The Bubbler and Blanche Cup (Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs)

About the Mound Springs

Location

Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, on the Oodnadatta Track

 

130km west north west of Marree

75km south east of William Creek

Carpark 4km off main Oodnadatta Track

The entrance to the park is about six kilometres south east of Coward Springs. Vehicle access within the park is limited to the several kilometre long entrance road to Blanche Cup and the Bubbler mound springs. There is no through access, visitors must return to the main road the way they came in.

Things to do here

Mound spring

Explore the fascinating mound springs at Blanche Cup and the Bubbler

Vista

Take in the vista of the large extinct mound spring, Hamilton Hill, near Blanche Cup

Reflect on just how important these little oases in the desert must have been for Aboriginal people and for the early European explorers

Camping

Visit the nearby Coward Springs Campground to see the extensive wetland associated with the artesian bore, soak in the warm ‘natural spa’ and to see displays depicting the early European & indigenous stories of Coward Springs and surrounds.

Blanche Cup with Hamilton Hill, an extinct mound spring, in the background

Blanche Cup ca 1889

The Bubbler Mound Spring, with Hamilton Hill in the background

The Bubbler has a relatively strong flow and an extensive wetland tail

Access boardwalk, The Bubbler

Features of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park

The major attractions of this park are Blanche Cup and The Bubbler mound springs. These are both excellent examples of natural artesian springs. Hamilton Hill, a large hill in an otherwise flat landscape, is a large extinct mound spring that indicates much higher flows from mound springs in the geological past.

Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park was established in 1996, with additional areas added to the Park in 2000. Prior to 1996, the land was part of the Stuart Creek pastoral lease. However, the particular importance of Blanche Cup and the Bubbler has long been recognised, and protective fencing was established around these springs in the mid-1980s through a partnership between the Stuart Creek lessees and the State Environment Department.

Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park also contains many other lower-flow mound springs, but they are not accessible by vehicle. Elizabeth Springs, in the northern section of the Park, contains many small springs or seeps that support small wetland areas. Springs other than Blanche Cup and the Bubbler are best accessed with the assistance of a guide who is familiar with the Park.

Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park is a day visitor area only. Camping is available at nearby Coward Springs. This privately run camping area, located next to the old railway bore, provides toilets and showers.

One of many small flows at Elizabeth Springs
One of many small flows at Elizabeth Springs

A place steeped in history

  • 1858
    Explorer Peter Warburton traversed the area in 1858 and named Coward Springs
  • 1884
    Great Northern Railway extended from Marree past Strangways
  • 1886
    Artesian bore sunk at Coward Springs
  • 1920s
    Coward Springs bore had corroded and millions of gallons of water flow creating a wetland
  • 1993
    Coward Springs bore redrilled and relined to control flow rate

Explore the history and environment

Explore the history and environment aspects of this spring by clicking each image below (extra info appears beneath photos).

  • Indigenous Pre-history

    Indigenous Pre-history

  • Early European Exploration

  • Great Northern Railway

    Great Northern Railway

  • Coward Springs Settlement

  • Mound springs - Outstanding Biological Importance

    Outstanding Biological Importance

Indigenous Pre-history

The mound springs, including Blanche Cup and the Bubbler, are of enormous significance to Aboriginal people.

It is said that the Kuyani ancestor Kakakutanha followed the trail of the rainbow serpent Kanmari to Bidalinha (or the Bubbler) where he killed it. He then threw away the snake’s head, which is represented by Hamilton Hill, and cooked the body in an oven (Dirga) which is now Blanche Cup. Kakakutanha’s wife, angry at missing out on the best meat from the snake, cursed her husband and he went on to meet a gruesome death at Kudna-ngampa (Curdimurka). The bubbling water represents the convulsions of the dying serpent.

Mound springs were of immense utilitarian importance to Aboriginal people, particularly as places to fall back to in times of drought. This is reflected in the large amount of occupational debris to be found around the springs. The brackish taste of the spring water was probably not highly appealing but the springs allowed Aboriginal people to survive the dry times.

Early European Exploration

Springs within Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park were intimately associated with early European exploration of the Far North of South Australia.

Explorer Peter Warburton traversed the area in 1858 and named Coward Springs – a natural spring to the north of Blanche Cup and the Bubbler – after one of his party, Corporal Thomas Coward. Warburton and his party had actually been sent north by the Commissioner of Crown Lands to track down and replace a party led by BH Babbage. Babbage’s party had left Adelaide in early 1858 to explore the country between Lake Torrens and Lake Gairdner, but his slowness led to public disquiet and Warburton was sent north to supersede him. (Babbage was probably the first European explorer to discover a mound spring – Emerald Spring – south-east of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park.)

Noted explorer John McDouall Stuart had several expeditions through this springs country and during his second expedition in 1859 named Elizabeth Springs after the daughter of one of his sponsors, James Chambers. Blanche Cup was named after Blanche, wife of Governor MacDonnell.

Explorer Colonel Peter Egerton Warburton
Explorer Peter Egerton Warburton
Elizabeth Springs. Artwork by N Chevalier, 1868, based on sketches by JAFD Herrgott during the 1859 Stuart expedition
Elizabeth Springs. Artwork by N Chevalier, 1868, based on sketches by JAFD Herrgott during the 1859 Stuart expedition

Great Northern Railway

The mound springs of northern South Australia directly influenced the siting of the Overland Telegraph line and the Ghan Railway. A section of the former narrow gauge Ghan Railway passes through Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park and the nearby Coward Springs Camp-ground is the site of an important settlement and railway station on the Ghan line.

Construction of what was then known as the Port Augusta to Government Gums Railway began in 1878. The 1,070 mm (3 ft 6 in) line reached Hawker in June 1880, Beltana in July 1881, Herrgott Springs (later renamed Marree) in January 1884 and Oodnadatta in January 1891. It was not until 1926 that the extension of the line to Alice Springs began and that section was completed in 1929. Until then, the final leg of the journey to Alice Springs was still made by camel. The Old Ghan made its last journey in 1980 and was replaced by a standard gauge line through less flood-prone country to the west of the Stuart Highway.

A Worktrain at 579 mile Bridge, 3 miles south of Anna Creek on the Great Northern Line. Driver: H.Simpson; Fireman: M.Kittel
A Worktrain at 579 mile Bridge, 3 miles south of Anna Creek on the Great Northern Line. Driver: H.Simpson; Fireman: M.Kittel

Coward Springs Settlement

Much of the post-European exploration history of the locality relates to the settlement established at Coward Springs to service the Ghan railway. A government bore was completed in 16 July 1886. It was 400 feet deep and the artesian water rose 15 feet into the air from the bore. The brackish water from the Great Artesian Basin quickly corroded the bore head and bore casing and by the 1920s millions of gallons of water flowed without control over the dry gibber plains, creating a wetland. A large pool formed where water bubbled from the corroded bore and was popular with railway passengers, crew, residents and locals alike. The bore was re-drilled and relined in 1993 by the South Australian Government and the flow rate controlled and reduced.

The opening of artesian bore at Coward Springs circa 1890, sunk in 1886. Henry Krischock, photographer.jpg
The opening of artesian bore at Coward Springs circa 1890, sunk in 1886. Henry Krischock, photographer.jpgThe opening of artesian bore at Coward Springs circa 1890, sunk in 1886. Henry Krischock, photographer
Coward Springs Hotel, 1928
Coward Springs Hotel, 1928

Coward Springs had a school from 1888 to 1890 although it was probably better known for the Coward Springs Hotel that was licensed from 1887 to 1953. For many decades passengers were directed to the ‘pub’ and the ‘bath’ at the collapsed bore head. The hotel was demolished and salvaged for its materials in 1965.

Coward Springs was also important as a trucking point for sheep and cattle from considerable distances around. A Travelling Stock Route extended from Coward Springs through to the Kingoonya-Tarcoola district.

Coward Springs, bore overflow, date palms with the Ghan train in background, circa 1927
Coward Springs, bore overflow, date palms with the Ghan train in background, circa 1927

Coward Springs today is privately owned and operated as a campground and heritage area. The site was listed on the South Australian Heritage Register on 13 August 1998. Conserved under this heritage agreement are the two railway buildings (the Engine Drivers Cabin and the Stationmasters House), two in-ground rainwater tanks, the bore, date palms and athel pines. The built heritage on site has been restored, he Stationmasters House as the owners’ private residence and the Engine Drivers Cabin as a museum.

The wetland area at the Coward Springs Campground has been established by the overflow from the artesian bore. It is therefore, strictly speaking, an artificial wetland ecosystem. However, its spontaneous evolution over more than 100 years has transformed the site into a diverse habitat for a vast variety of biota.The range of aquatic plants and animals and the value of the area have been given formal recognition through its being only one of five bores in the region permitted to remain as free-flowing and also by the granting of a protective Heritage Agreement over the area by the State Environment Minister.

Outstanding Biological Importance

The mound springs of the Great Artesian Basin are genuine oases in the desert and support plants and animals of immense conservation significance – some occurring only in the springs. Blanche Cup and the Bubbler have wetland vegetation typical of many mound springs in the region – predominantly bore-drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus, a sedge commonly growing to about 30cm high. At Blanche Cup there is a coolabah growing near the spring – it is about 20 years old and may well have germinated from seed carried in on the foot-wear of a visitor. At some other springs within Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park tall reeds (Phragmites) are predominant and it is of interest that these reeds have not established at Blanche Cup or the Bubbler.

Cyperus laevigatus
Cyperus laevigatus

The animals of the springs are not so obvious although waterbirds, including on rare occasions brolgas, may sometimes be seen. In shallow open water, little isopods are often quite common – slater-like crustaceans up to about five millimetres long. Even harder to discern are tiny snails, known as Hydrobiids, often no larger than about two millimetres across. Although tiny, these creatures are of substantial scientific interest because of their evolutionary history and patterns. Some species of Hydrobiid are found only at specific individual mound springs.

The importance of the plants and animals of the mound springs is reflected in the fact that they are classified as “endangered” under Commonwealth legislation – the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Projects & activities at The Bubbler and Blanche Cup

The best known and most frequently visited mound springs in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park are Blanche Cup and the Bubbler. With easy access from the Oodnadatta Track, Blanche Cup and the Bubbler have been on the tourist map for several decades, including the days when the springs were on the Stuart Creek Pastoral Lease. Projects and activities have focussed on these two springs.

In the mid-1980s, Blanche Cup and the Bubbler, then on Stuart Creek, were fenced by the State Environment agency to prevent impacts from cattle grazing and to limit the impacts of visitors and their vehicles. In the mid-1990s, the lessees of Stuart Creek, S Kidman & Co, offered to relinquish land including Blanche Cup and the Bubbler and Coward Springs mound spring to the north and these springs were included in the initial Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, proclaimed in 1996. At this stage, the Park comprised two separate areas, one including Blanche Cup and the Bubbler and the second including Coward Spring.

In 2000, the new lessees of Stuart Creek, BHP Billiton, offered additional land for addition to Wabma Kadarbu. This enabled a substantial expansion of the Park to comprise a single area including the former park and to include a large number of additional springs, such as Elizabeth, Jersey, Horse and Buttercup. The expanded Park was proclaimed in 2001.

 

As a conservation park, Wabma Kadarbu is under the direct management responsibility of the SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. The Department’s focus has been management of Blanche Cup and the Bubbler and activities have included maintenance of the access track from the Oodnadatta Track, upgrading of car-parking facilities, installation of interpretive signage and construction of board-walks around Blanche Cup and the Bubbler to reduce pedestrian damage to the springs.

The Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) group has provided support to the Department in the management of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. FOMS has assisted in maintaining the historic ruins of the Mt Hamilton Police Station by removing vegetation growing through and destabilising the ruins. FOMS also undertook a sweep across the extensive Elizabeth Springs complex to remove rubbish that has accumulated over many years. FOMS has also assisted the Department with comments and advice about proposed infrastructure and interpretive information for the Park.