Field Trips

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.

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 May 2010

The annual field trip of the Friends of Mound Springs was conducted from 16 to 22 May 2010. Unfortunately, Colin Harris was a late scratching from the trip because of family reasons, leaving the following as the touring party:

  • Elaine Smyth
  • Bruce and Sherrie Gotch
  • Anne and Bjarne Jensen
  • Michael Jarvis
  • Leigh and John Childs
  • Elizabeth and Brendan Lay
  • Bill Giles
  • Simon Lewis

The main tasks for the group were:

  1. Reviewing proposed interpretive trails at Strangways Springs (Repeater Station) and Freeling Springs (Peake Repeater Station), with particular attention to points of botanical or natural history interest along the routes (with specific input by Anne and Brendan)
  2. Installing DWLBC and DEH signage along the Peake Public Access Route and DEH signage at the ruins of the Hammer and Gad Eating House.
  3. Re-locating an S Kidman & Co sign at the Hemichroa (Shrubby Pig Face) enclosure at Strangways.

With the extensive recent rains, the group found the country to be in very good heart. Logistically, this had its pros and cons, as indicated below.

Sunday 16 May

Several members of the group converged on Roxby Downs: John and Leigh via Coober Pedy, Brendan and Elizabeth via Bon Bon Station and Elaine, Bill and Simon from Adelaide. With rain falling, they were confronted by a “road closed” sign on the Borefield Road and so had little option other than to bunker down in the Roxby Downs Hotel / Motel for the night.

In the meantime, Anne, Bjarne and Michael were travelling up via the Flinders Ranges, with a view to meeting the group at Coward Springs on Monday.

Monday 17 May

Bill, Elizabeth, Brendan, John, Leigh & Elaine at Lake Mary
Bill, Elizabeth, Brendan, John, Leigh & Elaine at Lake Mary

A fine morning in Roxby Downs but as the group coffeed in the sun at the Dunes Café the report came through that the Borefield Road would remain closed until at least Tuesday 18th. The group made good use of the spare afternoon with a trip to Andamooka and then camped on Lake Mary (between Roxby Downs and Woomera) for the night.

Meanwhile, Anne, Bjarne and Michael made it through to Coward Springs Campground (via Marree) and waited patiently for everyone else to catch up. Bruce and Sherrie commenced their trip from Adelaide, overnighting at Mambray Creek.

Tuesday 18 May

Good news at last for the Roxby contingent – the Borefield Road opened for 4wd traffic. This group and the Jensen group rendezvoused at Coward Springs for lunch, before heading for William Creek – the Jensens travelling gingerly with their conventional A-van in tow. At William Creek we were pleased to be caught up with by Bruce and Sherrie and progressed on to the Peake Public Access Route (PAR), with the Jensen van bringing up the rear. At the entrance to the PAR, there was just enough daylight left for the installation of the PAR sign provided by DWLBC – a good example of “many hands make light work”. Then on in the darkness to the camp-site near the Peake Repeater Station ruins. Anne and Bjarne (BJ) finally emerged through the range, with BJ muttering “never again!” in terms of bringing the A-van into this terrain.

Wednesday 19 May

A fine and enjoyable day with the signs being installed and the trail interpretive work being completed by a late lunch-time. A free afternoon for all with one group looking more closely around the ruins etc, while a second group went for a hike over to Peake Creek: lots of free-standing water and lots of interesting vegetation. A second night spent at the Peake.

Thursday 20 May

A slight split in the party as Brendan and Elizabeth head north towards Dalhousie and the rest head south towards the Peake homestead. BJ and Michael decide to head straight down the Oodnadatta Track with the van and to wait for the group at William Creek.

At Peake homestead the group is greeted hospitably by Karen Durbidge, with the news that a “big rain” is moving in as from Friday afternoon. This instils a little urgency into the group and we head out to inspect Outside, Twelve Mile and the Fountain springs – for some discussion with Anne about springs management and for Bruce to do some maintenance work on the bayonet gates. Later, after a quick search for Bruce’s wallet on the Douglas, the group arrives at William Creek in late afternoon and, re-united with BJ and Michael, heads down to Strangways Springs to camp for the night. That night we are somewhat reassured by news on the satellite phone from our weather guru Colin that rain is not expected the following day.

Friday 21 May

Another fine day dawns
Another fine day dawns

Another fine day dawns. The group’s first job is to relocate a sign at the Hemichroa enclosure (as requested by Greg Campbell of S Kidman & Co) and most of the group is happy to supervise the efforts of Bruce and BJ with crowbar and shovel. Then it is on to the proposed interpretive trail with Anne providing expert comment on points of natural history interest. After a late lunch at the campsite we make our farewells as the formal part of the FOMS trip comes to an end.

Bruce and Sherrie, John and Leigh and the Jensen clan head to Marree and beyond, while Elaine, Bill and Simon venture back towards Roxby Downs to retrieve their vehicles.

In summary, a great trip with a very compatible group of people pitching in and adapting well to the difficulties imposed upon us by higher influences. Many thanks to all concerned – we got the jobs done and had a great time.

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.

Springs Tour, June 2007

Sunday 24th June

FOMS Springs Tour, June 2007
FOMS Springs Tour, June 2007

A 3pm rendezvous at Roxby Downs for John & Leigh Childs, Sue Black, Bruce & Sherrie Gotch, Ann Gorton, Colin Harris & Elaine Smyth, Dean Harris, Simon Lewis, Rick Moore, Anne Pye, and Doug Smith & Heather Woods. Unfortunately Travis Gotch was unable to join the group for a few days because of damage to his work vehicle. The remainder of the party headed up the Borefield Road to a very satisfactory camp-site on the Gregory Creek, near the sign to New Year Gift Bore 2. We were fortunate to be joined at the camp-site by Bobby Hunter, manager of Stuart Creek station.

Monday 25th June

We met up with Justin Costelloe and colleagues from the University of Melbourne at the Borefield Road / Oodnadatta Track intersection. We also met with Reg Dodd (from the Arabunna community at Marree) who was accompanied by a group of Melbourne lawyers who are assisting the Arabunna people in their efforts to have heritage listing applied to Finniss Springs. Reg led the enlarged group in a guided tour of several points of interest on Finniss Springs. These included Finniss Spring ruins; several springs at Hermit Hill with their tall reed (Phragmites) communities; springs at West Finniss, where the group noted the very rare and isolated pipewort, Eriocaulon carsonii and attractive cutting grass Gahnia trifida (noteworthy as a disjunct species to that which occurs hundreds of kilometres to the south); and Bopeechee Spring, a spring that virtually ceased to flow as an apparent result of water extraction from Borefield A for the Olympic Dam mine, but which was “revived” through injection of bore water around the periphery of the spring to re-establish sufficient pressure to reinstate a flow. The FOMS group then headed north-west up the Oodnadatta Track. We had a brief stop at Curdimurka before venturing on to the Coward Springs Campground run by Greg Emmett and Prue Coulls where we camped for the next two nights.

Tuesday 26th June

Some of the group inspected a few of the springs in the northern section of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park – specifically Elizabeth Springs and Jersey Spring. For some, the Elizabeth Springs were one of the highlights of the trip – the springs were in fine fettle and the weather was superb. Before lunch, most of the party then ventured out to Coward Spring. This is a spring where reeds (Phragmites) have steadily encroached down the tail of the spring, displacing the bore sedge Cyperus laevigatus, following fencing in the mid 1990s. After lunch, the group had a look at Blanche Cup and The Bubbler. At Blanche Cup we discussed the impact of visitors trampling C laevigatus around the open pool. A low board-walk or low protective fencing were two options suggested to deal with this. We then split into two parties. One group ventured to springs in the south of Wabma Kadarbu (Horse, Buttercup, and the Mt Hamilton ruins), while the other group drove into Emerald Spring. At Emerald, a search for a cone of stones, thought by Rick to be nearby, was not successful. Bobby Hunter also rejoined us and regaled the group with his memories of Coward Springs when it operated as a railway siding complete with pub.

Wednesday 27th June

We proceeded to Strangways Springs with its ruins of the Overland Telegraph repeater station. The group had a short ramble around the ruins and some of the ~450 springs at Strangways (of which, according to Travis, about 50% are active). Then on to William Creek for lunch, refuelling and a chance to check out the bar of the William Creek Hotel. After lunch we carried on up the Oodnadatta Track to Warrina Siding where Colin, under Elaine’s careful supervision, gave the Royal Geographical Society’s plaque a good going over. Doug finished the job with a rinse and a scrub with a washing-up brush. With the afternoon flying by, we decided on a quick trip into the ruins of the Old Peake repeater station. This proved to be a good decision as the ruins were splendid in the late afternoon sun. Bruce then led us to a magnificent spring nearby – clearly the pick of the Freeling Springs. A wonderful sight with a large expanse of open water with some black swans in residence. We then returned to our pre-selected campsite on the Old Peake Public Access Route.

FOMS Springs Tour, June 2007 (2)

Thursday 28th June

Another fine day as we proceeded to the new Peake homestead where we caught up with Adam, the acting manager for Kidmans. Then down the station track to Milne Spring – with its bore, natural spring and impressive rock formations – and on to Levi Springs where the adjacent rock formations contain Aboriginal circular etchings or petroglyphs. After Levi we drove on to Spring Hill, where Rick led us to one of Stuart’s cones of stones at the top of the Hill – an impressive sight. The convoy then journeyed onto Tarlton Springs, where we also met up with Travis as well as Bruce and Sherrie (who had kindly taken Ann Gorton down to William Creek that morning). Tarlton confirmed our concerns from previous inspections – the Typha springs were essentially ex-springs with the Typha (bullrushes) dead and just a little of the sedge Cyperus gymnocaulos hanging on. We were interested to note, however, an active spring in the bed of Hope Creek outside of the fenced area (possibly Stuart’s “Spring of Hope”). That evening we camped at a very good site on Bulldog Creek.

Friday 29th June

Adam of the Peake Station joined the group at Outside Spring and we spent the first part of the day looking at springs nearby which had been fenced off in the 1980s. Kelli-Jo Kovac and Reece Pedler from BHP Billiton also joined us for the day. The four springs were Outside Spring showing extensive growth of Phragmites within the fenced area with little change since last inspection (2005), although the adjoining unfenced spring has an increased proportion of Typha; Twelve Mile Spring with extensive Phragmites with some Typha at top vent and a recently established area (~2 square metres) of Typha on edge of Phragmites near the top of Vent #3 (Phragmites has spread considerably at the top of the mound since the last inspection.); The Fountain which is a Phragmites dominated spring with little apparent change since the last inspection; and Big Perry where the Phragmites and Typha exhibited little change. With light rain developing, we drove on to George’s Creek for lunch and combined this with a walk over to the Old Umbum Station ruins. Then on to Louden Spring, once one of Stuart’s favoured camp-sites, now extinct. The group arrived at the campsite on the Douglas River in plenty of time to prepare for a camp oven extravaganza prepared by Travis, with pre-dinner nibbles laid on by Kelli-Jo courtesy of BHP.

Saturday 30th June

With final farewells, the group dispersed, some heading for home and others continuing to enjoy the region for another day or two. The week had been a resounding success: good company, great weather and plenty of interesting locations.