Works Project

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

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 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

FOMS Fixes Faulty Fencing

In the early 1980s, the State Environment agency commissioned studies to document the features and importance of mound springs in South Australia. Eleven springs were identified as being of particular significance and were fenced by the Department in the period 1984 to 1988. These springs were Blanche Cup, the Bubbler, Coward Spring (all now within Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park), Strangways Spring (on Anna Creek), Tarlton, Outside, Twelve Mile, Fountain and Big Perry springs (all on the Peake Pastoral Lease), Nilpinna Spring on Nilpinna Pastoral Lease and Big Cadna-Owie Spring on Allandale Pastoral Lease. The Department monitored the condition of these fenced springs from 1984 to 2005. With the exception of occasional fence repairs by Peake station personnel at Twelve Mile and some work to strengthen weak points and install bayonet gates in the early 1990s, the fencing has not been actively maintained.  It has lasted well, but is now at a stage where attention is needed.

Maintenance and repair work on the fencing around those springs outside of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park was one of the main tasks for FOMS volunteers in their trip to the springs in late July 2016. The fenced spring at Strangways did not require attention as this is within the much larger area at Strangways fenced by S Kidman and Co in the mid-1990s. The fencing group in the July 2016 trip comprised Brenton Arnold and Brendan Lay, with support from Bruce Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Colin Harris, Simon Lewis, Elizabeth Lay, Claire Bockner and Arabana elder Dean Stuart. Brenton, still in recovery from a bout of the ‘flu, brought with him a trailer load of fencing materials from Port Augusta.

The most arduous fencing work was at Twelve Mile Spring, where there have been problems in the past with cattle breaching a weak section of fence and gaining access to the springs. There, a section of fence needed to be realigned to avoid the vulnerable section.

Significant fence work was also needed at the Fountain. Here the spring tail passes through the fence and the fence has become weakened as a result of cattle pugging and eroding the wetland area just outside the fence. Brenton and Bren reinforced this section with star-droppers and additional wiring. At nearby Outside Spring one section of fence needed re-straining.

After completing the fencing work on the Peake, the group moved on to Nilpinna Spring, on Nilpinna Station. It was expected that significant repair work might be needed here as the spring area had been burnt three to four years ago – in an attempt to control bamboo growing at the spring – and this burn had damaged part of the fence. However, the singed fence-posts were in reasonable condition, so the task was not quite as great as anticipated. Vegetation was cleared away from the damaged section, the fence was re-strained and a number of spacers replaced.

Dean Stuart and Bruce Gotch check the bayonet gate at Twelve Mile Spring

Bayonet gates at each of the above springs were also serviced, with Bruce Gotch taking charge of this work. The bayonet gates were installed in the early 1990s after a particular problem with cattle gaining access through the fence to the Fountain. The design of the bayonet gates is such that cattle cannot get through them from outside but can get through them from inside the fenced area: thus if cattle do gain access through the fence in some way, they do have an opportunity to exit the fenced area via the bayonet gate.

While the above work may secure the fenced springs for the next few years, FOMS is concerned that ongoing reliance on volunteers to maintain the fencing is not necessarily the best option. FOMS will be promoting discussions aimed at looking at other partnership approaches that may provide better security for these areas into the longer term.

Protective Fencing organised for Levi Springs

One of the springs at Levi to be protected in the proposed enclosure

As part of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project, it is proposed that a number of springs at Levi Springs, on Peake Pastoral Lease, be fenced to provide protection from stock. In August 2015, a combined group from FOMS and DEWNR inspected Levi Springs and plotted a proposed fence alignment that would include all of the springs at Levi and most of the associated rock formations. In early 2016, DEWNR’s Sam Gitahi, then Project Officer for the Desert Jewels Project, re-visited Levi with representatives of the Arabana people to check the acceptability of the proposed fence alignment to the Arabana community.

Subsequently, the proposal was considered by the Directors’ Group of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, which decided not to support the proposed alignment. The Directors’ Group indicated that a modified fencing alignment, taking in the springs but not the main associated rock formations, might be acceptable.

Accordingly, in the July 2016 trip FOMS volunteers returned to Levi Springs to review the situation.  Arabana elder Dean Stuart accompanied the group. Along with Dean the FOMS group comprised Colin Harris, Elizabeth Lay, Bernice Cohen, Claire Bockner and Simon Lewis.

These ruins of a shepherd’s hut will also be included in the fenced area

An agreed alignment was readily identified, taking in several springs on the northern side of the main rock formations, as well as the ruins of the former shepherd’s hut nearby. Peake manager Jim Wheeler met the group at Levi Springs and foreshadowed no particular concerns from the Kidman perspective in relation to the fencing. Following the field inspection of July 2016, the Directors of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation met in Marree on 20 August and endorsed the revised fence alignment. Pastoral lessees S. Kidman and Co have also given the go-ahead.

Materials for the originally proposed fence alignment have already been purchased by DEWNR and this Department and FOMS are now in discussion about arrangements for erection of the fence. This work will provide protection for an important area of springs and, as such, will be a significant milestone for the Desert Jewels project.

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.

Field Trip July 2014

The FOMS 2014 field group
The FOMS 2014 field group. From left: Bruce Gotch, Colin Harris, Alan Williams, Margie Barnett, Brendan Lay, Elizabeth Lay, Simon Lewis, Bernice Cohen

Eight members of Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) participated in a trip to the Far North in late July 2014. Those in the party were Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch, Alan Williams, Bernice Cohen, Margie Barnett, Brendan Lay, Elizabeth Lay and Simon Lewis.

The main purpose of the trip was to gather information at a number of mound springs on the Peake Pastoral Lease, linking with the major investigation being coordinated by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and focussing on the development of clearer management prescriptions for many of South Australia’s mound springs. This three year project has major funding through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program, with FOMS and others supporting DEWNR in the work.

A supplementary purpose of the trip was to install new interpretive signage at Strangways Springs – see separate item in this newsletter.

With the latter task in mind, Colin, Bruce, Alan and Bernice commenced their trip on Friday 18 July, collecting the new signs from DEWNR Port Augusta and reaching Strangways Springs by evening. They then spent Saturday installing the new signs and also checking the Springs Walk, one of two walks established by FOMS in 2011. The Springs Walk was in good shape, although it is clear that most visitors are walking to the cemetery and back rather than doing the whole circuit.

For Margie, Brendan, Elizabeth and Simon the FOMS trip commenced on Saturday 19 July, rendezvousing at Roxby Downs and travelling on to Strangways to join the rest of the party. A cold night ensued but fortunately the firewood supply was adequate.

Sunday 20th July

Before leaving Strangways, the group did a lap of the Wool-wash Walk, the second of the trails installed by FOMS in 2011. Again the trail was in good shape, although apparently subject to limited use. Then it was on to William Creek for fuel and morning tea. From there the group left the Oodnadatta Track and journeyed north on station tracks to our main camp-site on Bulldog Creek.

Monday 21st July

The main business of the trip commenced at Outside Spring. FOMS member and DEWNR scientific officer Travis Gotch had prepared data sheets for use by the group, covering parameters such as vegetation species present in spring vents and tails, percentage cover of each species, level of disturbance by stock and other influences and water quality.

Bruce and Alan took on the water quality monitoring role, measuring, pH, conductivity, temperature and total dissolved salts (TDS) with the field laboratory recently transferred to FOMS by the Friends of Simpson Desert group, while the others focussed on vegetation and disturbance measurement.

Outside Spring proved to be very interesting. Within the area fenced in the mid 1980’s, Phragmites has been dominant for many years, but we have, over the last two to three years, noticed significant die-back of Phragmites in the centre of the vent. This die-back was even more pronounced on this trip with very little regrowth occurring. It seems reasonable to conclude that a new vegetation balance is developing at Outside Spring. In terms of management, this spring may be one to leave alone and monitor to see if the trend continues.

The group also surveyed two unfenced vents and tails at Outside Spring, both of which provided an interesting comparison with the fenced spring.

Twelve Mile Spring: top vent with Typha, whereas Phragmites is predominant elsewhere at this spring
Twelve Mile Spring: top vent with Typha, whereas Phragmites is predominant elsewhere at this spring

The group then moved on to Twelve Mile Spring, also fenced since the mid 1980’s. This is an interesting spring with several vents supporting, predominantly, Typha (bulrush) in the top vent and a mixture of Phragmites and the sedge Cyperus gymnocaulos at several other vents. There is also evidence of vertical leakage supporting Phragmites. Twelve Mile Spring was subject to stock intrusion in early 2013 through a faulty section of fence (repaired in mid-2013 by Peake manager Nathan Keogh). Vegetation damage and pugging of spring vents from this incursion was still evident.

The fenced area at Twelve Mile is quite complex in terms of vents and vegetation and further thought will be needed to determine whether some form of management trial could or should be implemented.

The final inspection for Monday 21st was the Fountain Spring. Like Outside, this spring has become dominated by Phragmites since fencing in the 1980’s and, also like Outside, there is now evidence of die-back of Phragmites in the main vent. Just as for Outside Spring, a thick mat of Phragmites rhizomes remains which, presumably, may take many years to break down. Physical removal of portion of this rhizomatous mat at one location may be worth considering to see what effect this has.

Tuesday 22nd July

After another cold night the group split into two for the day’s activities. Colin and Alan headed north to the Peake Overland Telegraph Station heritage site to check the walking trails and top up the FOMS brochure supply. As for Strangways, they found the walking trails to be in good shape. Both of the Peake walking trails appear to be popular with visitors.

The remainder of the group travelled south to Hawker Springs, via a stop-over at Levi Springs. At Levi, we looked at the spring nearest the track and rock formations and concluded that it could be of interest to fence this spring and monitor the outcome. The spring has no mound and presumably would not be particularly difficult to fence. Currently it appears to be free of Phragmites. Alternative watering points (other springs and a bore) are nearby.

Hawker Springs comprises a large group of around 100 spring vents. The group is unfenced, is roughly circular and we were interested to test the hypothesis that outer spring vents would be more affected by cattle than springs further into the group. The aim was to look at springs on the outer edge of the group and some towards the centre of the group. The difficult terrain meant that we would only access a small sample of the springs.

Our observations tended to support the hypothesis. Outer springs were more significantly pugged and grazed than springs further into the group. Of particular interest was an extensive, apparently spring-fed watercourse towards the centre of Hawker Springs, with some Phragmites but also a lot of open water. The vegetation of the springs was quite varied, some springs with mainly Phragmites, others with Cyperus gymnocaulos and others with other sedges such as Juncus.

Wednesday 23rd July

After a warmer but slightly drizzly night, Simon headed south to catch a plane home from Olympic Dam. The remainder of the group continued to survey springs on the Peake lease – the Vaughan Spring, Fanny Springs and Big Perry. The Vaughan has been a useful comparison for many years as it is an unfenced spring quite close to the fenced Outside and Twelve Mile springs.

Big Perry has been fenced since the late 1980s. Although the fence was rabbit-proofed originally, the colony inside the fence was not eliminated at the time and in any case the netting has not been maintained to a rabbit proof standard. It is not clear what impact the rabbits are having on the vegetation. The spring is dominated by Phragmites, while the tail is dominated by Typha. There is no flow at the spring vent. However, there is seepage or very low flow visible in the tail. Overall, the flow at Big Perry appeared to have diminished significantly since the previous inspection about two years ago. Because the spring has been fenced, there is no evidence of recent stock grazing or pugging, but there is some evidence of past stock impact.

Seven springs were also visited in the Fanny Springs cluster. All are unfenced and heavily impacted by current cattle grazing pressure. In some cases, the travertine spring structure is collapsing –a natural process, but most certainly being accelerated by cattle. Dominant species are Cyperus gymnocaulus, Typha and Cyperus laevigatus. One spring is dominated by a ‘bonsai’ form of Phragmites.

The final spring visited was the Vaughan, an unfenced spring subject to heavy grazing pressure. The two vents were dominated by Typha, with greater diversity in the tails, mainly Cyperus laevigatus in the tail of vent No. 1 and Cyperus gymnocaulus in the tail of vent No. 2. Cattle impacts were moderate to high.

The return to camp provided some surprises, strong winds throughout the day having blown many items around and damaged two of the tents.

Thursday 24th July

The Wednesday surveys marked the end of the scheduled spring work for this trip. The group decamped from the Bulldog Creek site and journeyed back to William Creek. Then on to Coward Springs Camp-ground for a courtesy visit to Greg and Prue before moving on to the Borefield Road turn-off at Bopeechie. At that point Brendan, Elizabeth and Margie continued on to Arkaroola via Marree, while Colin, Bernice, Bruce and Alan headed south via Roxby Downs, Bruce and Alan completing the long haul back that day while Colin and Bernice broke the return trip with a night at the Eldo Hotel in Woomera.

All in all, a very successful trip – very convivial group, good weather (for the most part) and scheduled work accomplished. Many thanks to all involved for their contributions!

New Access Facilities at Blanche Cup and The Bubbler

In an earlier newsletter we reported on plans by the (now) Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources to upgrade access walks to Blanche Cup and the Bubbler in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. This work is now understood to be virtually complete.

DEWNR also plans to rationalise car-parking arrangements at the two locations. There have been concerns that recent works on the car parks has not been as effective as it could be.

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.