dry flat land… mostly low shrub and grass, characteristic of scrubland.

We could just make out the ranges in the distance. A few kangaroos grazed beside the side of the road, obviously with a death wish on a highway prone to big road trains.

We were only about 16-kilometres from Burra when we turned off the Barrier Highway on to ‘Worlds End Highway’ and followed ‘CamperMate’s’ directions to another free campground.

Burra Creek Reserve is a large council area south east of the town of Burra and was marked at its entrance by a beautiful old abandoned sandstone homestead and a few surrounding out buildings. I could only imagine the stories behind these abandoned farms we had passed in this area.

The reserve stretches along a small gorge and a dry creek bed on disused farmland and was a good place to rest up for the night after a long drive.

Many impressive gum trees were scattered throughout the gorge, some quite stately that at a guess would be more than 100 years old, and although the flies were a bit bothersome and the ground very dusty, it did have very clean long drop loos, fire pits and lots of shade which made for a nice relaxing afternoon.

It is amazing the size of the limbs these Red River Gums drop in times of drought. Locals call these gums widow makers due to their habit of dropping limbs without warning; and later in the afternoon just whilst we were enjoying the peace and quite we heard a loud crackling noise…

and thinking a limb was falling from a tree we jumped from our chairs, only to find on further investigation, a rather large local goanna making its way up the trunk.

There was lots of wildlife in the rocky countryside surrounding the reserve, mostly kangaroos and emus and an abundance of birdlife in the gums along the creek bed.

It was so nice being in the bush; the animals, the birds and the photo opportunities that present themselves when you least expect them, especially at twilight when day begins to turn to night and the sky is awash with lashings of pinks against blue with a beautiful backdrop of rolling hills on otherwise flat, barren countryside.

After a very quiet night with only 1 other caravan parked up, I might add a very cold night, we made our way back to the Barrier Highway and on to Burra to check out the sights.

The morning sky was quite cloudy unlike the previous days, which had given us blue-skies and little cloud, but as we left the campground for Burra the cloud cleared to another beautiful day!

Burra is a beautiful rural town just a slight detour off the highway.

If you journey through this area you must take time to visit this little town… you will love it!

Burra, officially named in 1940, was recognised as Australia’s first mining and industrial town and until the mid-1960s remained the largest town in South Australia apart from Adelaide.

It was in this lonely and isolated place that shepherds discovered copper in 1845. The moss coloured stones these shepherds stumbled across gave rise to the Burra Monster Mine.

Migrants came in their thousands, most heralding from the mining communities of Wales, Scotland, central England and Cornwall and by the end of the decade this little town had its own mine, smelters and a population of 5000 people.

The mine produced high-grade copper until 1877 when falling world copper prices and the high cost of running the mine resulted in closure. For 15 years it was the largest copper mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world.

We walked around this very attractive heritage town for a second time and after a bite to eat alongside Burra Creek headed out to the remains of the copper mine.

This massive open cut mine operated between 1971 and 1981 but prior to this it was underground with the ventilation chimneys from that era still standing.

We stopped at Peacock Chimney standing on the hill on the outskirts of Burra where high on top of the chimney stood the lonely figure of Johnny Green, the mascot of the early Burra mines.

This chimney, originally located at the mine, was built in 1857 and named after William Peacock the director of South Australian mining and owner of the Burra Burra mine.

Another site that was certainly worth a visit was Burra Railway Station.

The broad gauge railway line reached Burra from Adelaide in 1870 and extended to the break of gauge point at Terowie in 1880.

From 1888 Burra became an important station on the Adelaide to Broken Hill line and between 1917 and 1937 it was part of the transcontinental route to Perth.

The current bluestone station was built in 1883 replacing the original 1870 weatherboard building. The final rail movement passed through Burra on 12 March 2004.

Leaving Burra we continued our journey towards Terowie through more very, very dry and dusty country. 

The windmills at the wind farm on top of Mount Byran hardly turned in the distance, there was only a breath of wind.

Once the heart of a thriving farming community, including some of Australia’s best known Merino sheep studs, the town of Mount Bryan was named in honour of Henry Bryan, a young man who became lost and perished of thirst during an expedition with Governor George Gawler, Charles Sturt and Henry Inman, and was only characterised by an old pub.

Our first sight of cattle and sheep for some time was just a bit further on. These poor creatures suffered under a burning sun and clear skys day after day and appeared to be only surviving on bare earth. There had been no rain for many, many months and with no rain there was no feed. It was a pitiful sight to see them all huddled together on barren ground.

It appeared the farmers were definitely in need a lot of help in the southern and central parts of this country especially from ‘Mother Nature’! The pastures we were passing were certainly in need of a good drink.

Hallett was the next dot on our map and the birthplace of Sir Hubert Wilkins.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958) was a war correspondent and photographer, a polar explorer, a naturalist, a geographer, a climatologist and an aviator.

Hallett lies close to Goyder’s Line, plotted in the 19-century by George Goyder, separating the land suitable for cropping from the land suitable for grazing.

Once a rail head for the local farming community, the town today only boasts a store, a gallery and the Wildongoleechee (Wild Dog) Pub which was built in 1868 and is located near the Heysen and Mawson Trails… the ideal stop for a weary adventurer.

The flies and birdlife were spoiled for choice out this way as we had passed so much roadkill on our journey from Burra, mostly big kangaroos but also the occasional emu or sheep.

Emus tended to flock to the edge of the road but luckily for us there was a fence between them and us.

Whyte Yarcowie was just a dot on the map that we almost passed right through without even realising… although the town sign told otherwise and certainly indicated something much bigger!

Yarcowie was surveyed in 1875 and the name is said to be aboriginal for ‘wide water’. Whyte was added to the name in 1929, after an early pastoralist John Whyte.

Alexander McCulloch was the first to pioneer in the area and the railway station was built in 1880. By the early 1900s the town had a flour mill, schools, hotels and an Anglican Church and at the time was said to be the smallest town in Australia.

Making our way along a very straight road that seemed to go on forever, we continued through more barren country.

Our next destination was Terowie, another little historic town with lots of old buildings where again time seemed to stand still.

It would have been easy to miss Terowie also as there was only a small sign to indicate this litle historic town was a short detour off the highway… but believe me it was well worth a visit!

A strange place is Terowie… going ’round the twist’!

This little town certainly reminded me of this popular Australian television program and the many bizarre magical happenings.

It is all but a ghost town with the few streets that make up the town precinct now full of dilapidated old houses and long abandoned shops… some from the 1800’s.

We had heard stories that ghost towns in Australia were mostly found in the outback and we had certainly come across one here… it appeared everyone had just packed up and abandoned this town and I was surprised it hadn’t actually dropped off the map!

We passed the roadhouse and turned down the road to the town centre where we parked to look at the old buildings. On one corner stood a dilapidated old building that was once the Terowie Coffee Palace and built some time before 1910.

Tubs of geraniums flourished outside the Terowie Hotel but there was no laughter or clinking of glasses… it was closed.

Weeds sprouted randomly through the footpath and the town was so run down that an eerie calm pervaded the dusty buildings lining the main street.

As we wandered further down the main street we realised the only sound we could hear were our own footsteps, no traffic passed, there was not a person in sight.

Returning to our car we heard a loud thud and a rattling noise behind us and on turning I saw a young boy scoot down the street before disappearing around a corner and vanishing out of sight. No words were spoken. Further down the street voices could be heard from around a corner and 2 men could be seen sitting on a verandah, waving as we passed.

The old hospital had become a bed and breakfast and it seems that the roadhouse and motel are the only businesses left in Terowie to keep its name alive.

Terowie is an aboriginal word meaning ‘hidden waterhole’.

This town was founded as a private venture by John A. Mitchell who built a highly profitable public house on the main road, the ‘Terowie Hotel’ back in 1874,  and due to its closeness to the ‘Inkermann Mine’ the population soon grew with the land taken up by a blacksmith, a medical practitioner and a store. Each day saw the arrival and departure of horse and bullock wagons and coaches with as many as 50 horse and bullock teams in the town together.

With the introduction of the railways in 1880, Terowie rapidly became a busy place with around 700 residents, resulting in 2 stores, 2 butchers, a bakery, a saddlery, a boot maker, 3 blacksmiths, a hotel, another under construction and 2 churches.

A broad-gauge railway ran to Adelaide and a narrow-gauge track led to Petersburg (later known as Peterborough), Quorn and Broken Hill.

As Broken Hill prospered with increased mining, Terowie railway station became a massive hub for trans-shipping goods. At one time its goods yards, workshops and storage facilities stretched for more than 3 kilometres and because all goods had to be trans-shipped from broad to narrow gauge trains and back, there was always work available and the Terowie population peaked at over 2,000.

This small community became known as ‘the hub of the north’ and was once the major supply centre for the developing areas of the north and northeast.

During the Second World War a large military camp was established near Terowie railway station. There were ammunition factories in Adelaide’s north west and an explosives factory in Salisbury all producing vital materials for the war effort which were transported by rail through Terowie.

While changing trains in Terowie in 1942, US General Douglas MacArthur made his famous speech regarding the Battle of the Philippines in which he said: ‘I came out of Bataan and I shall return’.

A plaque on the now abandoned Terowie railway station platform commemorates this event.

By 1970 the line to Peterborough had become broad gauge and the trans-shipping role of Terowie railway station vanished. The population dwindled to just 150 by the late 1970s and the Terowie railway station was closed and tracks removed in the 1990s.

With a massive reduction in employment opportunities Terowie joined the ranks of abandoned places in South Australia and thus began its unavoidable journey to becoming just another of Australia’s ghost towns.

After grabbing a few photos we left this little ghost town and headed towards Hawker via Peterborough and Orroroo.

Peterborough was only 20-kilometres further along the highway.

It was a beautiful day as we continued along the Barrier Highway bound for Peterborough in the southern Flinders Ranges.

We were still travelling across mostly flat, open land where saltbushes dominated the flat landscape but in the distance the ranges were slowly growing in size.

Peterborough, or Petersburg as it was known until 1918, was settled to service the agricultural and pastoral endeavours of the 1870s, with many of the early settlers of German descent. Mr William Heithersay was the first person to start a business venture up in Petersburg, when in 1878 he built a blacksmith shop.

It is not really known how this town got its original name of Petersburg.

Some think it was named after Mr Peter Doecke, the original owner of the land on which the town was built. Others believe  it was named after ‘Peters Store’, the first General Store in town but what is known is that the name was changed to Peterborough at the time of the war when there was a lot of anti-German sentiment.

Arriving in Peterborough we encountered another train town.

Just as the Murray River had a huge impact on northern Victoria and South Australia with paddle steamers creating a life line along the river, so the railway was the life line of Peterborough and Terowie… although Peterborough had retained the new rail gauge system obviously at the expense of Terowie.

Compared to Terowie, Peterborough was a much larger and prettier town with magnificent stone buildings and is still on the train line from Adelaide to Broken Hill and Sydney… and has lots more inhabitants!

The rail industry officially arrived in Peterborough in 1881 when the line from Jamestown opened and provided the lifeblood of the town for the next 110-years.

The Terowie line opened shortly after and the line to Broken Hill was opened in 1887 ensuring the future of both towns.

Over time Terowie and Peterborough had trains travelling east west and from Silverton and down the coast. They were very busy railway junctions between 1910 and 1920 with over 100 trains per day and still hold the world record for the number of trains passing through a region on a single-track system.

Terowie and Peterborough were the giants of rail transport and worked closely together for some time before Peterborough finally surpassed Terowie as the ‘Rail Hub of Central South Australia’.  

Some years later Peterborough also succumbed to progress and today is only a shadow of its former importance as a rail centre. It now relies heavily on tourism and a trip to Peterborough would not be complete without a visit to the train museum to check out the train memorabilia from yesteryear… and of course a photo with ‘Bob the Railway Dog’.

Located in front of the town ‘Carriage Museum’ his monument stands proudly in a beautiful garden.

Bob was apparently a delightful little character of the 1880s who was loved by all who worked on the railways… and at every opportunity was found riding the trains of South Australia. He thus became known as the loveable ‘Bob the Railway Dog’.

From Peterborough we could turn north east and head to Broken Hill in NSW but we continued on to Orroroo where we stopped to have lunch beside some amazing sculptures.

In its native language Orroroo means ‘wind’ but it is said the town was the name of an Aboriginal girl who lived on nearby Pekina station, and that the town was for some reason named in honour of this girl.

Orroroo was another delightful heritage town with beautifully restored 1870 buildings and shop fronts set against the backdrop of the Southern Flinders Ranges.

This 2-street outback stopover was full of metal sculptures of the local wildlife, a gorgeous red brick post office and a giant River Red Gum tree.

Unlike the ‘Aussie Big Things’ we had passed of late this tree just outside Orroroo is real, a massive gum tree with a circumference well over 10 metres and thought to be over 500 years old.

Rather than follow Barrier Highway to Port Augusta through the towns of the Southern Flinders Ranges we had travelled on a previous trip, our journey from here will take us to Hawker then on to the Flinders Rangers National Park or ‘Ikara’ as it is known to the Adnyamathanha, the traditional owners of this land.

Click on this link and follow our path through the Southern Flinders Ranges to Port Augusta

or come travel with us to Hawker!

We turned onto the R M Williams Way and passed through several littler towns on our way to Hawker.

At Carrieton we were greeted with a prominent town sign indicating it was a ‘Rodeo Town’.

The Carrieton Rodeo is one of the largest night Rodeos in South Australia. First held in 1953 it is still apparently a very colourful event held in December each year, featuring some of the best riders in Australia and attracting thousands of people from all over the country.

Carrieton is the town where the South Australian outback starts.

It would have been a great stop if the one pub in town had been open. As with many of these little towns the historic old stone pubs always look inviting to stop for a beer… but not this one, it was closed up for good! Although, I should imagine it would come alive for the rodeo!

We stopped to walk around the town and view the beautiful stone buildings dating back from the late 1800’s. Today it is only a reflection of what it might have been back then.

We drove onwards to Craddock which was another striking outback town with more charming stone buildings set against the backdrop of the Flinder’s Ranges.

This little town was another good example of the rise and fall of a rural service town commencing its days in 1878 during the land rush, north of Goyder’s line, by farmers who believed that rain would follow the plough. 

19 -kilometres on from Croddock we came to a T-junction. One arrow pointed to Port Augusta and the other to Wilpena Pound and within moments of being on the ‘Flinders Ranges Way’ a car whizzed past us, and then another, and another. We were back in civilization.

Hawker was the start of the ‘Central Flinders Ranges’ adventure for us.

It was named in 1880 after George Charles Hawker, the Commissioner of Public Works at the time and is home to the Banggarla Aboriginal people.

Hawker is a town with a rich history as a transport hub having grown from the needs of settlers to the Flinders Rangers.

When the north-south railway line reached Hawker in 1881 the town became the hub for wheat farming in the area carrying passengers, wheat, wool, stock and supplies to and from Hawker until 1970. 

During World War II this line also became a vital link between Adelaide and Darwin with 18,000 servicemen plus hundreds of thousands of tonnes of military stores and equipment passing through on route to Darwin. 

Today Hawker is the hub of the Flinders Ranges as it is at the junction of roads from Port Augusta, Orroroo, Wilpena Pound and further north to Blinman and Maree.

The story of the Hawker district embraces the little towns of Craddock, Wilson, Hookina and Wonoka and not to be missed are the 3 main lookouts on the edge of town – Camel’s Hump, Police Hill and Castle Rock. All give great views of Hawker and the surrounding district.

The local information centre is not to be missed either. It is housed in the local garage and amongst its dusty shelves it displays quite a bit of memorabilia on the district.

After picking up some brochures and maps, purchasing a South Australian Parks Pass so we could access the National Park, and filling up with fuel we were on the road again… this time heading for Rawnsley Station 30-kilometres north of Hawker.

There are plenty of camping choices in the Central Flinders Ranges… Rawnsley Park Station is a working sheep station; Wilpena Pound is set amongst pine trees and tall gum trees with easy walking access to the Pound, and there is also Willow Springs for those who like remote camping on a sheep station with room to spread out and explore 4WD tracks.

From the small towns of the Southern Flinders Ranges, the way to the Central Flinders Ranges was the start of another outback adventure for us and the beginning of some of the most magnificent mountains and ranges we have ever seen.

Come and enjoy the wonders of this land with us as we journey into the Central Flinders Ranges.

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