Freeling Springs (The Peake)

Arabana Ranger Program Extended

The Arabana Ranger Program was initiated in late 2019 with funding through the Australian Government. As noted in our last newsletter of September 2020, FOMS and the Arabana Rangers have developed a very successful and productive working relationship. Despite the restrictions associated with COVID-19, FOMS and the Arabana Rangers collaborated in two field trips in 2020. As described in the following item, this continued with a major joint field trip in June 2021.

There have been some personnel changes with the Ranger team: Head Ranger Micheal Stuart departed in late 2020 and, since then, Micheal’s brother Sam has been the main contact. Sam has recently been appointed Acting Head Ranger.

The Arabana Ranger Program was initially funded to 30 June 2021. However, some very good news was announced as that date approached – the Program has been funded by the Australian Government for a further seven years. This will enable FOMS and the Arabana Rangers to build on the already solid working relationship and to consider a broad range of partnership projects for mound springs conservation.

Arabana Rangers and Friends of Mound Springs work together for Springs Conservation

The Arabana team replacing bollards at the carpark at Freeling Springs

The Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) group has enjoyed a good working relationship with the Arabana people over many years. Examples of cooperative programs have been the spring burning trials conducted on Finniss Springs in 2016 and the fencing of Levi Springs in 2019.

This relationship has received a major boost through the establishment of the Arabana Ranger Programme in 2019 with funding through the Australian Government. This program has provided for the employment of a team of (currently) five under the leadership of Head Ranger Micheal (Mick) Stuart. At this stage the program is funded to 30 June 2021. The team has a relatively broad brief to help care for natural resources in Arabana country and the conservation and management of mound springs is an important objective.

In January 2020, FOMS representatives met with the Arabana Ranger team at Port Augusta to discuss areas of common interest and scope for joint programs aimed at improved conservation and management of mound springs.

Following that meeting, plans were developed for a joint field program in 2020. This program was interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with FOMS volunteers unable to travel to the region until late May. In the meantime, the Arabana Ranger team was able to work in the region, and undertook fence maintenance work and vegetation monitoring at several springs fenced by the State Environment agency in the 1980s, as well as Levi Springs.

With some easing of COVID-19 restrictions towards the end of May, FOMS volunteers were able to join with the Arabana Rangers in further field work and a revised fieldwork program was developed. FOMS volunteers and the Arabana Rangers joined forces in two field trips during 2020.

The first trip took place from 31 May to 6 June. FOMS volunteers Bruce Gotch, Colin Harris, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis joined with the Arabana team in inspections of Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs on Finniss Springs (see separate item in this newsletter) and in maintenance of the walking trails at Strangways Springs and Freeling Springs / Peake Overland Telegraph site. While at the Peake Overland Telegraph site, the Arabana Rangers installed five recycled plastic bollards at the carpark to replace deteriorating timber bollards.

The second joint springs visit occurred in late August. The group inspected several springs and artesian bores on Finniss Springs – Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs, the now extinct Venable Spring and Charles Angas, Cooryabbie and Venable bores. The group also visited Gosse and McLachlan Springs, on the Stuart Creek pastoral lease, where feral horses have had severe impact in recent months. More information on these matters is included elsewhere in this newsletter.

These field inspections provided an excellent opportunity for the Arabana Ranger team and FOMS volunteers to work together to assist the conservation of mound springs and to develop a rapport that will provide a sound basis for ongoing cooperative activities. The Arabana Ranger team is making a very significant contribution in the conservation and management of mound springs and FOMS welcomes the opportunity to be associated with the program.

Job done. L to R: Bruce Gotch, Dylan Stuart, Indianah Butler, Mick Stuart, Aamish Warren, Braden Allen and Bernice Cohen

New Signage Installed at the Peake

Flashback to 2008. Then Peake manager Jim Lomas drills holes for the new signs with guidance from Colin Harris

Those who have visited the old Overland Telegraph sites at Strangways Springs and the Peake will be familiar with the small signs that identify the various buildings which link with both the pastoral and telecommunications history of these sites. At the Peake, the original building identifier signs were installed by FOMS members Colin Harris, Simon Lewis and Sue Black in 2008, with welcome assistance from then Peake station manager, Jim Lomas and his partner Sarah Amey. However, in the prevailing harsh conditions the signs have crazed and deteriorated to the stage of requiring replacement.

Prior to the 2018 FOMS working bee, FOMS liaised with Heritage staff of the Department for Environment and Water about replacement signage. The Department funded the new signs and these were installed as part of the working bee. FOMS stalwart Bruce Gotch led the sign installation party with assistance and guidance from Sherrie Gotch and Alan Williams. Many thanks to Bruce, Sherrie and Alan and it is expected that the new signs will achieve at least another decade of effective life.

2018. Bruce Gotch installs a new sign under the watchful gaze of Alan Williams and Sherrie Gotch
One of the newly installed signs

FOMS conducts successful Working Bee, May 2018

L to R: Alan Williams, Bruce Gotch, Sherrie Gotch, John Tagell, Rick Moore, Lynn Brake, Kate Brake, Ross Smith, Bernice Cohen.
Photo: Simon Lewis

The Friends of Mound Springs group held its main working bee for 2018 from 19 to 25 May. Participants were Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Alan Williams, Lynn and Kate Brake, Rick Moore, John Tagell, Ross Smith, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis. Colin Harris was a late withdrawal with a thumb fracture.

Bopeechee Spring showing impacts from horses

Conditions were fine throughout with some cloud cover on 20 May but otherwise mainly sunny. Day temperatures 22 to 25 and night temperatures around 8 to 12 degrees.

Participants travelled independently to Roxby Downs on 19 May, before heading up the Borefield Road to camp on the Gregory Creek about 100km north of Olympic Dam.

Over the ensuing four days the group applied itself the following tasks:

  • Monitoring of three springs (Beatrice, Bopeechee and HBO004) on Finniss Springs. These springs were burnt in 2016 as a trial primarily to assess options for the management of prolific growth of reeds (Phragmites). In a 2017 inspection, it was noted that horses on Finniss Springs were impacting on both Bopeechee and HBO 004. The 2018 inspection showed that the Phragmites regrowth at Bopeechee has now been grazed to ground level by the horses. Impacts by horses have therefore compromised the effectiveness of this trial. FOMS plans to continue monitoring at these springs but the value of this exercise in monitoring the response of Phragmites to fire has been diminished.
  • Maintenance of the walking trail and replenishment of brochures at Strangways Springs. The walking trails were in good condition although there are sections of the Springs Walk that would benefit from clearer definition. In addition, the temporary sign warning people not to climb the Cutting Grass Spring will need replacement in the next year or two. The bayonet gates at Strangways remain in good order
  • Installation of new signage and walking trail maintenance at the Peake Overland Telegraph site (see separate item in this newsletter about the new signage). As at Strangways, the walking trails at the Peake were in good shape, requiring only minor attention. Some members of the group proffered the view that the Creek Walk could be improved by extending the formal trail out to the cemetery – something for further consideration.
Peake carpark – bollards missing

The group also noted some recent vandalism at the Peake carpark. Three of fifteen timber bollards – installed by FOMS ten years ago to define the carpark and prevent unwanted vehicle access to the site – had been removed, apparently to be used as firewood. The FOMS group constructed a low stone wall to block the gap created but a more lasting solution will be needed. The current plan is to replace all of the timber bollards with UV stable recycled plastic bollards.

Following the work at the Peake, the FOMS group journeyed south to Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, to tackle two main tasks:

  • Check on cattle intrusion into the Park, particularly in the southern sections. It has been evident for some time that the Park boundary fence has weak points at one or two drainage lines, enabling cattle to access the Park from the neighbouring pastoral property. While cattle were still present at Buttercup Spring, it was evident that fencing repair work was underway to rectify the situation and FOMS has been advised that this is a result of a cooperative approach between the Department for Environment and Water and the managers of the adjoining Stuart Creek property. (During a subsequent inspection in early July 2018, no cattle were noted within the )
  • An initial reconnaissance to assess the potential of establishing a walking trail from near Blanche Cup out to the extinct mound spring that is Hamilton Hill. This showed that there is potential for an interesting walk, but to make it really worthwhile the walk should venture to the top of Hamilton Hill. The difficulty is that for the most part the slopes of Hamilton Hill are steep and stony and a safe access route for public use has not yet been identified. If a preferred route is identified there will need to be a formal assessment and approvals process involving the Department for Environment and Water and the Arabana people.
    At Wabma Kadarbu the two main interpretive signs at Blanche Cup had deteriorated and this information has since been passed on to Department for Environment and Water staff. A brief inspection of Little Bubbler spring was also undertaken. This spring is of interest in that it was free of Phragmites until the early 2000s. Some growth of Phragmites was noted at the spring vent at that time but its rate of spread since that time has been quite limited – just two or three metres around the spring vent. The factors affecting the establishment and spread of Phragmites are still not fully understood.

The FOMS working bee concluded in style, with lunch at the Curdimurka Siding on the return journey and a final night at the Eldo Hotel at Woomera. Many thanks to all.

Bernice Cohen, Simon Lewis and John Tagell at the stone cairn on Hamilton Hill
Little Bubbler showing cattle damage. Reeds largely restricted to the spring vent

FOMS Repairs Walking Trails at the Peake

At work on the Creek Walk

FOMS members will recall that FOMS established two walking trails at the Peake Overland Telegraph site in 2011 – the Creek Walk and the Copper Top Smelter and Mine Walk. Observations in August 2016 showed that both trails – particularly the Creek Walk – had been significantly eroded by the heavy rains of that year and needed repairs.

In August 2017 a FOMS group travelled to the Peake to do the necessary repair work. The group comprised Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch, Stafford Dow, Bernice Cohen, Brian Donaghy, Bren and Elizabeth (Bis) Lay, Sony Manning and Simon Lewis.

The group had a full day at the Peake Overland Telegraph site on 9th August 2017, focussing on repair of the two walking trails. Some work was also undertaken to prune back vegetation on the track up to the ruins and other vegetation growing over signage.

The Creek Walk required substantial work, including repair of water erosion damage, re-routing of sections as a result of shifting spring tails, and installation of two additional marker posts to improve the definition of the trail. Work on the Walk was completed by lunch-time, after which more minor repairs were effected on the Copper Top Smelter and Mine Walk.

During this trip the group also visited Elizabeth Springs in the Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. It has been suggested previously that FOMS could consider working with DEWNR in establishing a walking trail at Elizabeth Springs but the inspection showed that, for several reasons, a walking trail would not be particularly feasible.

A further highlight of the August 2017 trip was an inspection of the old lime kilns near the Peake Overland Telegraph site.

Colin Harris and Bernice Cohen at Elizabeth Springs
The FOMS group at the old lime kilns on the Peake

Rains Affect Walking Trails at the Peake

As many will recall, FOMS volunteers established self-guided walking trails at Strangways Springs and at the Peake Overland Telegraph site in 2011. Descriptive brochures were also prepared by FOMS and stocked at each location. Since 2011, FOMS members have visited Strangways and the Peake on a regular basis to check the walking trails and top up the brochure supply.

During the July 2016 FOMS trip, Colin Harris, Bernice Cohen and Claire Bockner travelled to the Peake while some of the fence maintenance and repair work was being done at other springs on the Peake. They noted quite significant water erosion damage to the walking trails – a reflection of the bumper rainfall year in the Far North of South Australia. Repair works on these trails will be factored into FOMS’ 2017 work program.

FOMS volunteers construct trails at Strangways and the Peake

FOMS members had a busy time in May 2011 establishing a series of walking trails at Strangways Springs and the Peake. Both sites are of national importance because of their combination of mound springs and ruins of Overland Telegraph repeater stations.

FOMS has been involved in protective works at the two locations for the last three years. FOMS has worked with S Kidman & Co and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the installation of protective fencing and informative signage. Much of the recent protective work has focussed on the Peake, where fencing was constructed in 2010 to prevent indiscriminate vehicle access to the nearby gidgee creek-line. This complemented earlier work by FOMS volunteers (in 2008) to establish bollards around the main car-park.

In 2010 FOMS was fortunate to secure a State Government community NRM grant of $9,600 to complete this work by establishing self-guided walks through the springs and other cultural features at both Strangways and the Peake, an initiative which had been previously suggested to FOMS by S Kidman & Co Managing Director Greg Campbell. During 2010 there were two trips by FOMS personnel to determine the routes for the walking trails.

The project came to a climax in May this year when 26 FOMS volunteers gathered on site with mattocks, rakes and scrapers to develop, as well as blisters and sore backs, a total of about 6 km of walking trails. The group was guided by trail construction experts Rob Marshall and Dr Sue Barker, with trail markers established at points of interest and brochures prepared to guide walkers around the trail loops.

Many thanks go to the following helpers who made it all possible:

Strangways volunteers

  • Rob Marshall
  • Sue Barker
  • Colin Harris
  • Simon Lewis
  • Tiana Forrest
  • Bernice Cohen
  • Hadyn and Chris Hanna
  • Leigh and John Childs
  • Bill Giles
  • Anne and Bjarne Jensen
  • Michael Jarvis
  • John Balkwill

Peake volunteers

  • Rob Marshall
  • Sue Barker
  • Colin Harris
  • Simon Lewis
  • Tiana Forrest
  • Elaine Smyth
  • Leigh and John Childs
  • Sue Black
  • Bruce and Sherrie Gotch
  • Margie Barnett
  • Alan and Marlene Swinstead
  • Dean and Marian Harris
  • Brendan and Elizabeth Lay
During the Strangways work the group had a brief visit from DENR’s Regional Manager Geoff Axford, along with Janet Walton from the SA Arid Lands NRM Board. On the same day a convoy comprising Roger Wickes, Peter Allen and Andrew McTaggart and partners also dropped in. The camp-fire was quite crowded that night! The visitors had a quick guided tour over the walking trails and provided some positive feedback.

There are now three walks at each location. At Strangways, the Mound Springs Walk takes visitors on a 1.8km walk around several active springs and the cemetery; the Woolwash Walk (2.2km) ventures down to the ruins of the wool-scouring plant and back along the springs plateau; and the Settlement Walk is guided by signs identifying each of the buildings. At the Peake, the Coppertop Smelter and Mine Walk (1.5km) explores the old mine and smelter and provides sweeping vistas of the springs and ruins on the return loop; the Creek and Cemetery Walk provides a short 0.6km loop along the watercourse; and the Settlement Walk showcases the old buildings.

Heather and Tracey Mahon, the first to sample the brochures at Strangways
Heather and Tracey Mahon, the first to sample the brochures at Strangways

The completion of the physical works in May paved the way for finalisation of three FOMS brochures – one each for the Strangways and Peake walks and a third with general information on mound springs. The brochures are of a high quality and the input and assistance of a number of FOMS members was very much appreciated.

Twelve thousand brochures have been printed and 4000 were transported to the on-site dispensers by Colin Harris and Simon Lewis 7-10 August 2011.

Pictured are the first visitors to use the brochures at Strangways Springs on 8 August, Heather and Tracey Mahon from Sydney.

This work effectively completes a major and very successful project for FOMS at Strangways and the Peake, although ongoing maintenance of the trails will be needed and the brochures will need to be topped up from time to time.

Many thanks again to all who have contributed, especially the FOMS members who worked tirelessly on the construction of the trails. Special thanks are extended to Rob Marshall and Dr Sue Barker, walking trails experts who generously contributed a great deal of time and effort before, during and after the construction work. The high standard of the completed work is in no small measure due to their commitment and expertise.

Signage Installed at the Peake

Colin Harris directs traffic while Jim Lomas lines up for another post-hole
Colin Harris directs traffic while Jim Lomas lines up for another post-hole
Job done. Sue Black and Colin Harris alongside one of the new signs
Job done. Sue Black and Colin Harris alongside one of the new signs

The ruins of the Peake Repeater Station and their surrounds have been a particular focus of attention for FOMS during 2008. In our July newsletter we reported on the work of FOMS members in installing bollards around the car-parking area during the trip in June. Elsewhere in this newsletter, Colin Harris reports on a FOMS initiative to erect protective fencing alongside the access track into the ruins.

In August 2008, FOMS members Sue Black, Colin Harris and Simon Lewis returned to the Peake to install signage at the ruins. The signage has been organised by the State Heritage Branch, Department for Environment and Heritage, and comprises small signs identifying each ruin (repeater station, police station etc) – consistent with similar signage installed previously at the Strangways ruins.

While the bollard-installation trip of June may be remembered by some for its crowbar blisters and sore backs, the installation of the signs was made easier through the generous assistance of S. Kidman’s then managers at the (new) Peake, Jim Lomas and Sarah Amey. Jim dug the holes with a tractor-mounted post-hole digger (following a slow trip up on the tractor from the new Peake) while Sarah proved a dab hand on the end of a shovel. Many thanks to Jim and Sarah for their welcome assistance.

The combination of the bollards, signage and soon-to-be-completed fencing comprises a significant step forward in efforts to conserve the Peake ruins, while also enhancing the experience for visitors.