FOMS visits Francis Swamp

Google Earth image showing Francis Swamp with areas inspected by FOMS marked in red

Francis Swamp comprises a large area of mound springs on the Anna Creek pastoral lease, with an estimated 120 springs scattered over an area of around thirty square kilometres. Comprehensive studies of South Australian mound springs during the early 1980s concluded that the Francis Swamp springs rate highly in terms of their cultural and ecological significance. The springs are on Arabana traditional land and have strong associations with Indigenous people (see Further Reading at end of this item).

Access to these springs is difficult – most occur on flat, soft, saline ground that can be a bogging hazard for 4WD vehicles. Partly for that reason, the Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) have had very limited success in surveying Francis Swamp springs in the past. The same situation applied for researchers in the 1980s who conducted some ground-based surveys but supplemented this with access via helicopter.

In August 2022, FOMS dedicated the bulk of a mound springs trip to a more focussed inspection of Francis Swamp springs. A group of six FOMS members (Colin Harris, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Stafford Dow, Simon Lewis) spent two full days at Francis Swamp, accompanied by SA Arid Lands Landscape Board staff Hamish Longbottom and Glenn Del Fierro, with Board Senior Water Resource Officer Aaron Smith also joining the group for one day.

The location of Francis Swamp is shown in the map below. The accompanying Google Earth image shows the springs and also provides a good impression of the highly saline nature of the springs’ environs, with dune systems to the east and west. Access was generally difficult. Inspection of the northern area of springs was largely by off-track access, while the southern springs were reached via an old track from the west that had not been used for many years and was barely distinguishable. (It should be noted that there are no Public Access Routes in this vicinity: the FOMS group visited the area with the permission of the Anna Creek lessees, the Williams Cattle Company.)

Extract from 1:250000 map-sheet showing location of Francis Swamp about 20km west of the Oodnadatta Track and Strangways Springs

The photos below show fairly typical examples of springs in the northern section of Francis Swamp – relatively small springs with sedge vegetation and some open pools. Some of these springs were relatively free of cattle impacts while others – particularly near the eastern edge of the spring group – had more substantial cattle damage. Sedges included Cyperus laevigatus, C. gymnocaulos, Schoenoplectus litoralis and Juncus kraussii. The introduced weeds, Spergularia and Cotula sp, were noted at the more disturbed springs.

Leonard Spring at the northern end of Francis Swamp
Another northern spring showing significant cattle impacts

Just south of these northern springs is a more diverse range of springs. These include a Typha spring with a lengthy tail that is relatively deep (1- 2 metres) in parts. The main fringing vegetation is samphire. This spring was showing moderate damage from cattle. There are two springs dominated by Phragmites that has hayed off during the colder winter months. A particularly noteworthy feature here and at the other areas inspected is the large number of small springs with cutting grass, Gahnia trifida – known as a disjunct species because it occurs in many mound springs but is separated by hundreds of kilometres from the nearest other populations of the species.

engthy tail associated with Typha (bulrush) spring
One of a large number of small springs with cutting grass,
Gahnia trifida
Example of typical landscape associated with Francis Swamp: large expanses of saline flats
Larger Phragmites spring at the southern end of Francis Swamp, heavily impacted by cattle

Numerous springs were inspected in the southern portion of Francis Swamp. The largest was a Phragmites spring which, as the photo below illustrates, was severely impacted by cattle. This spring also had the sedges, Cyperus laevigatus and C. gymnocaulos and fringing Acacias and samphire. Smaller springs nearby included another Phragmites spring also impacted by stock, a spring seep in a drainage line fringed by samphire, a number of sedge springs with Schoenoplectus litoralis and Juncus kraussii and several small cutting grass (Gahnia) springs. These are illustrated to the right.

Taking into account the access difficulties at Francis Swamp, the inspections of August 2022 covered a good range of springs, possibly around 20 – 25% of the springs in the group. Several of the springs showed moderate to severe cattle impacts – these springs were generally close to the higher, non-swampy ground to the east. Springs further to the west – thus further into the swampy ground – were less impacted.

As also noted above, the springs are on Arabana land and are of substantial cultural significance to Indigenous people. During the August inspection an extensive knapping (stone-working) site was noted nearby, providing tangible evidence of the importance of the area.

Small spring in drainage line in southern area, further into the spring group and largely free of cattle impacts

Studies in the 1980s and subsequently concluded that Francis Swamp is of high conservation significance by virtue of its cultural importance, its extensive and concentrated spring grouping and the occurrence of significant species such as Gahnia. However, the spring group remains unprotected and, as noted, is subject to cattle impacts. Exclusion of stock has been considered in the past, most notably in the 1990s when then lessees S Kidman & Co put up a proposal to excise Francis Swamp from grazing if the SA Government was prepared to construct and maintain an appropriate line of fencing.

Further Reading

While not intended as a comprehensive bibliography, information on the cultural and ecological features of Francis Swamp can be found in the following:

  • Hercus, L & Sutton, P 1985. The assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance of mound springs in South Australia. Prepared for SA Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide.
  • Paterson, AG 2008: The lost legions: culture contact in colonial Australia, Altimira Press, Plymouth UK.
  • Social and Ecological Assessment 1985. Biological assessment of South Australian mound springs. Prepared for SA Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide.
  • Gotch (ed) 2013. Allocating water and maintaining springs in the Great Artesian Basin. Volume V: Groundwater-dependent ecosystems of the western Great Artesian Basin. National Water Commission, Canberra.