Category Archives: History

September 7, part 4

If you look at a map of South Australia, you’ll notice that the sea, in the form of Spencer Gulf, cuts inland a fair distance, and as a result, the Flinders Ranges actually touch seawater at this point. (Which is why the ranges got named for a navigator.) Hence, while the mountains were still visible, we headed toward salt water.

While still in mountainous terrain, we drove through Port Germein Gorge, along a narrow, winding road that cuts through the southern Flinders Ranges. Steep, stony walls, magnificent gum trees, wildflowers and wildlife made the drive a delight. (Be advised that, since our visit, fire and flood have seriously damaged parts of this road, so it may not be open if you visit now, and some of the magnificent gums trees have been lost–though its importance to local communities has triggered efforts to reconstruct the damaged stretches.)

We stopped in Port Germein, a small town (population around 200) that was originally settled as a shipping port. With easy access to gentle beaches (good for both swimming and exploring tidal pools) as well as the mountains, it’s easy to see why this is a popular eco-resort area. We stopped to admire the wooden jetty, built in 1881 and still the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, at just over a mile in length. Originally constructed for shipping wheat, the jetty is now the place where locals go for a bit of quiet fishing.

Following the coast, we came next to Port Pirie. Facing the waters of Spencer Gulf, Port Pirie is still within the boundary of the Flinders Ranges. The town’s history is tied to the railroad, and Port Pirie was once one of Australia’s busiest rail centers. Reflecting this past, the city’s National Trust Museum is housed in a former railway station.

Port Pirie Museum

Port Pirie Museum

Final stop of the day was in Port Broughton, where we pulled up at the Port Broughton Hotel. Surrounded with Norfolk pines and with a view over the sea, the location of the hotel was splendid. The hotel was another wonderful, old, outback-town hotel, with a broad veranda, second-floor balconies, and an exterior lavishly decorated with iron lace. Inside the hotel, I delighted in the high, elaborately decorated ceilings, abundant leaded glass, and many antiques, even in the bedrooms. Delightful.

Port Broughton Hotel

Port Broughton Hotel

After briefly pointing out highlights of our surroundings, Richard got us all settled in. I really like Nikki’s husband, Richard. He’s funny, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and very dedicatedly Australian. He has been a charming bush guide, and I imagine that he is the kind of man who’d make a really good, true friend. And Nikki is as open, honest, intelligent, and delightful as I had remembered. I am truly having a wonderful time with the two of them.

The three of us enjoyed a lovely dinner–fresh fish, as we were so close to the water. We talked over an after-dinner cider, but then it was time for bed. It has been a very long day, and we have another long day tomorrow.

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September 7, part 3

We headed back southward, but after Hawker, Richard turned down a different road than the one we’d arrived on, taking us before long to the Kanyaka Station ruins. These ruins are the remains of a huge property that was first claimed in 1851 and settled in 1852. Only six months after establishing the station, the first owner/settler, Hugh Proby, drowned in a flash flood during a thunderstorm–a fact that made me realize how fortunate we were that Richard knew to get us clear of the potential flash flood while we were in the ranges. With new owners, the station grew to be one of the largest in the state (365 square miles, or 240,000 acres, at its largest, by 1856) that was once home to as many as 70 workers and their families.

But then the drought hit–a three-year drought that killed 20,000 sheep on the station. Surprisingly, the owners hung on for another 20 years, and even recovered, when the drought ended. However, by 1888, the station was abandoned.
The station had grown to be almost an entire village, since it had to be self-sufficient, this far from a city of any size. The main house, workers cottages, shearing shed, and out buildings were all made of local stone, and as a result, many of those buildings have survived, at least partially.

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Ruins-2-lighter

After a good wander around the ruins, we were off again. Next stop was Quorn. This is another of the historic railway towns that dot this region, with its importance established in the early 1900s as the junction for both the east to west and north to south railways. During World War II, thousands of troops passed through the town, most of them fed by the local Country Women’s Association. In addition to being historic, Quorn is charming, and it has been a popular place for making movies. Films shot here include “The Sundowners,” “Gallipoli,” “The Shiralee,” “Sunday Too Far Away,” and “Robbery Under Arms.” (Of these, “Robbery Under Arms” is the only one I haven’t seen–but it was fun recognizing settings from the other films.) The train station and the town’s Austral Hotel have starred in the most films.

Quorn's train station

Quorn’s train station

Continuing on, we passed through Wilmington, another historic town settled in the mid-1800s, and another lovely access point to the Flinders Ranges. Next up was Melrose, which I’d actually driven through on my previous trip to Australia, though that time, we were headed up and over Horrock’s Pass and on to Port Augusta. The town is much changed, but the massive, gnarly river red gums lining the creek were still there, and still amazed me just as much as they had previously.

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September 7, part 2

With Hawker being the hub of Flinders Ranges tourism, it is probably not too surprising that our next destination was, in fact, the ranges. Suddenly, the colors changed again from red to green.

The mountains, and the national park they inhabit, were named for English navigator Matthew Flinders, who first sighted the ranges in 1802. Abundant mineral deposits initially attracted miners, who at various times mined (successfully) gold, silver, copper, lead, barite, and coal. But now, the big draw is natural beauty and it’s hikers and campers who are drawn to the park.

Like other mountain ranges in Australia, the Flinders Ranges one sees today have been worn shaped by erosion over long ages, with the tallest peak today reaching only 3,825 feet. But they are wonderfully handsome, in their wildly sculpted ruggedness, with their geologic history written large across their faces. The ranges are also famed for their spring wildflowers–and it is spring.

Richard drove us along the Moralana Scenic Drive, which is scenic indeed. We stopped frequently, to admire dramatic vistas, lush carpets of yellow, red, and purple wildflowers, and abundant birdlife (galahs, corellas, finches, wrens). Kangaroos appeared regularly, which, as always, delighted me. I was in heaven.

Richard guided us to a lookout that let us view the dramatic, ragged edge of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheater in the heart of the mountain ranges. We alternated short drives with long hikes, breathing in the fresh air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees.

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

About half an hour down a path through a steep-sided valley, Richard decided we needed to turn back. Clouds had been gathering, and Richard could see that, in the distance, it was raining. I would have guessed we had plenty of time before the rain would reach us, but Richard explained that, even though the rain seemed fairly distant, a flash flood could come rolling through within a short time after the rain came down, and the stone walls offered us nowhere to go if the roaring water caught up with us while we were still there. So we hiked back out to a safe spot, were we enjoyed the flora and fauna in an area that was not a potential riverbed.

But eventually, it was time to leave this glorious place and continue on our way.

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Saturday, September 7

Started the day cheerfully. We were invited into the kitchen, to have our breakfast with the owner and his wife. (Nikki and Richard have been here before.) Good breakfast in good company, but then we were off.

Rolling down narrow roads, we passed through some charming, small towns as we crossed into the foothills of the Flinders Ranges. Richard kept up a remarkable flow of information as we drove and whenever we stopped. First stop (more of a pause really) was the tiny town or Orroroo, which has the odd distinction of sitting on the Goyder Line.

The Goyder Line is a line that was drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyderis a line drawn in 1865 by then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Woodroffe Goyder. Goyder was a remarkable gentleman, who explored widely and understood Australia’s environment long before others did, but despite his many accomplishments, drawing this line is the thing for which he is remembered–and with good reason. This is the line that marks the boundary between land where there is enough rain to attempt agriculture and the land where it is not safe to raise crops, as rain is unreliable and sometimes completely absent. Those who ignored the line discovered that Goyder got it right. However, between having land on the good side of the line, along with a nearby creek that was dammed early on, Orroroo has survived as a farming community.

The scenery changed fairly dramatically as we continued north from Orroroo to Carrieton, transforming from green rural to red outback. After Carrieton, we reached Cradock, a town started in 1878 with high hopes by those who thought Goyder must be wrong and that the old saying “rain follows the plow” would prove true. It didn’t. The town burst into existence and after a few years of drought was largely abandoned. There is still a hotel with a bar (built in the 1880s) and a few other buildings, some closed, but not a lot else.

Then on to Hawker. This rugged little town is doing much better than Cradock, largely because it’s a wonderful place for people who plan to explore the nearby Flinders Ranges. Though the town dates back to the late 1800s, and I enjoyed seeing the older buildings at the town’s center, our stop also considered a bit of more recent history. Richard guided us to Hawker Motors and the Fred Teague Museum.

First, Richard pointed out the display of photos from the filming of the 1987 movie “The Lighthorsemen.” The film of the astonishing World War I story was shot in this area, using many locals as extras, and the actors, extras, and action were captured by the folks in town. The rest of the museum offers a delightfully quirky collection of everything from mementos of early settlers to a splendid collection of local minerals, all carefully collected by Fred Teague over the decades he lived here in Hawker. The museum is at Hawker Motors because Teague founded that, as well. However, before he ran the garage, he did stints as a gold prospector, drover (Australian cowboy), and, most impressively, spent 18 months driving the Marree-Birdsville Mail, the mail route along the stunningly difficult, 322-mile Birdsville Track, which even today tests (and often wrecks) modern 4WD vehicles.

Richard suggested that, if I can get back to Australia again, we could take on the Birdsville Track–which would make up for my having missed my chance on my last trip, when I got stuck in that flood. Something to keep in mind.

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September 6, Part 2

Then it was back to the house to pack for a weekend away–and then wait for Richard to arrive. I have not yet met Richard, just read about him in Nikki’s letters. However, he was working as an outback guide when Nikki met him, so I have no doubt he will be a wonderful asset as we go off exploring for a couple of days. I’m grateful that they are willing to take off a couple of days to show me around their corner of Australia. I’m looking forward to this.

Richard arrived home by 3:30 and found us ready and waiting. We helped him pack the ute, and we were on our way by 4 o’clock, rolling out across the valley, north and east, toward the Flinders Ranges. We passed through miles of sheep raising land, and through the town of Burra. (A quick search on this blog will turn up two posts I did previously on Burra—because it was a favorite spot from my first trip.) We didn’t stop, just admired familiar sites as we continued on, through a brilliant sunset, to the town of Peterborough.

Peterborough is a charming, historic town that grew up along the railways, and it was in fact at the handsome, old Railway Hotel that we would be staying. This is one of those classic, two-story outback hotels with broad verandahs that were so commonly built in the late 1800s. This is serious Australiana. My second-floor room faces the front of the hotel and has a door that lets out onto the balcony that wraps around the building. Simply wonderful. I could hardly be happier.

Railway Hotel in Peterborough, SA

Railway Hotel in Peterborough, SA


We had dinner in the hotel’s bar, and then headed off for a walk through town. We strolled down Main Street, past picturesque storefronts, all of a nineteenth-century vintage similar to the hotel. The town hall was impressive. There were historic markers, but I really didn’t need them, as Richard knows the area’s history so well.

We returned to the hotel, where we enjoyed a nightcap and listened to the live entertainment. Both the staff and clientele were as charming as our surroundings. But then it was time to head off to bed. We’re going to be getting early starts each day, to take advantage of daylight hours. And so, good night.

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Friday, September 6

Up early, to finish packing for my departure. Rae and Bert had kindly volunteered to drive me to the bus depot for my 9:00am bus, and this made heading out much easier. So, again, I said good-bye to good Aussie friends and continued on my way.

Barry, the driver of the Adelaide-Barossa bus, was an amiable man who informed me of much of what we passed, as we headed out of Adelaide and into the Barossa Valley–wine country. We drove through charming old Gawler, then Tanunda, a finally into Nuriootpa, where Nikki was waiting for me at the bus stop. (If you’ve read Waltzing Australia, you might remember Nikki from my tour of Western Australia. She was one of the English women with whom I became friends, but unlike the other English women I met, she did not return home, having fallen in love with someone in Australia–Richard–shortly after I last saw her in Perth.)

We drove to her absolutely delightful house, on the edge of town. It is light and airy, very Australian, surrounded by gardens, and filled with Nikki’s fine needlework, travel mementos of hers and Richard’s, and charming antiques. I loved it. (And I could move in tomorrow, without even having to change the books or music CDs.)

Nikki took me on a whirlwind tour of the Barossa Valley, showing me the sorts of things I would never have seen on the wine tour I took during my previous visit to Australia. We drove through small, tidy towns, past lush vineyards and sprawling wineries, and up to a few impressive, hill-top lookouts. Near Springton, Nikki stopped to show me the Herbig Family Tree.

The Herbig Family Tree is a large, ancient red gum (eucalyptus) that is estimated to be somewhere between 300 and 500 years old. In 1855, a young immigrant named Friedrick Herbig made the sprawling, hollowed base of this tree his home. When he married in 1858, this is the home to which he brought his bride, and their first two children were born while the couple was still living in the hollowed out tree. It would hardly have been weather proof, and with a base that is about 23 feet in diameter, it would really have only offered space for sleeping and maybe a few possessions. Finally, in 1860, Herbig managed to build a house nearby. Apparently, descendents still show up every few years for a family reunion. Fun story, but looking at the tree, it’s hard to imagine living there. That said, I guess it’s no harder to imagine than the dugouts in riverbanks that some inhabited in other areas I’ve visited. (See my “Digging Burra” post if you haven’t seen photos of dugouts.) Still, it’s the tree and its story are quite remarkable.

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Thursday, September 5

Today I was on my own. I headed into Adelaide on a mid-morning train. Adelaide has changed the least of all the towns I’ve been to so far—and the changes that have been made fit in pretty well. Hence, it was all comfortingly familiar, and I had no problem finding my way around town.

I headed for the Victoria Tourist Center, to get information for my drive next week, and then headed off to pick up a few more gifts for folks back home. After that, I was free to wander and see the sights.

I headed up King William Street and around Victoria Square, then I cut down a side street and window-shopped the length of bustling Rundle Mall. I crossed to North Terrace and walked down to the Henry Ayers house. Though I’d passed it often on my previous trip, I had never toured the splendid bluestone mansion, so I took this opportunity to do so. It is said to be one of the best examples of Colonial Regency architecture in Australia. Begun around 1845 on a less ambitious scale, it was later purchased by Ayers and considerably enlarged. Ayers, who came to Australia as a nineteen-year-old law clerk, had made his money in the Burra Copper Mines. Once he was well established financially, he went into politics. He ended up being elected premier of South Australia a record seven times. He is, of course, the person for whom that iconic symbol of the outback, Ayers Rock, is named (largely because, back in the mid-1800s, what is now the Northern Territory was still considered, at least legislatively, part of South Australia).

The massive chandeliers and vaulted, hand-painted ceilings were clearly meant to impress. The antique furniture, silver, paintings, and all other items of use or decoration were all astonishingly lovely. It was not hard to imagine the grand parties, luncheons, and balls for which Ayers become known.

One dear, older lady who works at Ayers House as a docent took me in hand, as I was alone, and spent about 45 minutes showing me things in obscure corners and out-of-the-way places in the house, sharing insights about who would have been there when and what it all meant. Wonderful. Aside from enjoying the information, I’m always delighted by the enthusiasm of those who get caught up in the history and details of a place or time.

I didn’t get any photos of the imposing exterior of Ayers House, and photos weren’t permitted inside. However, I did find this video of the interior of the state dining room on the occasion of a performance by British guitarist Jonathan Prag, so at least you can get a hint of the grandeur of the place.

Leaving Ayers House, I continued down North Terrace to the beautiful Botanic Gardens. I had come for the greenery, but smiled at the connection with the place I’d just left; Ayers was Governor of the Botanic Gardens Board for 35 years. I wandered for about half an hour among the old trees, flowers, and ponds. At one pond, there were a couple of swamp hens in the water, and I noticed that the color of their orange faces matched almost exactly the color of the large carp in the pond.

I then headed back through town, stopping to buy chocolates for Louanne, Rae, and Bert. I headed for the train station and traveled out to North Haven, where I joined my friends for supper and another evening of Aussie TV.

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