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 evidenced 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.
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 a quite 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.
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 would try and cheat by placing a few handfuls of 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’.