This area of Australia has an enormous amount of diverse history. Burra, where we stayed last night, was an important copper mining region and further north is another little town – Terowie which is now a virtual ghost town with only 160 people. However, in WW2 it was a bustling centre of activity. It was here that the broad gauge railway network from Adelaide stopped and the narrow gauge railway going further north to Alice Springs began. Hundreds of people were employed by the railways as everything going north from parcels to livestock had to transfer trains here. The main street is now a sad sight, full of empty shops and buildings that no longer hold their former glory.
There is another historical aspect to this town. After the fall of the Philippines in WW2, General Douglas MacArthur escaped to Darwin on the northern coast of Australia. From there, he began a convoluted railway journey south to eventually reach Melbourne. Of course, he too had to change trains in Terowie and it was on the railway platform of this town that he gave his famous “I will return” speech. This little town in the middle of nowhere made history that day! There is not much left of the station now and you need to use your imagination to see the acres of railway yards, hundreds of freight cars and the bustle of train traffic that once was here.
Further north, the town of Peterborough was another important railway town. Here, not only two, but three railway gauges met – the broad gauge line from Adelaide, a narrow gauge line that travelled north to central Australia and the standard gauge line that crossed the continent to Western Australia. It’s clear that the original colonies were quite parochial and travelling between them was very inefficient. Thank goodness that all these separate railway systems have been standardised along ago. There is a large railway museum in Peterborough that tells the story of these different railway structures.
From Peterborough, our route took us through Orroroo to Hawker. The terrain was still flat and uninspiring with large fields that would be planted with wheat when the season began. There were more relics of old homesteads.
Our friends, Max and Joy, suggested that we should visit a site near Orroroo named ‘Magnetic Hill’ where cars are reputedly pulled by some magnetic force uphill. We drove 22 kilometres each way out to this location which was well signposted.
After all that distance, we can’t say that we noticed any effect at all. I followed the instructions on the sign but as soon as I turned the engine off, my car automatically selected itself into ‘park’ rather than ‘neutral’, so it didn’t roll anywhere at all. I tried it with the engine running and the car in neutral but we rolled a little way and then stopped. Actually, the hill isn’t magnetic and there is no mysterious force that makes cars roll up hill. The whole thing is a result of an optical illusion caused by the surrounding country that makes it appear that the road travels uphill when there is really a gentle downhill slope. So much for a 44 km return trip that didn’t show us anything!
The creek at Orroroo features a massive gum tree that is over 500 years old. These are common trees in creeks and river flood plains although they are often called ‘Widow Makers’ as their branches can fall without warning. Many unsuspecting campers have been killed and injured after choosing a tent site underneath one of these trees.. However, It was a good place to stop for lunch in the nearby picnic shelter..
As we travelled further towards the town of Hawker, the route became more interesting. We were now in the foothills of the Flinders Ranges and the road travelled around undulating hills and across a number of flood ways that were quite photogenic. On the occasions when it rains heavily, the creeks in this area can flow over the road to a depth of as much as two metres.
We eventually reached our stop for the next two nights at Rawnsley Park Station. This is an active sheep station with a large tourist hub. We have a two room aoparrtment but we could also have stayed in their caravan park or in an ecolodge. This place also has a small store, petrol station and an airstrip. It was a clear but cool day and we found a good place to watch the sunset on one of the dominant features of the Ranges – Rawnsley Bluff.
The only thing for us to do to end the day was to have dinner in their Woolshed Restaurant and then settle in for the night. We expect the temperature to be quite cold tomorrow morning (3C to 5C) and then the day should warm up to around 18C. We have a plan to do a driving circuit around some of the major sites and attractions in the area.