Local aboriginals generally shunned the interior of the Gammon ranges
, for fear of waking the fearful dreamtime serpent Akurra. Few places
inside the Ranges therefore have aboriginal place names. Bunyip gorge (Winmiindanha) is one exception.
History of the Flinders Ranges
The Flinders Ranges
are one of the oldest Mountain Ranges in the world, with fossil evidence dating back over 640 million years and today’s weathered remains of a once great mountain that was once up to 6 kilometres high. For over 15,000 years, these ranges where the home for the local Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people. There are many fine locations in the Flinders Ranges
where their paintings and rock art sites can be viewed and it is well worth the time to visit one of these sites. At the time of European settlement
, it was estimated that there were about 500 aboriginal people living in the Flinders Ranges
, and like many other locations throughout Australia
, the Adnyamathanha Aboriginal people defended their lands from the white people that were settling in their tribal lands and clashes were common, with many Aboriginal people being killed in the ensuing battles.
During the 1860’s, drought ravaged many parts of South Australia
, and the Flinders Ranges
did not escape these effects. Many of the Aboriginal people were forced to retreat to ration depots, where poor living conditions and disease wiped many of the Aboriginals out. By the mid 1870’s many of the Aboriginals were working on the local stations, working as shepherds and stockman. In this way they were still able to keep their very strong bonds with the tribal lands that they had been displaced from. In 1929 the United Aborigines Mission established a new mission at Nepabunna, east of Copley, which was a special place of the local Aboriginals. When that last full blood past away in 1973, so ended the handing down of special dreaming stories that could only be handed down to fully initiated members of the tribe. With the coming of white man, the Flinders Ranges
were set to see many changes to the local Adnyamathanha people.
The first European to view ‘a chain of rugged mountains’ was Matthew Flinders in March 1802, on board the “Investigator”, while charting the coastline of Spencer Gulf, during his circumnavigation voyage of Terra Australia
, to see if the Eastern and Western coastlines of Australia
were in fact 2 separate islands, as thought by many at the time, or one large continent. Dropping anchor near today’s Chinaman’s Creek, Flinders sent off a party of men to climb the highest peak in the distance. Departing from the shore about 6 am, the part reached the base of this high peak around 2 pm and taking a good number of hours of climbing to reach the summit
around dusk. Looking out over today’s Willochra Plain, the party described what lay to the east as ‘the view did not furnish any lakes or bays to the eastward, but a dead, uninteresting, flat country…the country on the opposite side of this chain of mountains was quite flat and no doubt covered with shrubs and small trees’. Spending the night on the side of the mountain, the party did not arrive back to the Investigator until late the next day. This peak that was climbed by the first white people was named Mt Brown, after Robert Brown, the ships botanist, who was a member of the climbing party. While Brown and his group were on their recognisance of Mt Brown, Matthew Flinders and a small group of men set off in one of the Investigators’ long boats to investigate the coast at the head of the Gulf. Flinders party were not able to get as far as they had hoped, being stopped by mud flat and mangroves. Using a high peak in the distance as a point for taking bearings, Flinders named this peak Mt Arden after his great grandmother and named no other peak or the ranges that he viewed, and describes the ranges as ‘a ridge of high, rocky and baron mountains’ . These ranges remain unnamed for a further 37 years.
The next European to see and visit the still unnamed mountainous area was Edward John Eyre
in 1839, who undertook a series of exploration expeditions to the Flinders Ranges
over the next two years. While on his first exploration expedition, he discovered on the western side of the ranges, a permanent supply of water that made the ideal place for forming a permanent depot for further expedition, naming the place Depot Creek. Depot Creek was now put on the maps, and was to prove an important depot for Eyre
and other future explores to the Flinders and west coat regions of South Australia
. A little further north of Depot Creek, Eyre
became the first white person to climb the tall peak named by Matthew Flinders in 1802, Mount Arden and from this high peak, the reality of the Flinders Ranges
began to be revealed. From the summit
of Mount Arden, Eyre
wrote ‘From north-east to north, were vast masses of mountain ranges rising out above the other, of great height and broken outline but, as far as we could judge, of a rocky and barren appearance like all of the front hills of Flinders Ranges
…I set off myself on horseback, accompanied by a black boy, to go to the north.. The country was barren and bare of grass. At about 20 miles
we found the hills trending still more to the eastward and a black rocky range was seen at some distance lying, as it were, across the front of them..’
The travels of Eyre
proved very useful, and he named a number of features during his visits. In a letter dated 10th July 1839 by the then Governor of South Australia
, Governor Gawler
to Colonel Torrens, which was published on page 3 of the Government Gazette, dated 11 July 1839, Governor Gawler
described the work of explorer, Edward Eyre
and advised that he had named the mountain range ‘Flinders Ranges
’, after their discoverer, Matthew Flinders, who never named any of his discoveries after himself. During these exploration visits by Eyre
, he discovered vast large salt lakes, that he thought was one large horseshoe shaped lake and would stop further exploration north of the ranges past this impassable barrier. Even in 1843 when the then Surveyor General of South Australia
, Captain Frome journeyed north to confirm Eyre
’s theory, he skirted Eyre
’s Lake Torrens to the east, hoping to find a way through this barrier and discover a way to the centre of the continent. When he reached and climbed what he thought was Mount Serle (an error in Eyre
’s mapping and was about 20 kilometres further east of Mount Serle) in the northern Flinders, he discovered to the east a large salt pan, the eastern boundary of Lake Torrens (which today now bears his name, Lake Frome) conforming that the Rages were hemmed in by a giant horseshoe shape salt lake and was not able to proceed any further.
Finally in 1851 Benjamin Babbage was appointed by Earl Grey, at the South Australian government’s request, to make a Geological and Mineralogical Survey of the Colony. Babbage was appointed Commissioner of Gold licences and in 1853 government assayer. In 1856 Babbage was sent north to search for gold as far as the Flinders Ranges
. He found none, but discovered MacDonnell River, Blanchewater and Mount Hopeful and was able to dispel the current idea of the impassability of Eyre
’s horseshoe shaped Lake Torrens by ascertaining the existence of a north-east gap to the Cooper and Gulf country
. Babbage had actually crossed the gap
, but it was Peter Egerton Warburton, using Babbage’s detailed information to traverse this gap completely.
With the increasing number of exploration work by various South Australians, news of pastoral country was filtering south. During the early years of the Colony’s life, Bungaree Station, just a few kilometres north of Clare, was the outer limit of civilization in the new state, but slowly the pastoralist were gaining new grounds and slowly pushing north for bigger and better properties. The first pastoralists were termed squatters, for the earliest years; people could establish themselves temporarily on crown land, as there was no formal approval and arrangements would last until the land was sold or leased. From 1850 occupational licences were granted, with the only prevision that the pastoralist had to define their lands quite successfully, resulting in many private surveyors being employed to accurately map the country. These early surveyors thus became explorers
in their own right and by the 1860’s, all the Flinders Ranges
were under pastoral leases.
During the early years of settlement in the Flinders Ranges
the area received very good rainfall, resulting in large area of land cleared and crops plated, as well as overstocking the properties with both sheep and cattle. These years of good rainfall soon reverted back to the usual low rainfall, resulting in crops failing and many thousands of head of stock perishing because of the low rainfall and drought conditions. Measures were put in place by the Government to stop further cropping and overstocking of land that was deemed not suitable for cropping, and an invisible line was created of maps, a line that is still in place today, and is known as Goyder’s Line. Goyder’s Line of rainfall is an imaginary line marking off a very large area of rural South Australia
that receives 254mm of rainfall a year or less. This line was named after the then Surveyor General, George Goyder, who in 1865 travelled nearly 5000 kilometres on horseback to distinguish a division between arable (guaranteed rainfall) and arid land. North of the Goyder’s Line was deemed Pastoral land and should not be cropped and was also the start of Saltbush and Bluebush country.
During the early years of European settlement
in the Flinders, South Australian’s were looking for Copper. By the late 1850’s a large copper ore deposit was discovered in Blinman
. The mine site was sold to the Yudnamutana Copper Mining Company in 1862 but was closed in 1874. The Blinman
mine then was worked on and off over the next 20 years, but was never a profitable venture to continue. Many other sites in the Flinders opened, all with the thoughts of finding that mother load. Sites like Nuccaleena, Sliding Rock, Prince Alfred, and Yudnamutana were just some of the sites that showed promise, but petered out after a few short years after mining commenced.
Copper was not the only mineral of importance that was discovered in the Flinders Ranges
. There were a number of gold fields discovered, as well as silver and lead. Mining is still undertaken in the Flinders Ranges
today, with coal, barites, talc and uranium being mined at various locations. Another venture that has taken off with great interest is the diversification of station properties, which have opened up their properties to the increasing number of four wheel drive owners that seek the challenges that are on offer, that gives those that take these tracks to see another side of the Flinders Ranges
, that until a number of years ago, was only viewed by station owners and workers.