General News

Arabana Ranger Program initiated by Federal Government

Attendees at the Port Augusta meeting. Rear (L to R): Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch (both FOMS), Cherie Gerlach, Sarah Stevens (SA Arid Lands NRM Board staff), Travis Gotch, Tony Magor (both National Parks & Widlife, DEW), Arabana Ranger Marshall Stuart, Arabana Head Ranger Micheal Stuart, Simon Lewis (FOMS), Arabana Ranger Garth Dodd, Paul Tanner. Seated at front: Arabana Rangers Braden Allen and Aamish Warren.

Some good news – an Arabana Ranger Program has been initiated through funding support from the Federal Government. Five Arabana Rangers have been appointed, including Head Arabana Ranger Micheal Stuart – son of Uncle Dean (see above article). General support and coordination is provided through Conservation Management Director Alistair Dermer, who is based interstate. The Ranger group is operating out of Port Augusta and, at this stage, has funding to June 30, 2021.

The Arabana Ranger team and FOMS personnel have wasted no time in becoming acquainted, with a joint meeting held at Port Augusta on 22 January 2020 – FOMS representatives being Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch and Simon Lewis. Also attending were Tony Magor, National Parks and Wildlife Manager, Flinders and Outback, and Travis Gotch, newly appointed District Ranger, Outback. Arid Lands NRM Board staff Sarah Stevens and Cherie Gerlach also joined the group for a short time.

The meeting highlighted that the Arabana Ranger Program and FOMS have a number of objectives in common. Micheal Stuart noted that priority areas for the Program are protecting and monitoring country, building and maintaining relationships and getting Arabana people on to country. FOMS representatives noted that FOMS has a particular interest in maintaining protective fencing around a number of important mound springs on pastoral lease land – seven fenced by the state Environment agency in the 1980s and Levi Springs, fenced by FOMS volunteers in 2019. Vegetation monitoring is also a priority at these springs.

It was agreed that the Arabana Rangers could take on a significant role with this fence maintenance and vegetation monitoring. As a next step, FOMS representatives and the Arabana Rangers will have a joint inspection of these sites – currently scheduled for May 2020.

This is a welcome initiative and FOMS looks forward to linking closely with the Arabana Ranger Program. It is to be hoped that funding for the Program will be extended well beyond June 2021.

FOMS Newsletter #21, November 2019

This newsletter edition features:

  • FOMS Volunteers Fence Levi Springs
  • Report on FOMS Working Bee, May 2019
  • Burn Trial Sites checked on Finniss Springs
  • Walking Trails in good shape at Strangways and the Peake
  • Bollards replaced at Peake Carpark
  • Vegetation monitoring provides a surprise or two
  • GAB Springs Management Planning and Stewardship Initiative
  • Life Membership for FOMS Stalwarts
  • Pastoral Act under the Spotlight
  • Water Allocation Plan under Review
  • GAB Strategic Management Plan nearing completion

FOMS Volunteers Fence Levi Springs

Location of Levi Springs

Regular readers of the FOMS newsletter may recall that the fencing of ten springs at Levi Springs, on the Peake Pastoral Lease, has been under discussion for several years. It is pleasing to report that this fencing has now been completed through the efforts of nine FOMS volunteers, the work being undertaken in July 2019.

Levi Springs comprise an important group of springs adjacent to impressive rock outcrops with petroglyphs. The area to be fenced also includes the remnants of a shepherd’s hut and coolabah yards – rare surviving relics of early pastoral times when sheep were being run on the country.

This project has had a long gestation period. As part of the State Environment Department’s $1 million Desert Jewels project (2013 to 2016), it was proposed that a number of springs at Levi Springs be fenced to provide protection from stock. In August 2015, a combined group from FOMS and the Department inspected Levi Springs and plotted a proposed fence alignment that would include all but one of the springs at Levi and most of the associated stony outcrops. Subsequently, the proposal was considered by the Directors’ Group of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation and, after considerable deliberation, a more modest fencing alignment, taking in the springs but not the main associated stony outcrops, was given formal endorsement by the Arabana Directors’ Group. The project was also endorsed by the then lessees of the Peake, S Kidman & Co.

However, the Environment Department’s Desert Jewels project concluded without any fencing work at Levi Springs. The Department had purchased some of the fencing materials needed but did not have the resources to undertake the on-ground work. At about that time, S. Kidman & Co sold the Anna Creek and Peake Pastoral Leases to the Williams Cattle Company.

Cattle on one of the springs at Levi, prior to fencing

With the Department’s reduced scope for involvement, it was left to FOMS volunteers to continue efforts to see this fencing project through to fruition. In August 2017, FOMS members met with Tony and Trevor Williams, of the Williams Cattle Company, at Levi Springs and subsequently the Company advised that the fencing could proceed as planned.

The logistics involved in preparing for up to 2.5km of fencing to be erected by volunteers in a remote environment are complex and many months were taken up in finalising the fence design, reviewing equipment requirements, ordering additional materials needed and arranging for transport of materials to Levi Springs. Earlier plans for a timber post, four-barb fence were superseded by an all- steel design, still four-barb, fence that would require far fewer post-holes to be dug. FOMS member Brenton Arnold led the way with this work and FOMS is extremely grateful for his contribution.

By mid-2019, the final arrangements for the fencing settled into place. The fencing team was finalised and dates were set for the work: 16th to 26th July 2019. The team comprised Brenton Arnold, Bruce Gotch, Bren Lay, Chris Wenham, Steve Taylor, Colin Harris and Simon Lewis. Simon Rathbone was a last- minute withdrawal due to illness.

Because of the scale of the project, it was decided early in the planning process that a catering team should be engaged to look after food preparation and general camp maintenance. Experienced tour guide / caterer and fellow FOMS member Rick Moore took on this role, ably assisted by another FOMS member Stafford Dow.

All group members except Brenton travelled to Woomera on Tuesday 16th July, then continued on to Levi Springs on Wednesday 17th, via Billa Kalina and William Creek. The camp for the following eight nights was set up on Levi Creek, a coolabah / red gum creek-line close to Levi Springs. In the meantime, Brenton assisted with the loading of fencing materials at Port Augusta by McArdles Transport before joining the group at Levi.

Early on Thursday 18th, Colin and Simon drove the 35km to the Peake homestead to rendezvous with the McArdles truck and to guide the truck down to Levi Springs. The truck arrived on schedule at the homestead at about 9am and all were very relieved when the truck made it all the way to the springs. With enthusiastic assistance from truck-driver James, unloading was readily completed and the stage was set for ground-work to commence.

The first task was to confirm the fence alignment and some modifications were made to avoid saltier ground, rationalise drainage line crossings and include the coolabah spring near the rock outcrops. Then the physical fencing work commenced and over the next six days the crew slipped into a regime of post-hole digging, strainer assembly, star- dropper ramming, barbed wired run-out and straining and spacer installation.

By Wednesday 24th, all but a short run of fencing near the main spring and some fine-tuning of drainage line crossings were complete. This work was readily completed, whereupon there was an official gate-opening ceremony followed by a walk through the newly created exclosure. As part of this walk-through, Brendan and Simon established a number of photo-points to be used in following the progress of the springs and some dryland areas.

On Thursday 25th the group headed back to the Eldo at Woomera via William Creek and Billa Kalina. A flat tyre on Stafford’s vehicle was the only mishap on the journey. Lengthy showers and a celebratory meal at the Eldo were enjoyed by all.

Many thanks to all for making up a very convivial group and for completing a major project safely and enjoyably. A complete team effort, fine catering and an achievement FOMS can be proud of!

FOMS is particularly grateful to the SA Arid Lands Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board and the Friends of Private Bushland for providing funds to support this project. The NRM Board has provided FOMS with a $10,000 grant to support spring protection works and vegetation monitoring and $5,000 of this grant was used as a contribution to the Levi Springs fencing work. The Friends of Private Bushland provided a very generous grant of $2,000 and this was fully allocated to this project.

Fence alignment at Levi Springs

Bollards replaced at Peake Carpark

At the Peake OT site, indiscriminate access by vehicles to both the historic site and nearby creek- line was a significant problem until 2008 when FOMS volunteers installed timber bollards to define the carpark and limit vehicle movement. This work was subsequently reinforced through additional fencing installed as a cooperative venture by FOMS, the Environment Department and then lessees S Kidman & Co.

However, by 2018, the timber bollards were starting to deteriorate and some had been removed by visitors for firewood. During the May 2019 working bee, FOMS replaced ten of the timber bollards with synthetic recycled plastic bollards. The site is now secure and the remaining six timber bollards will be replaced by FOMS in 2020.

Brian Wheeler (L), Brian Donaghy and Greg Wheeler (R)
pause for the camera while Craig Whisson carries on regardless.
Installation of the new bollards is complete

Hopeful Signs for Fencing at Levi Springs

Levi Springs – approx. location

Readers of recent FOMS newsletters may recall the proposal to fence several mound springs at Levi Springs, on the Peake pastoral lease. This proposal originated as part of a major mound springs project (known as Desert Jewels) undertaken by the then state Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (now Department for Environment and Water). This project concluded before the Levi Springs fencing could be organised and FOMS has been trying to see this through to completion. The area proposed for protection is about 10 – 12ha, with approximately 2.3km of fencing.

Many of the steps needed to enable the fencing to proceed are now in place. The local Arabana people have approved the proposed fence alignment, as have the new pastoral lessees at the Peake – the Williams Cattle company. The Department for Environment and Water has organised the necessary fencing materials and has indicated that funding will be available for an Arabana fencing team to assist with fence erection. There has been some concern as to how the 200 or so required post-holes could be drilled but it now appears that funding approved by the SA Arid Lands NRM Board (see other item in this newsletter) will assist FOMS in hiring the equipment.

At the time of this newsletter it was unclear whether the on-ground fencing works will be completed in spring 2018 or autumn 2019.

FOMS acknowledges the ongoing support of the Department for Environment and Water – particularly Tony Magor, Manager, Parks and Co-management – in helping to progress this project.

Area to be fenced blue line shows original alignment, red shows agreed fence extension
One of the springs at Levi to be protected

Draft Strategic Management Plan for Great Artesian Basin out for Public Comment

The Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has released for comment a draft Strategic Management Plan for the Great Artesian Basin. FOMS Executive members have reviewed the draft Strategic Management Plan and have submitted comments to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. FOMS’ main comments are summarised below:

  • The draft Great Artesian Basin Strategic Management Plan (GABSMP) is clearly a “high-level” document. As such, the broad statements relating to GAB / mound springs are strongly supported. For example:
    • The Basin is a finite and declining resource;
    • Water extraction has had a significant impact on water pressure and flow rates of springs in certain areas;
    • The need to manage water flows, pressure and quality to support groundwater-dependent
  • While FOMS is very supportive of the above as over-arching comments, the group has a number of concerns about the
    • The Strategic Management Plan is largely devoid of strategy. It has a focus on general objectives and desired outcomes but very little guidance (strategy) on how the objectives and outcomes are to be achieved. Further, any discussion about priorities, partnerships and targets is only included in the most general
    • The draft GABSMP is focused on the hydrology of the However, there is no recognition that the conservation of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, such as GAB springs, is linked with other factors such as grazing by introduced stock and feral animals, weed invasion, introduction of non-native aquatic fauna and, in some instances, interactions with surface water flows. The vast majority of GAB springs in South Australia are on pastoral lease land and are therefore subject to ongoing grazing pressures and a similar situation applies in other states. A small number of springs on pastoral lands have been protected but most remain unprotected and a strategy is needed to address that.
    • It is acknowledged that the regulation of grazing pressure on springs is a responsibility of State jurisdictions, but the risk to springs resulting from grazing and other mechanical disturbance is a Basin-wide strategic issue that needs to be addressed in this plan.

In summary, FOMS advocates that the draft GABSMP be subject to substantial revisions to address comments such as the above and to provide a more strategic and comprehensive basis for management of the GAB and its associated ecosystems with much clearer recognition of the international significance of GAB springs.

The GAB and Drought Relief

Some thoughts from FOMS Patron, Lynn Brake

Over the past few months the media has been filled with information about the effect of the current drought on primary producers, especially in the drier parts of Australia. In most of the country underlain by the GAB the effect of the dry weather has been exceptionally severe. Water from the GAB is the only water to sustain life and supports all human activity in much arid and semi-arid parts of Australia. There is no alternative source. More than 120 towns, hundreds of pastoral stations, mining and petroleum industries and visitors rely all on GAB water. There are more than 34,000 water bores in the GAB. They support more than $12bil in production and have a replacement cost of more than $4bil. There are more than 6000 GAB springs. These and the groundwater dependent ecosystems that they support are sites of immense cultural and natural value. The GAB is one of the largest artesian Basins in the world and unquestionably Australia’s most important groundwater resource.

Recent research by Geoscience Australia demonstrates that recharge rates into the GAB from rain along the dividing range is as much as 90% less than indicated by previous studies. This means that we are effectively ‘mining ‘water from the GAB. Pressure is naturally falling; this is being accelerated by water extraction through bores. As a result, the judicious use of GAB water is essential to eliminate any waste and sustain the benefits that we value from the GAB. The springs will be affected and many even dry completely with just a small pressure drop. Pressure is not the only issue however. As islands of wet in an otherwise sea of dry springs attract animals from a great distance to water and feed on the vegetation in and around the spring vents. The impact of these animals risks the natural and cultural values that springs support.

So far the risk to overexploitation of the GAB is being quite well managed. If we are judicious and diligent and work cooperatively together to manage the risks to artesian pressure and maintain the surface structures around springs and the Ecosystems that they support the GAB will continue to provide water and benefits for people, industries and spring fed ecosystems for many years to come.

GAB spring on Finniss Springs (L) and Bore control infrastructure (R)

Riding the old Ghan

Reflections and memories from Tony Latz

One of the Old Ghan steam locomotives

What has the old Ghan line got to do with mound springs? The overland telegraph line basically followed the early European explorer’s route north and this route took advantage of mound springs along the way. The old Ghan line more or less followed the telegraph line north through the springs country and then on up into the NT to the Alice.

When I first rode on the Ghan it was still the real thing – a steam train! Exciting times for a young lad from the bush, going down to the big smoke (Adelaide) on the Ghan. Dad was head stockman on Hermannsburg station and once every three years he had three months “furlough” which meant heading down south. When furlough finally came around there was much anticipation and excitement in the build up to departure day. First up it was onto the ex-army Maple Leaf Chev truck and off to the Alice. And then finally all aboard the train and ready for departure.

The best part was the food. Awe inspiring stuff for a young bushie, being ushered into the dining car and confronted with crispy white table cloths with flash Commonwealth Railways crockery and big heavy silver cutlery all engraved CR. And being waited on by blokes in black pants, cummerbunds and bow ties. I can still visualise them swaying down the aisle in time with the rocking of the train balancing four bowls of soup.

We travelled second class of course but that was still pretty flash. The cabins were all timber panelling with a chromed wash basin that folded out. There were two top bunks and the two leather seats below folded down into bunks. I remember being impressed by the thick red velvet covered rope strung across and threaded though leather thongs that stopped (most) people from falling out of the top bunks.

So we clickedy clacked our way down south stopping regularly at sundry sidings and railway towns to drop off and pick up people and odds and sods and to refill the steam engine’s water tanks and coal tenders. Places like Oodnadatta and

Marree were busy little railway towns in those days and they like all the other stops came to life with the arrival of the Ghan.

Down into the gibber country past Oodnadatta and a buzz went through the train when the conductor announced that the crossing of the Algebuckina Bridge was imminent. Heads poked out of windows and everybody oohed and aahed as this awesome construction over the Neales River swished past. Onward then to William Creek, one of the more memorable stops. The William Creek Hotel of today is still fairly basic but back then it consisted of not much more than a small tin shed.

It was a dry train and the weather was hot and three days was a long time for many of the thirsty passengers on board. So no sooner had the conductor announced “next stop William Creek” and the train screeched to a halt than a stream of thirsty punters poured out of the carriages and disappeared into the pub. Eventually there was a warning blast of the train whistle and a line of refreshed and slightly tipsy souls begin to trickle out of the pub and scramble aboard the train. When the train huffed and puffed itself into motion the trickle turned into a stream of unsteady punters dashing after the moving train and scrambling onto any of the departing carriages they managed to run down.

And so down the line to Marree with the usual throng milling around and on through the Pichi Richi pass to Pt Augusta. Here we climbed aboard the broad gauge train with a big powerful steam engine up front and took off at great speed for Adelaide.