Wilson Family News & Travel http://www.wilsons.id.au Postcards to our Friends Mon, 21 Aug 2017 09:56:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 http://www.wilsons.id.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-EM181907-32x32.jpg Wilson Family News & Travel http://www.wilsons.id.au 32 32 4110874 My 85 Transport Platoon (Vietnam) Reunion 2017 http://www.wilsons.id.au/my-85-transport-platoon-vietnam-reunion-2017/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/my-85-transport-platoon-vietnam-reunion-2017/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 09:56:59 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9256 It’s fifty years since 85 Transport Platoon was deployed from Australia to Vietnam. It operated as a front line transport unit supporting our task force from 1967 to 1972. Overall, about 450 men served in the unit, each for a period of around one year. I was posted to it from April 1969 to April 1970. A total of of 50,000 Australians served in Vietnam over the time  of our involvement in then war. We had 501 deaths during that time and 3129 battle casualties. Last week, I attended our bi-annual reunion in Albany, Western Australia.

The reunion took place over five days with people attending from all parts of Australia. It began with a ‘Meet and Greet’ function at Albany’s Sterling Club on Tuesday, August 15. I was a little late getting there because my flight from Melbourne arrived into Perth over an hour late and then I had to drive for five hours south to Albany. I missed the speeches and welcome ceremony, but it was wonderful to see so many old mates again.

Meet and GreetMeet and Greet

We had an anniversary cake, but I did wonder at the spelling. Perhaps there is something of French influence in Albany???

IMG 8872

On the second day, Wednesday, we men visited the relatively new National Anzac Centre in the grounds of the Princess Royal Fortress, while the ladies in our group visited a local sandalwood factory. The Anzac Centre overlooks the actual harbour from which more than 41,000 men and woman departed Australia for the Great War. For many of them it was the last sight that they ever saw of Australia. It’s a fantastic centre where a great deal of interpretive content forms part of an interactive story describing Australia and new Zealand’s involvement in WW1. It was developed by the Western Australian Museum and the Australian War Memorial and is run by the local city council;. From the interior, you can look though large panoramic windows across the location from where the convoys assembled and then left for Gallipoli. It surprised a number of people to learn that the first convoy was escorted by a Japanese battleship.

Anzac Centre

IMG 2586

IMG 8748

The members of the local lawn bowling club did a great job of providing us with lunch afterwards. It poured rain while we were at the bowling club and we watched squalls of horizontal rain and hail fall on their greens. We were hoping that it wouldn’t be as wet was this for the remainder of our time together.

Bowling club lunch

Our reunions typically include an outing to a local place of interest. Albany was the last place in Australia to have a whaling operation and that was our venue on Thursday morning. It made a significant contribution to Albany and its closure almost decimated the local economy.

Whalers had been recorded here at Cheynes Beach in the 1840’s and a commercial fishing operation was established in 1920. This station was established at the Frenchman Bay site in 1952. It produced a total of 500 tonnes of whale oil during the 1953 season which was loaded aboard ships for export. Production increased in 1954 to 1000 tonnes – mainly from humpback whales. It continued at similar levels until the early 1960’s

Following a disastrous season in 1962 with record low catches the International Whaling Commission ended whaling of humpbacks from Antarctic stocks so the company commenced hunting sperm whales instead. The business remained profitable for many years, employing over 100 staff, A total of 1136 humpbacks and 14,695 sperm whales were caught from the station between 1952 and 1978.  It closed in 1979.

The station is an interesting industrial site and we could only image the putrid smell of whale carcasses as they were cut up on the flensing deck with the blubber then pushed down into cookers that boiled the oil from the flesh. Apparently, you could always tell a whaler in a pub or a cafe by the smell that they carried with them.

IMG 1745

IMG 1730

To the west of Albany is a private military history museum on the stud property of John and Kathryn Shapland. It is in a building next to their house that was once the wood shed but has been renovated and extended into a fine multi-room museum. It’s very impressive!  I think it would be one of the largest collections of its type in the country.

IMG 1749

IMG 1748

The Shaplands began their collection in just 2009 and have a passion for collecting items, books and mementoes that have a story attached to them. It now contains contains thousands of historical artefacts from the Boer War onwards, meticulously exhibited in their four purpose-built museum rooms. You have to see this collection to believe it. They have kept their collection at a very low public profile,. People only know about it by word of mouth and visits are only by appointment. 

Apart from the military collection, Kathryn is a great cook. She made dozens of delicious scones for our afternoon tea. She and John actually came across to Albany for our formal Vietnam Veterans Day Ceremony but. alas, she didn’t  have any more scones in her handbag. It was really very good of them to have enough interest in us to want to join us. I enjoyed meeting them very much

On our fourth day (Friday), we all attended the local Vietnam Veterans Day commemoration. This is held every year on August 18th to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan, one of the most significant battles in which Australia fought during our time in Vietnam. 

Parade from front

85 Parade

The service at the Anzac Centre was an impressive affair. There is a strong Returned Services League organisation in Albany and they even provided a march commander to keep us under control. He was a previous RSM of the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. He quickly sorted us out with some long forgotten drill and we marched in better order than we have for many years. We marched down the hill to the car park at the Anzac Centre and then had a service that was attended by local politicians and service organisation representatives. The cadet band of the local RAN training ship provided the music and the local reserve unit provided the catafalque party. Paul Asbury (our unit’s Admin Officer) gave a good speech which I will try to obtain and include in a future post.

The service was followed by a BBQ lunch and here I am with my old mates Peter Beyers, Bill Pearson and Kevin Goulder. We are all now a lot older than the tender age of twenty that bee were when we were in Vietnam.

Susage Sizzel People

Overall, this reunion was well organised with good activities that allowed us to mingle and catch up with old mates. The local committee did a good job. I did wonder though, at the rather ‘kitsch’ wreath that  was laid on our behalf at the cenotaph. Unlike the others that were made of beautiful local native flowers  and floral arrangements, I thought that our ribbon and plastic affair  resembled something more of a prize that you would win at the showground’s side-show when try to put the ping pong ball down the mouth of the rotating clowns.


We had a free day on our final day (Saturday), before our reunion dinner. Trish, the wife of one of my old mates from Tasmania is also a keen photographer, so we spent the morning together at a spot further around the coast taking some photographs. Unfortunately, I slipped while walking on a wet rock outcrop and fell, injuring my shoulder rather badly. I took myself to the hospital when I returned to Albany and was quickly and efficiently seen by the doctors in the Emergency Department. Some X-Rays showed that I hadn’t broken any bones but I had incurred some serious soft tissue damage. 

The dinner at night was pretty good, event though I had my sore arm in a sling. Normally, the organising committeee running our  reunions have previously polled members in advance to see who might be willing to organise the next one. That didn’t happen this time, so there was some unfortunate angst and mayhem trying to set up our next event in 2019 while we were in a busy and noisy public restaurant. Thanks to Bob for putting up his hand to host our next reunion in Port Macquarie, NSW.

I’m sure that all our members enjoyed this reunion. It’s always wonderful to see old mates again. The weather was cold and wet for most of the time we were together but that there’s nothing we could do about that. Its didn’t dampen our spirits at all. Thanks to the local organising committee, I’ve had a terrific time and look forward to seeing everyone again in 2019.




http://www.wilsons.id.au/my-85-transport-platoon-vietnam-reunion-2017/feed/ 2 9256
Home From Broken Hill http://www.wilsons.id.au/home-from-broken-hill/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/home-from-broken-hill/#comments Sun, 30 Jul 2017 07:13:50 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9229 It took us two days to drive the 900 kilometres home from Broken Hill.

Before leaving, we had a last look across the centre of town to see some of its historic trains and mining displays and then we took the road south to Wentworth on the Murray River.


All I can say about the trip south was that there was plenty of nothing! The land was flat and without any noticeable features. The wildlife consisted mostly of emu and an occasional kangaroo. The sheep stations in this area are very large and they all have a tank or a dam at certain points so that they provide water to their stock.However, Instead of seeing sheep at these places, we saw hundreds of feral goats.

DJI 0007

DJI 0011

The city of Wentworth (near Mildura) is the place where the Murray and Darling Rivers converge. These two rivers drain about 1/3 of the Australian mainland. Water from the Murray is used for irrigation and around this north west corner of Victoria there were many orange groves, vineyards and an increasing number of almond orchards. At one place, we saw a small patch of cotton but that crop is mostly grown in NSW to the north.

DJI 0012

With its system of locks and weirs, the Murray River is navigable by small craft for about half of its length.The water flow is well controlled. The Darling River has always been a more intermittent river. In the colonial days paddle steamers were used to haul wool from outback stations but they could only operate with high water. In many years of drought, these paddle steamers would be stranded until more rain fell in the far north and months later, the river would began to flow again.

On the last night of our trip, we stopped overnight at the town of Swan Hill. In the early 1850s, a wharf on the Murray River was built and Swan Hill became one of the region’s major inland river trading ports. A living museum (The Pioneer Village) now provides a taste of what life was like in the area around that time. The river trade declined with the expansion of railways, however agriculture spearheaded the town’s prosperity with the clearing of surrounding land and the use of the river for irrigation. Vast citrus farms and vineyards surround Swan Hill and extend many kilometres to the north-west. One of the old paddle bloats (The Gem) is located here.


On our final day, we followed the Murray east to Echuca and stopped there for a cup of coffee. I would have liked to have spent a little time in the town  but we timed it right on this year’s music and blues festival in the city. It was extremely busy and we had trouble finding somewhere to park, so we discarded to push on and head for home.

The road south to Melbourne took us right through the centre of Victoria – through Heathcote (not far from Puckapunyal) where I did my recruit training in 1968 and then down to Lancefield which is just about in the geographic centre of the state. Along the way, we passed through an area with interesting granite boulders and rocky outcrops. There were a couple of places where we could image children having lots of fun playing hide and seek among the rocks.


We travelled 3650 kilometres in total on this trip and virtually all of it was very interesting. The Flinders Ranges is a location that I have never been to before and I think our trip just touched the surface. I think we could have easily spent a month or more exploring the creeks, gorges, mountains and tiny settlements.

Screen Shot 2017 07 30 at 5 04 34 pm

http://www.wilsons.id.au/home-from-broken-hill/feed/ 3 9229
Silverton http://www.wilsons.id.au/silverton/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/silverton/#comments Thu, 27 Jul 2017 08:39:56 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/silverton/ Just 27 kilometers from Broken Hill is the old mining town (now ghost town) of Silverton. Mining there pre-dated the mines at Broken Hill and was the sort of place where men had to be real men.

Before we reached the town, we turned off to see the old Day Dream Mine. It was established in 1882 and attracted a sizeable settlement which, while short-lived, boasted 500-odd residents at its peak. The chimney from the first smelters can be seen on the side of a hill along the old access road. We just stopped for a look and didn’t think the $32 price of a tour was really worth the money.

The town of Silverton sprang up after the discovery of rich silver deposits, although it was soon eclipsed by an even richer silver-lead-zinc ore body at Broken Hill. While he town is often referred to as a ghost town, there remains a small permanent population and a number of tourist related businesses. It is becoming something of a centre for artists with at least three galleries scattered around the wide dusty streets.

Pastoralists first began settling in the area in the 1850s, with the main trade route to the area, in those days being along the Darling River.  Some years later in 1875, two men, drilling a well on a station south of the town site, hit a lode of silver. In October 1886 the Silverton Municipal Council was formed and held its inaugural meeting in January 1887 in the Silverton Municipal Chambers, which still exist.. The town’s population quickly increased reaching a peak around 3,000 in the 1890s, and the Silverton Tramway was opened in 1888 connecting the town to Broken Hill and South Australia.

Most of the original buildings have now vanished or lie in ruins, but there are some interesting buildings that remain, including the Silverton Hotel and the Silverton Gaol. Silverton has been the scene for more than 140 films and commercials thanks to the light, the character-filled colonial buildings and its scenic desert surrounds.

The hotel, especially,  has been seen in several productions, and its inside walls are covered with memorabilia, these productions include The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Flying Doctors, and Dirty Deeds. At least one of the Mad Max movies was partly shot in the town. 

Just a few of the old stone cottages survive and they stimulated my imagination to reflect on what it may have been like to live in this rather baren desert environment. The old Catholic church once stood out as an island in the dusty landscape but it has been renovated and a garden planted around it. It doesn’t look nearly as bleak any more.

A little further on is a lookout where you can see right across the desert plains. They look dry and inhospitable – only good for emus and kangaroos. The panorama is so vast that if you squint your eyes, you can imagine that you can see the curvature of the earth.

Back in Broken Hill, we took a walk around the streets looking at the street scale of old buildings. They are a lot of old pubs in this town. I guess they go with the job of mining. Some are now just closed shells of buildings but the more entrepreneurial ones look to be doing well. 

Broken Hill has been often been referred to as “The Silver City”, the “Oasis of the West”, and the “Capital of the Outback”. The town was founded in 1883 by a boundary rider named Charles Rasp, who patrolled the fences of the original pastoral lease. In 1883 he discovered what he thought was tin, but the samples proved to be silver and lead. The orebody they came from proved to be the largest and richest of its kind in the world. In 1885, Rasp and six associates founded the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP), later BHP Billiton, and now back to BHP again. By 1915, BHP had realised that its ore reserves were limited and begun to diversify into steel production and mining overseas. Mining at the BHP mines at Broken Hill ceased in February 1939. The unions here were exceptionally powerful and many long term strikes were held over the life of mining operations..

BHP was not the only mining operation at Broken Hill though, and mining continued at the southern and northern ends of the Line of Lode. A small amount of activity continues to this day.

Broken Hill has a high potential for solar power, given its extensive daylight hours of sunshine. Nowdays, the town mines sunshine instead of minerals. The enormous Broken Hill Solar Plant, that we saw as we first entered the town was completed in 2015 and is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

My computer has now completely died. Last night, I could use it to write my blog post, but not to edit any photographs. Today. It will not even allow me to turn it on. So, I am back to my phone again. At least I was able to make an appointment at the Apple Store back home next week to get it repaired.

http://www.wilsons.id.au/silverton/feed/ 1 9221
Broken Hill http://www.wilsons.id.au/broken-hill/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/broken-hill/#comments Wed, 26 Jul 2017 11:23:53 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9210 We drove to Broken Hill today along the Barrier Highway that follows the route of the standard gauge railway line that starts in Sydney and goes to Perth via Port Augusta. 

In the morning, we made a detour to the ghost town of Terowie, just 20 kms from Peterborough. My friend Max called me last night and insisted that we go to see Magnetic Hill near Peterborough but it was in the opposite direction and my travel companions wanted to maximise our time in Broken Hill. Magnetic Hill is basically an optical illusion. If you put your car in neutral, it appears to roll uphill on its own. It’s actually going down a slight downhill slope and apparently, this phenomena has confused people for decades.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Terowie is where the narrow gauge railway ended. It serviced the copper mines there and around Burra. Oh, the joy of different colonial governments in the early days before federation, each with their own gauge of railway line! The old platform is still intact and some of the buildings are still standing. A rail line came down from Alice Springs and passengers had to change there for the remainder of the journey to Adelaide. One of these was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It seems that when the Phillipines fell to the Japanese in WW2 he escaped to Australia and travelled somehow from Darwin to Alice Springs. He apparently missed the weekly Ghan train service, so he came in a special train of three carriages and had to change trains in Terowie to go further on to Adelaide and then to Melbourne and Sydney.


Terowie is full of abandoned shops and houses. At its peak, the town had population of 2000 people but after the railway stopped running in the 1960’s the population dropped to just 160 residents. The 1960’s only seems like a little while ago bt man of the names of the shops suggest that they had operated for many decades. We drive around for about half an hour looking at the street scape and thinking that the entire town was just like a museum in its own right.


The road to Broken Hill was flat and uninteresting. The landscape consisted mostly of saltbush through which a few sheep picked out some form of food. We saw lots of Emus, a few kangaroos and a number of feral goats. As we travelled, we passed (coming the other way) around twenty semi-trailers carrying armoured personnel carriers, and other military vehicles. We are reasonably confident that these trucks would have been from 85 Troop( my old army unit). I know that their work is now line-haul transport of military equipment for exercises and I know that some of these exercises take place north of Adelaide.


We stopped for a coffee in the tiny settlement of Yunta. Like many outback towns, this place has a declining population and a few years ago the government threatened to close the primary school because of a lack of students. The townspeople (fifty, or so) advertised nationally offering families who might move into the area a firm job and subsidised housing. I have no idea what type of housing would have been available! Ultimately, the government reversed its decision and the school stayed open.


There are a number of locations along the highway that are old communities that now look little sad. We arrived in Broken Hill in time for a late lunch and then had a look at a few of the major tourist sights in town. The first on these was to a visit to ‘Pro’ Hart’s studio. He was an artist who painted a prolific number of works about life in the bush. His paintings had a certain amount of naetvity about them but the were very descriptive. We actually own one his original works that depicts a bush horse race meeting. Pro Hart died about 11 years go. He was one of the ‘Brushmnen of the Bush’ – a group of five artists who spent a lot of time in the bush painting scenes together that they saw as they travelled. Pro did it in style in a Rolls Royce.

IMG 0719

From there, we went out to the Desert Sculpture  park where about twelve sculptures carved into local rock sit tin the top off a hill. When Jill and I were here a few years ago, we just drove to them, but now there is an entrance gate into the park and a requirement to pay a fee. Modern technology allows for credit card payment even though the park is in the middle of nowhere.


Finally, before checking in to our hotel we popped up to the miner’s memorial overlooking the town and the station. Along a wall are the names of every miner killed in some form of mining accident over the last 100 years. from there, we could see right across the town and over the railway station. A long freight train trundled into the station at the same time as we were there. It was over 1 km long and on the way to Perth from Sydney. It blocked the road crossing for the time that it took the crew to change and then headed off towards the south on the next part of its transcontinental haul.



http://www.wilsons.id.au/broken-hill/feed/ 1 9210
Back to Peterborough http://www.wilsons.id.au/back-to-peterborough/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/back-to-peterborough/#comments Tue, 25 Jul 2017 11:34:06 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9201 We were up early this morning aiming to have finished breakfast by 9.30 am when it was time to collet my car from the garage where the tyre was being replaced. I walked the 150 metres [past the pub with no bee)r and found that my car was all ready to go. It actually cost me less than a third of what I imagined the charge might be so I was quite delighted. The owner of the garage did offer to charge me more, but I graciously declined.

IMG 1299

We were on our way south before 10 am and we had an uneventful day driving back to Peterborough where we are spending another night. 

Our first stop was in the little town of Parachilna. This was one of the railway towns along the old route of the Ghan railway. (named after the original Afghan Cameleers who were bought to Australia to carry freight by camel train across the arid outback). Now it has just a few houses and a caravan park in the main street. It is home to the Prairie Hotel which has a gastronomical menu and serves up to 200 lunches on a busy day. I don’t really know where all those people would come from.

Today was rather quiet and we were the only people at the hotel. We were too early for lunch, so we had a quiet look around the pub. The bar is very small, but the eating areas a quite extensive and adorned with aboriginal artworks for sale. This place has such a reputation that people fly in from Adelaide for the ‘Feral Menu’ for lunch – camel, goat, lamb, kangaroo etc. 


IMG 6190

IMG 2512

Further down the road, we came across the site of some of the old township sites that existed when the narrow gauge railway was at its peak. It ran from Port Augusta to Alice Springs. Most of these localities no longer exist (apart from a ruin or an old cemetery in disrepair). In the early 1900’s each might have had a population of over 1000 people. At the old site of Wilson. we came across the old station master’s house. At other places, we build see the ruins of places where railway settlers and gangers were accommodated. It took many men to keep the line in good repair. Now, the train line doesn’t exist at all, apart from the old embankment that generally follows the road.


I am a bit interested in this old railway. My father was here in the army in WW2. After Darwin was bombed in the initial stages of the war by the Japanese, a frantic program of activity was introduced to rush supplies north for defence. Dad was posted to a number of supply depots along the railway line (and further north) and would have known all of these old sites very well. The new standard gauge railway to Alice Springs and Darwin now follows a different route to the east of this original railway line.

Quorn was the centre of activity for this railway. It is a town in the southern Flinders Ranges and was the crossing point for both the railway line to Terowie, that serviced the mines near Burra, and the original Ghan railway to the north. It is now the terminus for the Pitchie Ritchie Tourist Railway that runs on the original railway line through Pitchie Ritchie Pass. The historic station there now has an information centre and a museum.


Across the road from the station are four large old pubs. You can easily imagine the large numbers of people who would have stayed there while on their train journey or perhaps just stopped in for a beer while their train stopped at the station.


From Quorn, we travelled across some wheat growing areas that were dotted with little towns that are struggling to survive. I stopped to look at the war memorial in one of them and noticed that 14 of the local inhabitants were killed in WW1. This would have decimated the local community and probably meant that there were very few men left in the local area. The main surviving building in some of the towns was the local Church.


There are enormous wheat fields around here with homesteads that are few and far between. It would be a long way to go the neighbours house to borrow a cup of sugar.


Back in Peterborough, we caught up with some shopping at the supermarket. This was our first opportunity in six days to find a shop that had a large range of supplies. We had previously seen the railway museum here but this afternoon we made a stop at the Town Hall which has a beautiful quilt made by local women for Australia’s bi-cenenerary in 1988. it shows many facets of local life and illustrates much of the history of the area. 

IMG 1357

http://www.wilsons.id.au/back-to-peterborough/feed/ 1 9201
Leaving Arkaroola http://www.wilsons.id.au/leaving-arkaroola/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/leaving-arkaroola/#comments Mon, 24 Jul 2017 08:09:20 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/leaving-arkaroola/ Today, I had some good news. I spent a good amount of time on the phone trying to sort out how to get a new tyre for my car. I was told by the kind people at Arkaroola that if they ordered one, it would not arrive for another four days. After lots of phone calls I found the my BMW Roadside Assist policy would get me a free tow to the nearest tyre supplier. That was in Copely, 130 kilometers away. I called Dave at Outback Motors there and he told me that he could have a new tyre delivered by tomorrow morning so we organized transport for the car and tonight we are in a cabin in the caravan park at Copely and by 9.30 tomorrow, we should be on our way again.

Here’s the final indignation – being carried on a car trailer to the repair shop. I’m very grateful to the staff at Arkaroola for their help and hospitality.

The first inhabitants of Arkaroola were the Adnyamathanha people. Their dreamtime or creation stories say that Arkaroo, a mythical monster, drank nearby Lake Frome dry. He then crawled up into the mountains. When he urinated he created the waterholes that are a feature of the area. His movement over the land created Arkaroola Creek.

The first Anglo-European to visit the area was explorer Edward Eyre in 1840 and the surveyor George Goyder in 1857. There was a small failed settlement nearby, at the Yudnamutana copper mine from 1860 to 1863. 

The land was always marginal and projects failed quickly. Uranium exploration persisted sporadically and led to the development of good roads by optimistic companies.  The current facility, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary was established by geologist Reg Sprigg in 1968 after he purchased the pastoral lease. He had been involved in surveys in the area before that. He purchased the 610 square kilometres pastoral lease (part of which is now held as freehold) and began the conversion to a wildlife sanctuary and tourist centre. 

Our visit to Arkaroola has, for me, been the highlight of our trip.

Just outside the village are a number of large boulders that show the different type of rocks in the area. Many of the lookouts have cairns that are also comprised of many variety of rocks.

Our drive to Copely was fairly uneventful. We leapfrogged Eric who was towing our car by traveling with Rob and Fiona in their car. We arrived in town just before he did. 

We stopped to take a photo of an eagle that was dining on one of the dozens of kangaroo carcasses on the road. He flew away when we stopped but landed in a near by tree.

The country side was very similar to that which we passed through a few days ago and I am glad that we are now on a bitumen road.

We have also found that the pub in Copely has gone broke too and won’t reopen for another few weeks. Luckily, we still have some of the food we brought with us for dinner.

My computer seems to have packed it in as well, so I have resorted to writing my blog posts on my phone. It was not complete when my phone decided to upload it to the server. Apologies for any extra typos and mistakes.

http://www.wilsons.id.au/leaving-arkaroola/feed/ 2 9184
Arkaroola http://www.wilsons.id.au/arkaroola/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/arkaroola/#comments Sun, 23 Jul 2017 11:10:56 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9176 Yesterday, we left Blinman and headed up the road to Arkaroola. Before leaving, we stopped at the historic cemetery at the edge of town. We found the graves of the well known family who had operated Angorichina Station over the decades and the American man who was the Captain of the Copper Mine there. We were looking especially for the grave of the mine supervisor who insisted that the powder room should be moved further away from the smelter but we could not find it. The story goes that he went to inspect the powder magazine one day wearing hob-nailed boots. These caused a spark and the powder store blew up. The explosion not only killed him, but also broke every window in town.


We had an uneventful drive for much of the way to Arkaroola through relatively boring scenery. At one place, we found a conical hill where we walked to the top to see the view across the ranges. The hill was concave  in shape and the further we walked up, the steeper it became. We had a good view from the top across the ranges. Going up was OK, but coming down was very slippery and we had to take great care. It was certainly too steep for either of our cars to manage,


Just after this hill, we had a disaster. My left rear tyre was badly punctured and went flat almost instantaneously. We tried pumping it up and using some tyre sealant but it just kept going flat again. I knew we were about 100 kilometres from Arkaroola and that I could drive that far on one of these run-flat tyres. However, I hadn’t allowed fir the rocky creek crossings and at about 40 kilometres from our destination., the tyre gave up completely. Rather than damage the rim of the wheel, we decided to stop and call for help. Just as well that I had my satellite phone as there was no other form of communication in this isolated area.



The people from Arkaroola arrived after a couple of hours and put my car on a trailer and towed us into town. (I guess that it could be called a town – it has a holiday village, a store and a workshop). They obviously don’t get too many  BMWs in this part of the world. As this happened on a Saturday, we will have to wait until Monday before a new tyre can be ordered from a supplier in Adelaide. It will probably get delivered here next Tuesday afternoon so our future travel plans are now up in the air.

At least this resort has a nice restaurant where we can have meals and buy some basic supplies. The stars here are literally like diamonds in the sky. I can’t remember when I have seen the milky way so clearly.


This morning we went on our pre-booked Ridge Top Tour. It operates on some 4WD tracks that were constructed in the 1970’s by Exxon Mobil in their search for uranium based minerals around here. They never found any deposits that had commercial value, but they left some very rough bush roads for people to use. The tour is on private land and is about 22 kms long, It follows a series of ridges and valleys to the north of Arkaroola. The passengers on the tour sit along the sides of the Toyota 4WD and every time we went up a steep hill, we all slid to the back of the vehicle and vice-versa when we went down one. There are a number of stunning lookouts along the the way that proved superb panoramic views.



We had a lazy afternoon today, catching up on some washing and other domestic chores. Late in the day, we decided to drive down to the Arkaroola Waterhole to see if any animals were coming in for water. The waterhole was quite small. They have had no rain here sine last January and only get about 150 mm per year. However, the scenery along the creek was interesting and very photogenic.


We did see a large number of yellow-footed rock wallabies along the track. They are native to this area and they look very cute. We also saw some Euros and, of course, more Emus. One had about eight chicks in tow.


http://www.wilsons.id.au/arkaroola/feed/ 1 9176
Blinman http://www.wilsons.id.au/blinman/ Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:35:39 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9165 It’s only about 75 kms from Wilpena to Blinman but there are plenty of things to do on the way. The town was founded by a one-legged shepherd named Robert Blinman who discovered copper here while looking after his sheep. in 1855, the town had a population of 1500 but today there are just 18 permanent residents.

Blinman is reputed to be the highest town (in altitude) in South Australia  It is now a pastoral area where sheep are raised but in the past, it was the South Australian centre for copper mining. Over 10,000 tons of ore were extracted from the mine here. The main street has a general store, a few non-descript buildings, and a pub. The cemetery is just down the road at the edge of town. The pub went broke last January but is due to reopen in a week or so with new owners. It’s hard to imagine how a little outback town like this could get along without a pub which is normally the centre of social life in the town.


It was an interesting drive to get here. The road wound between rolling hills and some of them had lookouts that provided excellent panoramic views across the ranges. Apart from  the red gums in the creek valleys, there are no trees in any part of the landscape. They were all cut down to feed the voracious appetite of the mine smelter for fuel.


Apart from sheep, we saw three types of wildlife here. Kangaroos were plentiful, as evinced by the frequent numbers of them as road kill along the roadside. We also saw good numbers of feral goats. Early in the day, we stopped for this emu who was obviously going to cross  the road. It walked out into the middle, stopped and then retreated to the other side again. After three goes, it finally crossed over right in front of us. As the lady at Rawnsley Park Station said to us, they are the only creature that make sheep look intelligent.


One of the unique geological  features of the area is a hill capped with a layer of hard sandstone known as the Great Wall of China. The access road had a sign that was set back a little and quite hard to see so at first, we missed it. However, there was a well worn turning point just passed it so I assume that lots of other people had missed the sign as well.

P7210484 Pano

We arrived in Blinman late in the morning, checked in for a mine tour later in the afternoon and then set off down the road to Parachilna Gorge. The road was windy and hilly but the scenery was very interesting. We passed Angorachina Station where there one was a tuberculosis asylum. We tried to stay in the cabins there but they would only provide accommodation for two nights (and we only intended to say here for one). As a result, we are staying at some ‘holiday units’ behind the general store in town. They are well equipped and very comfortable. Thanks to Barbara (who owns the store) for her hospitality. She makes quite a delicious Qandong Pie and her store is famous for them right around the area.

The gorge had some very interesting rock formations and a few creek crossings that gave our cars wet feet.



After a picnic lunch, we were back into Blinman in time for our mine tour at 3.00 pm. This took us down an adit (the main entrance to the mine) and under the hill where we could see some of the old mine workings. The mine closed in 1918.

IMG 2270

IMG 8209

We were fascinated by the stories of miners who worked with only a candle for light and had working conditions that were a far cry from any modern health and safety regulations. Boys as young as fourteen could work underground while those aged twelve could work above ground (on the grass). I actually found the origin of the expression to be ‘grassed up’, which means to be informed upon or dobbed in.

The ground above the mine was known as ‘the grass’ as distinct from the underground workings below. Apparently the miners wouold try and cheat by placing a few handfuls if high grade ore in the bottom of their buckets so that when they were tipped out at the smelter, it looked as though the whole bucket was of the same high quality. The assayers (on the grass) would spot this and then mark down the value of the bucket. As a result, the miners thought that they were being ‘grassed up’.

Wilpena Pound http://www.wilsons.id.au/wilpena-pound/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/wilpena-pound/#comments Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:19:30 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9155 It was a very cold night last night. The temperature was forecast to get down to -1C and I don’t think it had any trouble doing so. I was awake at 3.30 am feeling cold so I turned on the heater in our cabin and turned up my electric blanket. In the morning, I discovered that the window next to my bed was wide open. I didn’t notice it because the curtain was closed, so of course it was very cold in my bedroom. Tonight is forecast to be a little warmer, but I won’t be taking any chances. I’ve made sure that the window is shut tight.

This morning, we backtracked down the road for a few kilometres to a lookout that we had seen yesterday. When we were first there, we were looking directly into the low afternoon sun and it was impossible to appreciate anything of the scenery.  This morning, the sun was behind us and the view across the Akaba Hills were stunning. This is one of the areas painted by Hans Heyson, the famous South Australian bush artist.

P7200360 Pano


A little way up the road, we stopped at the Rawnsley Peak lookout. Today was the first fine day of our trip and without any wind. I was able to get my drone up for a bit of aerial photography. I captured some good views of the hills surrounding Wilpena Pound.

DJI 0008

Before reaching Wilpena Pound, we decided to explore the Arakroo Rock Hike tan led to some aboriginal cave paintings. The directions on the signboard were a bit confusing. One said to allow 1 hour and another said that the walk would take 2 1/2 hours. We followed the track uphill for about half an hour and came across a rock that looked as though it had faded aboriginal art with a lot of graffiti embellishments We were not sure that we were in the correct place but we decided that we had walked far enough anyway. Even if we were in the wrong place, we still had some good views of the bluffs along Wilpena Pound.


At Wilpena we had a quick lunch in the cafe at the visitors centre and then walked 3 kilometres to the old Hills Homestead inside the Pound. 

Wilpena Pound is a natural amphitheatre of mountains. The name of the pound, Wilpena, is reported to be Aboriginal, meaning “place of bent fingers”. This might either be a reference to the mountains resembling the shape of a gently cupped hand, or the freezing cold of the ranges in winter (like last night). The traditional owners, were the Adnyamathanha aboriginal people.

A family named Hill settled at Wilpena after some unsuccessful attempts by others and established a small base just inside the pound. After an immense amount of work, they built a road through the tortuous Wilpena Gap and erected a small homestead. It was along the route of this road that we walked. It was a pleasant walk with large gum trees and rocky outcrops that made the time quite interesting. We saw quite a bit of wildlife along the way including a herd of feral goats.


For several years, the Hill family had moderate success growing crops inside the Pound, but in 1914 there was a major flood and the road through the gorge was destroyed. They could not bear to start all over and sold their homestead to the government. The Pound then became a forest reserve leased for grazing. In 1945 the tourist potential of the area was recognised when a “National Pleasure Resort” was proclaimed. A hotel called the Wilpena Chalet was opened on the southern side of the creek by the gorge. Now the entire area is a National Park. The homestead was renovated from ruin in 1995 by a local craftsman. 


I’ve walked over ten kilometres today, which is a good amount for this old bloke. I’m ready for an early night and I’m sure that I will sleep really well, even  though it may be cold overnight.

http://www.wilsons.id.au/wilpena-pound/feed/ 2 9155
The Southern Flinders Ranges http://www.wilsons.id.au/the-southern-flinders-ranges/ http://www.wilsons.id.au/the-southern-flinders-ranges/#comments Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:09:47 +0000 http://www.wilsons.id.au/?p=9142 Today, we finally made it to the Southern section of the Flinders Ranges. This series of mountains form the biggest mountains in South Australia and were named in honour of Mathew Flinders (by some of his party). He was the first man to circumnavigate Australia in 1802. The first settlers arrived here in 1845.

We planned to leave Peterborough (our previous overnight stop) early today but a visit to the Railway Museum there waylaid our plans. Peterborough was at a railway crossroads. A narrow gauge railway ran from east to west towards the mining areas of Treworie and Burra and a standard gauge line ran north and south from Broken Hill to Adelaide. At its peak, over 1200 men worked at the station and railway workshops in the town. We were seduced into a rather long tour of the old workshops that was very interesting but much longer than we had anticipated. 



We ended up leaving almost two hours later than we had planned, but it didn’t matter a great deal as we only had a little over 220 kms to drive today. After refuelling, we drove to the town of Orroroo where we made a minor detour to see an enormous red gum tree. It is over 500 years old and has a girth of 10 metres. These trees are colloquially known as ‘widow makers’ as they drop their branches without warning and anyone who camps underneath risks death or serious injury.


A lot of the towns in this area are a pale shadow of their former selves. Many were established as mining towns and when the mines closed, the towns became virtual ghost towns. One such town is Carriton where we came across the old St Celia’s Catholic Church. It looks as though it hasn’t been used for many decades.


Later, we stopped in the little town of Hawker for lunch, looked at the historic railway station and then checked out the stores for some more provisions for lunch for the next few days. We had read that we would find the last ATMs for a few days and probably the last mobile phone connection as well in Hawker. We were expecting to find a few shops and maybe a small supermarket. We drove around all the streets looking for the shopping centre, but instead, the only shops that existed were a general store (with more empty shelves than full ones) and a service station on the opposite corner that also had a little grocery shop. 

From Hawker, it was only about 50 kms to where we are staying for the next two nights at Rawnsley Park Station. It’s a large sheep station with some tourist cabins and a caravan park / camping area – just a few kilometres south of Wilpena Pound. We stopped a number of times along the way to take some photographs including this dry creek which was rather attractive. It gave us a special bonus when two emus walked across the creek bed while I was taking my photo.


Just before reaching Rawnsley Park, we came across a scenic drive that headed west across the hills. We decided to follow it for a half hour or so and came across some interesting scenery. I have seen many photos of this area and the scenery along this road was very similar to that which I expected to find. It was pretty much the type of scenery that I came to the Flinders Ranges to see.



We finally reached Rawnsley Park at about 4.00 pm. By now the weather had changed to something warmer than the last few days and the sky is blue and sunny. We have a couple of nice self-contained cabins here that are very comfortable.

Behind the cabins is a hill where we were able to get some good views of Rawnsley Bluff at sunset as well as some golden light on a distant mountain range.



http://www.wilsons.id.au/the-southern-flinders-ranges/feed/ 3 9142