Strangways Springs

Signs replaced at Strangways Springs

Bruce Gotch with a newly installed sign at Strangways

Anyone who has visited the ruins of the former Overland Telegraph Station (and former sheep station buildings) at Strangways Springs will have appreciated the small building identifier signs at each structure. In recent years, the ravages of the climate at Strangways have taken their toll and the identifier signs have deteriorated significantly.

In view of this, FOMS liaised with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and the Department organised the manufacture of replacement signage. As part of the July 2016 FOMS trip, the new building identifiers were installed by Bruce Gotch and Colin Harris.

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.

New Interpretive Signs at Strangways Springs

FOMS President Colin Harris and FOMS members Alan Williams and Bruce Gotch with four of the newly installed signs.
FOMS President Colin Harris and FOMS members Alan Williams and Bruce Gotch with four of the newly installed signs.

Visitors to Strangways Springs on the Oodnadatta Track will come away with an improved understanding of the site’s historical, cultural and ecological significance after six new interpretive signage panels were installed in July. The new signs were installed by FOMS volunteers during the field trip of July 2014.

The result of a partnership between the volunteer group Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS), the Arabana people and the SA Government, the new signs replace their aging and badly faded predecessors to tell the stories of the Overland Telegraph and the mound springs. FOMS members revised and updated the signage text while Natural Resources SA Arid Lands worked with Aaron Stuart, then Chair of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, to ensure the wording appropriately reflected the Arabana community’s traditional and ongoing association with the site.

The new signs were installed by FOMS members Bruce Gotch and Alan Williams on a bitterly cold July day when maximum temperatures over the inland struggled to reach double figures. The new replacement panels were funded by Natural Resources SA Arid Lands and it is hoped that they will remain serviceable for the next six to eight years.

FOMS and Natural Resources SA Arid Lands would also like to acknowledge S Kidman & Co for the considerable funding and effort they invested in the 1990s to fence the mound springs and the ruins of the repeater station.

Maintaining the Strangways and Peake Walking Trails

In May this year a group of FOMS members and associates undertook a ten-day trip to maintain and monitor the walking trails installed in 2011 by the Friends of Mound Springs group at Strangways and the Peake, sites of enormous significance because of their natural and cultural values.

A challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas
A challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas

Our party was Michael (chief chef) and Grant (co-driver and chief assistant) in the Toyota Hi-lux, carrying everything you could possibly require while camping in the desert, and Bjarne and myself in the trusty Nissan X-Trail towing the very heavy A-van, full of enough supplies for 10 days. We helped to design and install walking trails at these sites on previous trips with the Friends of Mound Springs group, and this time our little group of four people in two vehicles did the monitoring and maintenance run.

This was a challenging trip of more than 2,100 km on rough unsealed roads in remote areas. We survived the full range of mud, rain, cold nights, clear skies, raging winds, a full moon, sunny days and very slow going at times. We reached our goals at Strangways and The Peake repeater stations, but not without some serious challenges.

After a slight delay starting while we renewed the battery in Michael’s fridge, we made good time to camp in Farina at sundown on the first day. We found the camp ground very crowded, as the Farina Restoration Group was in residence for 5 weeks of restoration work. This historic town is rising from the ruins to become a tourist destination with an amazing story to tell, and an inspiring group of volunteers doing an amazing job restoring the town. Most importantly, the bakery was in full swing, producing sausage rolls, apple scrolls and other delicious treats.

We set out from Marree in light rain, but it just persisted, turning the unsealed Oodnadatta Track into an endless ribbon of mud, varying only in colour. There was red mud, yellow mud and brown mud, in sticky gooey masses. It flew up in the air, onto the windscreen and roof, and plastered everything in a sticky layer. The A-van kept changing colour, and will probably never be really clean again!

We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there
We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there

We finally reached Strangways Springs after three days on the road and spent four days camped there. Several times we experienced stunning sunsets and sunrises, as well as the glory of the full moon rising over the desert. The open skies frequently fill with amazing clouds and light, and the desert landscapes are full of varying colours and landforms. The stars are stunning, with the full sweep of the Milky Way, but you need to look before the moon comes up and the sky is no longer dark.

Our monitoring tasks were to check the status of the walking trails at Strangways Springs and The Peake, and to renew stores of brochures for the trails at each site. Everything was in order, no maintenance work required, and the requested photopoints were taken. We did the trip to The Peake in one day, instead of moving camp, and were glad we were not towing the A-van on still muddy and often corrugated roads. Once the work was done, we were free to go walking, take photos and enjoy the gourmet menu and wines. As the sun shone and temperatures rose, we had to resort to fly nets over our hats to keep out the pesky flies.

We headed back south, stopping first to check classic mound springs at Blanche Cup and The Bubbler, and back to Farina again, before heading for our favourite place of former years, Warraweena in the northern Flinders Ranges Then back to Adelaide for a very welcome shower and comfortable bed after ten days on the road.

Postscript to the above

Colin Harris installing sign at Cutting Grass Spring
Colin Harris installing sign at Cutting Grass Spring

In an internal report to FOMS after the above trip Anne drew attention to the impact of visitors climbing to the top of Cutting Grass Spring on the Springs Walk at Strangways Springs.

Cutting Grass Spring is site no. 7 on the Springs Walk and in the brochure visitors are informed that it is named for the occurrence of cutting grass, Gahnia trifida, a disjunct plant of the mound springs, the nearest other occurrence being many hundreds of kilometres away in south eastern Australia. The brochure also asks people not to climb to the top, the mound being steep and fragile and not having an open pool on its summit.

In spite of this advice Anne had noticed that people were climbing the spring and she recommended an on-site sign to reinforce the message in the brochure. Given the perceived urgency FOMS organised the immediate printing of a temporary sign and this was installed in mid-June this year by a small FOMS party. A permanent sign, with a lower profile, will be installed as soon as possible.

Strangways and Peake Walking Trails in Good Shape

Members will recall the expedition by a team of FOMS members with expert assistance from Rob Marshall and Sue Barker to Strangways and the Peake in May 2011 to establish a series of self-guided walking trails.

In May 2012, Colin Harris, Elaine Smyth, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis headed north once again to check on the condition of the walking trails and to top up the supply of brochures. (Thanks must also go to Bill Giles who, a little earlier, checked on the situation at Strangways on a separate trip through the region.)

We are pleased to report that the trails are all in good shape. There were still brochures at each location but the topping up was timely.

We made some interesting but not unexpected observations at both Strangways and the Peake. At Strangways, the Springs Walk is clearly the more popular of the two and it appears that the majority of walkers are venturing as far as the cemetery, then retracing their steps back to the ruins. At the Peake there is a similar pattern on the Coppertop Smelter and Mine Walk, with many walking up the gully to the smelter site then returning to the ruins.

During our return journey, we stopped in at Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park to remove vegetation growing through the ruins of the Mt Hamilton police station. Good progress was made, with the work to be completed at a later date by a work crew organised by Tony Magor of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR).

Another trip highlight was the sight of Beresford Hill surrounded by water following recent good rains.

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.

Field Trip June 2008

Field Trip June 2008
Field Trip June 2008

Following the general reconnaissance focus of the 2007 FOMS field trip, it was time for FOMS members to roll up the sleeves and do a little work in the June 2008 trip. Eight members participated (Colin Harris and Elaine Smyth, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Travis Gotch, Lois Litchfield, Ann Callis and Simon Lewis pictured by Simon below). It was a pleasure to meet new members Lois and Ann and to learn a little about their respective life-times of experiences in the Far North. We were also joined for a day or so through the week by Kelli-Jo Kovac and Tash Bevan from BHP Billiton and new DEH Regional Ecologist Alex Clarke.

Following a mid-afternoon rendezvous at Roxby Downs on Saturday 21 June, we convoyed up the Borefield Road to a camp-site on the Gregory (same site as last year). On Sunday we moved on to Elizabeth Springs, in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, where we donned gloves and collected rubbish at an old musterers’ camp. Then on to a camp-site in the dunes near Strangways Springs.

On Monday 23 and Tuesday morning we were joined by Kelli-Jo and Tash as Travis took charge of a survey of those springs at Strangways that still support wetland vegetation. In all we covered some 80 or 90 spring vents, leaving only a few for Travis to finish off at a later date.

On Tuesday afternoon we continued north through William Creek, dropping in to see Sarah Amey at the new Peake. Sarah’s partner Jim Lomas generously provided a trailer load of sleepers for us to use in con-

structing a vehicle barrier at the Peake Repeater Station at Freeling Springs. Travis somewhat bravely towed the trailer (with no spare tyre) up to the old Peake, losing only a few sleepers along the way and also managing to puncture a tyre.

On Wednesday and Thursday it was time to bend the backs and develop a few blisters with the installation of about 16 bollards (ie half sleepers) at the car park at the Peake ruins. The going

was quite tough but everyone contributed personfully and the job was completedon schedule. Bruce was able to put his recently honed chainsaw skills into action with some pre-

cision sleeper cutting while Sherrie and Travis excelled in the synchronised crow-bar event. We also erected a sign organised by the Pastoral Branch of DWLBC. Alex Clarke showed impeccable timing, arriving just as we finished the job.

There are other concerns at the old Peake regarding uncontrolled vehicle access and camping and we spent some time looking at a strategy to address this. This will be the subject of further discussion with the pastoral lessees, DWLBC and others.

Friday 27 June was our last full day in the field and we had a more relaxed time looking at a number of springs, including Hawker, Levi, Milne, Outside, Twelve Mile and the Fountain. The changes at Twelve Mile, particularly with proliferation of Phragmites, were quite remarkable. A final camp on George’s Creek near Old Umbum and we then headed for home. A highly successful week, a very companionable group and fantastic weather. Many thanks to all concerned.