Saturday, August 31, 2013

31 August 2013 - Paringa Caravan Park, Paringa, Sturt Highway, South Australia

The day dawned exactly as promised; fine and warm. My husband’s shorts were in such a state after long storage, I had to drag the iron out from its hibernation and deal with the months of stubborn creases. Again evidence of spring, and with that I spent a good part of the morning sorting through bags and boxes of travel pamphlets and “souvenirs”; items one just cannot hold onto travelling for such a long time and with so little storage. It was my small effort at spring cleaning; a task I am saved of, living this life, and one I have never been much given to.

We drove through Renmark and out to the McCormack Centre promoted as having an electronic interpretative model of the Murray-Darling Basin overlooking a beautiful wetland area where native birdlife can be seen. Alas it was closed so we returned to the shopping centre where Chris had his Telstra cellphone topped up; he prefers they do it rather than us cursing and struggling with the minute numbers on the faded bits of papers you otherwise pay for to do yourself. We picked up some delicious bread from the supermarket as well as the Weekend Australian, then can home and sat about until lunchtime digesting one and then the other.

Looking back to the Paringa Bridge
It was well after 1 pm we decided to do something a little more energetic so headed off of foot for a walk, back across the historic opening bridge then across the series of causeways over floodplains and anabranches of the Murray River, passing the two Renmark caravan parks, both much smarter than the one we are in and more like holiday resorts than a stopover place. We crossed under the Sturt Highway and followed a pathway through the bush lands that make up the Paringa Paddock reserve, the path marked so poorly it was as if we had undertaken a challenging orienteering course. Getting absolutely lost was an impossibility, because we could hear the highway traffic in the distance and knew we had only to reach the river and follow it upstream at worst. After carefully wading through overgrown ways, here marked but not recently trodden, the regulars having given up on following this as a proper walkway years ago, we reached Lock 5, the business end of the weir, all barricaded off from the curious. Unlike the series of locks and weirs we had visited in Mildura and on other places along the river last year when the river levels were still so high from the recent floods, the water fell noisily down over the weir, and when we finally made our way down to the lower edge of the weir, we watched cormorants and pelicans busy fishing in the turbulent waters.

Lock No 5 Weir
Now thirsty, as one would be, having set out in the heat of the day without water, I was anxious that we make our way back as directly as possible, and with that in mind we walked back along the access dirt road, turning at Chris’s direction on to another I thought wrong. We found ourselves in a turn around beneath the highway however were able to scramble up the bank and surprise the oncoming traffic as we seemed to pop up from nowhere. It had taken us an hour and twenty minutes to walk from the camp to the lock and took us about twenty five minutes to return. 

It has been good to have a relatively quiet day however we have a whole four weeks to fill between now and our sea crossing to Tasmania. I shall have to do some careful planning for the intervening weeks and the six weeks we intend to spend on that island state.

30 August 2013 - Paringa Caravan Park, Paringa, Sturt Highway, South Australia

Interestingly as I start this, as part of the on line ritual, updating my Skype and Facebook location, Facebook did not recognise “Paringa”, so I shall explain. Paringa is just four kilometres south east, and across the Murray River from Renmark, and we are settled in here, as no surprise to my regular readers, because it is the cheapest park. Of course we have been here before, and then we free camped along the river, but then the summer had settled in and we had no need for either heaters or air conditioners.

This morning we left Burra at about 9 am, on time which is just as well; the caravan park there does allow for late departures, for the fee of $5 which seemed on the face of it rather harsh. But understanding the stream of traffic through this park and accepting that this is indeed a commercial operation, the managers need to shift people in and out efficiently and so it makes for good commercial sense. But this was all academic, we were well gone, and drove up out of the town and on to the Goyder Highway. The highway passes through beautiful rolling sheep grazing country before descending ever so gently through arid saltbush bearing country, across a well maintained highway, a joy to drive. There were far fewer abandoned stone ruins than seen over the past few days which suggested that here; the settlors had been far more realistic. 

Morgan is eighty eight kilometres almost directly south east of Burra, and was reached within the time constraints that our TomTom suggested. Bearing in mind that the Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone quarantine zone kicks in about ten kilometres north west of Morgan, and that we had spent the entire evening before cooking up potatoes, onions, carrots and eating massive salads of every other vegetable and that we had consumed every piece of fruit lurking in our cupboards, we were not impressed to find absolutely no Hitler-like quarantine officer at the “border”. Now I do indeed understand and acknowledge the purpose of these bio-security measures, however given that we would have carefully dealt with our waste, I was not impressed. Let it be said that we should have received some sort of award for our effort to control the transfer of deadly whatsits across these unmarked borders. I was ready to face the officers and the inspections and was totally disappointed. 

Given the official fear tactics of quarantine tactics, it would be reasonable to suggest that when one reached Morgan, one would be able to replace all the discarded fruit and vegetables. Morgan does indeed have a “supermarket”; a tiny very modest Friendly Grocer where one would pay inflated prices to restock one’s fridge contents. Needless to say, we did not.

Morgan has a population of not much more than 500 folk and has had an important part in South Australia’s history. We arrived at the edge of the township having come down from Burra’s 472 metres ASL to here beside the Murray at about just 40 metres ASL, and pulled into the lookout above the murky and mighty Murray River expecting more than we found. Back at the height of the paddle steamer days, Morgan was the busiest inland port in South Australia, with the rail carrying up to six trains a day terminating at the river’s edge and the cargo being loaded on and off the busy river traffic. And this is of course the point from where all that drinking water we have been consuming since arriving at Ceduna, comes from, piped across the hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of arid lands. 

Today as we stood near the ferry crossing, itself very busy with the normal traffic of the day along with dozens of caravan towing rigs, we had an excellent view of hundreds of houseboats anchored or tied up a little downstream waiting for The Season and the tourist demand that comes with it.

We walked up the hill to the township where there are two pubs, a post office and the very modest “supermarket” along with a museum and an antique outlet. There was little to occupy our attention; in fact I had expected somewhat more, even enough to keep us there overnight, however we decided to head on, midday still at least half an hour away.

Relic of rail at Morgan
So we resumed the Goyder Highway, travelling along the northern banks of the Murray, sometimes at a distance and sometimes within view, but passing through very few centres of any consequence. The southern bank is busier with settlements and orchards, all of which we had travelled through when we came this way from Gawler a couple of years ago. That is not to say however that the northern banks were devoid of industry. We passed small areas of vineyards, almonds and citrus growing, but mostly the highway, not at all up to the standard of that between Burra and Morgan, passed through arid salt bush country, with road kill of roos, sheep, cats and foxes, and the live entertainment of dragons who thankfully froze unscathed as we passed directly over them and the odd wild-eyed emu.

We joined the Sturt Highway just east of Barmera, thankful to be on a better road, and headed the last few kilometres into Renmark, having travelled 209 kilometres since leaving camp in the morning.

We made our way to the Information Centre, and I have to confess it was not until we were in the centre of town that I remembered the detail and layout of this small revisited metropolis, a rural centre with a population of 9,898 according to the sign at the town’s entrance . We confirmed the prices of the three caravan parks before selecting this one. Last time we were in the area, temperatures were warmer and we chose to stay at several of the wonderful free camps along the river. We called into the Renmark Caravan Centre and spoke to Simon who was holding the fort in the absent of his boss who had been rushed to hospital. While he could make no commitment to the availability of his time, he did offer several solutions to resolving the scar on the rear of our caravan, mentioning the words “insurance”, “delay” and “camouflage patches”, all of which were worthy for later consideration, then we shopped at Renmark’s Woolworths supermarket to replenish our vegetables and fruits provisions. 

Again the weather deserves a special mention; when we woke this morning, the rain and severe winds had abated, and we enjoyed a gentle assistant breeze as we crossed the plains to this eastern section of the state. Temperatures were so much more enjoyable, in fact while lunching on the route along the Murray, we threw the windows wide open as we have not done for months, and later on arrival at the camp here, we stripped several layers off and spoke of wearing shorts tomorrow. Today the temperature reached 24 degrees here in Renmark and is forecasted to reach 28 degrees tomorrow, the days ahead to 30 and climbing to 33 degrees by next Wednesday; surely the end of the winter?

We have booked into this park for a couple of days, but may well extend. Major decisions have been reached today, commitments made by way of fares paid, and we will not be back in New Zealand as early as suggested to our family. We have also decided which route we will take out of Renmark which is entirely contrary to that discussed last week. Such is the contrary nature of gypsies and after all that, it has been quite a day.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

29 August 2013 - Burra Caravan Park, Burra, South Australia

The road from Clare across to Burra is just over forty kilometres long, only a short trip. It climbs up out of the Clare Valley and crosses beautiful farming country, again sheep and cropping, bypassing the small rural settlement of Farrell Flat which announces its presence by the inevitable grain silos and was once a railhead. Soon it joins the Barrier Highway and we drove the last few kilometres across low hills to the historic township of Burra, made famous for once having one of the world’s largest copper mines.
Burra is now listed as a State Heritage Area and hosts many great historical sites. One might be forgiven thinking that it is tourism that holds the town of a little under one thousand people together, however according to the woman in the AGL Information Centre, the economy revolves around the agricultural industry; wool and cereal crops. This Centre is the PR office for the AGL Hallett wind farms and drew us in as all such places do. We had seen even more turbines on the hills to the north as we came across to Burra today, and were keen to understand the extent of wind farming in the region. Inside we found a wonderful map with the five Hallett wind farms clearly marked and we learned that here are to be found a total of one hundred and sixty seven wind turbines. Now that is impressive!

I suggested to the very helpful hostess that she may have had visitors who were less impressed than us in recent times, and asked her to tell me about those people. What kind of people were they and what was their gripe? She told us that they were mostly people who were bitter about the amount of money the land owners receive, for the privilege of having turbines standing on their farms. The reality is that the “rent” money supplements the farmer’s income significantly, and they can still continue to graze their sheep beneath the turbines with surety of twenty five years of passive income. Because the land on which the turbines stand is too steep and too elevated for cropping, the farmers don’t even have to forgo cultivation space.

At the real Information Centre we learned about the Burra Heritage Passport, a ticket and key to explore the town’s history. For $25 (or $20 if you are old like my husband) you have access to locked areas, heritage sites and a comprehensive guide book. We crossed the road to consider the wares in the bakery and whether we wanted to fork out $45 for this wonderful experience. I suggested we make our way to the caravan park, set up and then consider what we wanted to do. The tourist brochure spelled out that Burra had “a caravan park”; that is, singular, and so we headed to this park, just across the Burra Creek from the main street and booked in. Once set up, we considered all the information we had, and in doing so, found that the local showground also offers powered sites. This annoyed us somewhat, because we do like to patronise these sorts of places and the tourist information had been misleading. Back at the Information Centre, this time reached on foot, we learned that the tariff at the showground was $15 as opposed to the $25 we had just shelled out at the caravan park. We also decided that we would buy a copy of the comprehensive guide book for $5 and do our own tour.

This caravan park is a lovely little park, brilliantly situated and at $25, well priced, although if we all decided to head for the loos at the same time, there will be a very long queue. This evening the park is full and we are glad we arrived so early in the day.

After lunch we headed off in the landcruiser, following the map in the guide, admiring the wonderful heritage buildings and up to the mine site. 

Copper ore was first discovered by shepherds at two localities near Burra Creek. Under the regulations of the time, mineral rights to the deposits could only be acquired by purchase of a Special Survey of 20,000 acres from the Government.

Two groups, nicknamed the Nobs and the Snobs, vied for ownership of the copper bearing land. The Nobs, or Princess Royal Mining Company, were capitalists and pastoralists and included the owners of the Kapunda Mine. The Snobs, or Southern Australian Mining Association, were a group of Adelaide shopkeepers and merchants.

The Burra Creek Special Survey, or Monster Mine, measuring eight miles by four miles, was jointly purchased in August 1845 by these two groups who agreed to divide it in two, each half containing one of the known discoveries. Lots were drawn to determine ownership of each half. The first group drew the southern half and named their mine Princess Royal, but the amount of ore turned out to be small and it closed in 1851. The second group drew the prize, the northern half and named the mine Burra Burra, which began producing copper in 1845. It grew rapidly to become one of the world’s great copper producers. By 1851 the mine employed more than 1,000 men and boys and the town’s population exceeded 5,000. The Victorian gold rush caused a halt to production from 1852 to 1854, after which it continued to boom until 1861. It then declined and in 1869, closed for conversion to open cut operations.

As an underground mine it was worked to a depth of 183 metres, however from 1870 to 1877, as an open cut operation it was only mined to a depth of thirty seven metres. This proved uneconomic and the mine closed in September 1877. Between 1845 and 1877, the mine had produced 50,000 tonnes of copper metal from 700,000 tonnes of ore. There were many attempts to restart mining at Burra. The most serious was by the Burra Burra Copper Company, which operated from 1901 to 1907.

Developments to recover copper from low grade ores saw the mine re-opened in 1970, when Samin Ltd began new open cut operations on the site of the old workings. These operations continued until 1981 and with more modern methods mined to a depth of 100 metres. Concentrate containing about 24,000 tonnes of copper metal was produced from two million tonnes of ore.

Remnants of copper mining at Burra
These later years resulted in the loss of some of the old mine buildings and the production of the enlarged pit which can be seen today. After operations ceased, the water level again rose to create the present day pool.

Throughout the years, water seeping up into the mine had been a problem and during the years of abandonment, the old open cut and its “Mine Pool” were places that attracted local youth seeking rabbits, pigeons, swimming and adventure, despite the dangers of open shafts and crumbling cliffs. At different times the pool was the site for a swimming club.

The town of Burra has some similarity to Whyalla and Tom Price in that it was set up as a Company town; the first such in Australia. It was also the first mining township in Australia.

Burra began its life as Kooringa, aboriginal for “the locality of sheoa”’ and was laid out by the SA Mining Association in 1846. It was situated near the Burra mine and cottages were constructed by the company for miners and their families. Because the company did not grant freehold titles until 1872, other townships developed adjacent to the northern boundary of the company’s property. By 1851 it had become a collection of towns known as “the Burra” with a population of 5,000. It was Australia’s seventh largest town and the largest inland centre, prior to the discovery of gold in eastern Australia.

The other villages which came under the Burra umbrella were Redruth, named along with its streets after Cornish localities, Aberdeen, New Aberdeen, Llwchr, inhabited by Celtic speaking Welshmen and Hampton.

 You will have guessed by now that even without our Heritage Passports, we were able to enjoy and absorb much of Burra’s history. At the mine site we were able to walk around all but the compound that houses the Morphett’s Enginehouse Museum. At the former Redruth Gaol, we were able to walk around the outside and see as much of the gaol as the nearby grazing sheep do.

Interestingly this old gaol, the first in South Australia outside Adelaide, which operated first for what it was built and later as a reformatory school for girls, spanning the years 1856 through to 1922, was used in the filming of Breaker Morant in 1979.

Paxton Square Cottages
The scattered stone remains of Hampton are also only accessible with the magic key, however we were able to enjoy an overview from the road. Not so of Smelts Paddock, however much of this is about sites where various features used to stand. The Paxton Square Cottages in the same street as this caravan park, three rows of thirty three cottages, were built between 1849 and 1852 as alternative housing for those living in dugouts along the creek bank. Early last century they changed hands and were offered as low rent housing for the town. Today they are owned by the local council and available as visitor accommodation.

The special key is also required to access good views of two restored dugouts, however we were able to see enough from the road to understand that these had been desperate times for homeless miners. In 1851 about 1,800 people in a total population of 4,400 lived in nearly 600 of these dugouts. In that same year, three floods devastated “Creek Street” driving the residents from their holes. Few have been occupied since 1860 and the ones in existence today are there solely for the tourist’s entertainment. 

We parked opposite the Town Hall, a grand work of architecture built in 1874 and took in the excellent historic photographic exhibition. The collection is eclectic and includes photos of stud merino sheep compiled in 1911.

Almost next door, we visited the art gallery, housed in the old Kooringa Telegraph Station, yet another lovely old building dating back to 1861. Here we enjoyed a couple of contemporary exhibitions and the small collection of marvelously historic and no doubt valuable landscapes by ST Gill, from as early as 1851.
I have failed to mention that the wind has dominated the day, more so than the overload of history. The drive across from Clare was effected, however as the day progressed, we have had severe gusts of over 50 kph, and little less than 30 kph. This has not made for a comfortable day at all, however we were glad we had not been on the road too much after 10 am. I suspect that many of the campers in here tonight are here rather than out on the road being buffeted by the wild weather. The forecast is for better weather tomorrow which is just as well; we will be heading into the Riverlands tomorrow. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

28 August 2013 - Discovery Parks Clare, Clare, South Australia

The day dawned cold, 3 degrees outside and not much more inside the caravan. Clear blue skies promised the most perfect spring day and did not disappoint. By early afternoon the temperature was up to 20 degrees and we were stripping off some of our outer layers.
Chris paid for a further day while I hung a load of washing out in the sunshine, confident that it would all be dried by the time we returned from our day’s touring.

Our list of attractions to be “done” today covered places more to the north of the Clare Valley today and some off the map. We had been keen to find out more about the world’s largest direct solar “water farm” where “cutting edge technology is used in the process of desalination of farm water with zero liquid discharge.” This is located at Glendalough Estate, one of the many vineyards in the Armagh valley, two kilometres from Clare, a boutique winery set on fifty acres of undulating vineyards and olive groves. Admission to the property is free, obviously in the hope one feels duty bound to buy a bottle of their best. We arrived after the opening hour of 10 am, but the gates were firmly shut confirmed with the “Closed” sign. We drove on somewhat disappointed, regaining the road to Blyth, a farming service centre thirteen kilometres to the west.

The road rose a little and we turned to follow the signs to Brooks Lookout, from where we were delighted with expansive views over a patchwork of intensively cropped plains. The plains seen from this spot were first viewed by Europeans in 1842 when David Hughes passed by and named them Jacob’s Plains. The Hundred of Blyth was surveyed in 1860, although in 1853 fifteen of those German families who came with the Jesuits settled at Benbournie Springs, three and a half kilometres to the north. The township of Blyth was surveyed in 1865 and for many years served as the railhead from Adelaide via Balaklava. And with mention of Balaklava, I noted this morning while examining the map, that  yesterday at Auburn, we were only about thirty kilometres from a spot we camped at nearly a couple of years ago, at The Rocks just beyond Balaklava.

Views west from Brooks Lookout
The land from the hills to two kilometres west of Blyth was originally grassland with scattered shrubs, and is now apparently amongst the best cereal and legume cropping lands in South Australia. Further west, the mallee scrub was extensively cleared for cereal cropping and other mixed farming pursuits. 

From where we stood looking to the west, we could see the Black Range, and ten kilometres beyond, the Hummocks and Barunga Ranges. The Hummocks rise to 416 metres ASL, sixteen metres higher than where we were currently standing on the North Mt Lofty Ranges. Blyth lay directly beneath us at 190 metres ASL. Interestingly Blyth enjoys an average annual rainfall of 420 mm, much lower than Clare Valley area which receives an average of 550mm, which explains the fact that grapes and olives thrive here and grain and legumes prefer the lower plains.

We didn’t hang about as long as we would have liked; the flies were out in force and they do nothing for one’s temper, so we hurried back to the landcruiser and made our way down another access track to the main road on to Blyth.

Artwork in Blyth
At Blyth we pulled into a little park, fenced with a series of steel panels depicting facets of the area’s history. Photos were used in the design and a sheet metal laser cutter was used to cut out the scenes. A small note on the explanatory sign advertises the fact that designs are available for purchase and would be ideal as farm entrance gates or the like. They would be indeed, and this was one of those rare moments I regretted that we were simply passing through and without a property here in South Australia, or anywhere in Australia for that matter. I rather fancied a gate in this style.

Nowadays many different grains are grown on the plains, as well as faba beans which we had come upon when we travelled about the Yorke Peninsula, not really that far away. We were glad to have this identified because we had spent the last week trying to guess at the lentil crop seen from the road.

I was also interested to see reference to the “Weckert Farm” which suggested that this was a descendant of the Weikert who led the Jesuit party out all those years ago, still farming in the area after all this time.

After spending some time admiring these fabulous metal panels, we drove around the town, a very tidy rural service centre which has moved with the times. Those ancient buildings still standing are in good repair but not housing the trendy cafes or B&Bs; this is not a town for such.

We returned to Clare, picked up a few provisions from the Woolworths supermarket, although not too many, knowing that we are just days away from yet another quarantine check point, and headed back to camp for lunch.
Back up hill at Spring Gully

After lunch we set off once more, this time up the hill to the west of the camp and along a ridge until we arrived at the Spring Gully Conservaton Park. We parked, changed our shoes and set off along the Cascade Walk, which turned out to be down the other side of the range toward the plains. The park is a grassed open woodland, an island in the midst of that which  has been manipulated to meet the demands of agriculture in one shape or form. The path was in fact an old road way, although, as I said, down hill. We were treated to galahs, crows, magpies and one tawny frogmouth, that last a rare treat because they are so difficult to  detect. Across the fence, sheep made their way down the hill across from us and we thought the whole scene quite delightful. It had taken us twenty minutes to descend and took some time longer for the return. At the top we sat for a while at a picnic table, silent but enjoying the birdcall all around us and the distant views of those cropped plains below through the trees.

This particular lookout offered views even better; the head of the Gulf St Vincent, the northern reaches of the York Peninsula and a shining white settlement near the seashore, most likely Port Wakefield.

Once rested, we headed to the other access to the park and drove up along the Ridgetop Track until we arrived at a locked gate. From there we continued on foot for twenty minutes through a much denser wood growth of stringy bark gums. We startled a small mob of kangaroos and upset a colony of magpies who had been listening to a lone youthful maggie auditioning. The audience fled leaving the absorbed bird on the path in front of us until he woke from his revelry and followed suit. As we proceeded along the ridge, we could see through the screen of trees views both to the west and east, down to the plains and across to the vineyards and other holdings on the slopes of the Clare Valley.
Well exercised, we resumed our drive, returning to the Main North Road and heading north to the caravan park.

Back home I dealt with the washing, caught up with Olly’s two little boys before bed on Skype and we listened to the campaigning party leaders attempt to convince undecided voters in West Sydney that they were the answer to their prayers. Tomorrow we will head out of town, back on the road again.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Clare and while the area has much in common with the Barossa Valley closer to Adelaide, with the history of the early settlements, German and otherwise, wine production and tourist accommodation and upmarket cafe and restaurants, we prefer the Clare Valley; it appeals to a wider audience, not just the yuppy tourists, and is geographically more intimate. But then, I guess, that is all a matter of opinion.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

27 August 2013 - Discovery Parks Clare, Clare, South Australia

This morning we were off as soon as the lamb shanks were settled in the crock pot and lunch in the eski. We popped back up to the centre of town, nearly three kilometres north of the caravan park, and picked up the newspaper, a sugary bun and refuelled with diesel, yet again. And then we were off, down the Main North Road the twenty or so kilometres to Auburn, the gateway to the Clare Valley for those travelling from the south.

We passed through Penwortham which was the settling place for John Horrocks, who took up land here in 1842. However his feet were never too firmly on the ground, he was forever setting off on expeditions into the interior and so it is that the pass over the Southern Flinders, east of Port Augusta we drove up over a few days ago bears his name. A small entry on our area map notes that “he tragically died young in 1846 following an accident”. Our Clare region brochure expands on this explaining that “ he and his party were exploring north of Port Augusta when Horrocks stopped to shoot a bird and his camel ended up shooting him”. And that is the end of the story which is of course too tantalising to leave at that. We stopped at a memorial cairn that gives tribute to John Horrock as a pioneer and explorer, but offers no further reference to any camel. It is such that drives one to Google, and so I did where I learned that the camel has been unfairly remembered in history.

It turns out that the kneeling camel moved while Horrocks was reloading his gun, catching the cock. The resulting discharge removed the middle fingers of one hand and a row of teeth. He ordered the camel to be shot and was taken back to Penwortham where he died twenty two days after the accident, probably of septicaemia. Poor camel!

We drove on through the picturesque valley, widening a little as we closed in on Auburn, but still busy with vineyards, the vines all pruned neatly in rows like lines of hieroglyphics or Arabic writing in an ancient script, and there we parked up and spent some time wandering around this charming village just full of ancient well maintained and occupied buildings. Those that were in a poorer state, were all having work done to them, with tradesman busy all about, readying the village for the onslaught of the summer visitors. Most of these buildings are constructed of bluestone and most are listed on the National or State Heritage registers and most offer bed and breakfast accommodation.

The town was first settled in 1849 and served as a provisioning centre for those travelling to and from Burra. Today there a few café / restaurants serving the tourists who wish to seek refreshment after wandering about this delightfully peaceful and picturesque place. Instead we wandered along the Wakefield River, or rather, creek, enjoying the numerous birdlife, catching sight of a blackbird, a bird so common in New Zealand and in the cities of Australia but entirely absent from the areas we have travelled most of this year.

Auburn is the birth place of C J Dennis, born in 1876 in the back room of the former Auburn Hotel. While CJ Dennis is a quintessential Australian poet, for me I was reminded of my delayed and all too brief acquaintance with my grandfather who presented me with a rather worn copy of The Sentimental Bloke, a publication which may have been one of the earlier editions, the first having been in 1917.

From here, we retraced our route back up the main road and turned off at Leasingham to Mintaro, eleven kilometres to the north east. Soon after leaving Leasingham, the road rose up out of the valley and over rolling green hills with superb sheep country stretching as far as the eye could see, with just a few pockets of vineyards, and a few more of cropping. Such a sight gives me great pleasure, more so that a row of boutiques or a shopping mall.

Arriving at Mintaro we pulled into the little rest area and sat under blooming cherry trees to eat our lunch. We were soon joined by a couple travelling in their motorhome who had been travelling about for five and a half years, bettering us by nearly three years. They are traveling with their little lap dog, quite a cutey, and we were soon discussing the pros and cons of travelling with canine companions. I have voiced our opinion on this matter several times in the past, so will not repeat them here. It was therefore quite curious to realise that a dog is more often than not, a conversation starter, as are children and of course, here we were doing just that. It seems that there are a whole lot of dog owning nutters who are all happy to baby sit other people’s dogs so they can go off and enjoy the non-dog friendly National Parks. So it seems our arguments against traveling with dogs have been blown out of the water. Keith and Beverley were the sort of folks we would have been happy to have a whole lot more to do with but travelling is a transient business, and so this encounter was but fleeting.

Keith, who had travelled the area in his working past life, insisted that Martindale Hall just up the road was a must see. This Georgian country residence was portrayed as the ladies college in the 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock which I do remember, although not the building itself. We set off with no intention of paying the money to look through the property and parked on the road outside considering the signs. Chris was not excited about calling in and when we peered through the trees and across the paddocks, a scene from afar very pretty indeed, were not drawn, and so left with only photos.

We returned to Mintaro, parked exactly where we had lunched and walked from there all about the township. Later we were to find “all about” was not correct, however the streets we did walk were those occupied by the public buildings and those open to the public. What a charming place this is! The tourist brochure suggests that this is to be likened to a village in the English Cotswald or Dales, and although I personally have never visited those English gems, I can well imagine that this is an excellent comparison.
Charm in Mintaro

Back on wheels, we headed up the road to the Mintaro Slate Quarry which has provided slate for many of Australia’s most distinguished contemporary and historic buildings from 1861 right through to today. It is of course a working quarry and we did not expect to be allowed to enter and wander about; health and safety regulations were unlikely to allow such. From the road we were able to see stacks of slate lifted from the ground, quite an amazing sight given the relatively gentle contour of the ground.

We headed back toward Sevenhill, situated on the main road and passed through earlier in the day, completing a triangle of travel, just a further eight kilometres. Half way back along the northern access, we turned north toward the Polish Church Museum. This was not open today, in fact is only open on the occasional Sunday, but does have a couple of interpretative panels to explain the significance of the site. It was here that those Poles alluded to yesterday came in the 1850s.

We resumed our route, joining the Main North Road, and then turned east yet again up to the Sevenhill Cellars just a couple of kilometres off the main road. This is the site of the oldest vineyard and winery in the Clare Valley, as well as the most picturesque and unusual wineries in Australia.

A historical fact that is rarely considered by we in the Antipodes is that the Catholics  were expelled from Prussia, later Germany, because they were seen as supporting the monarchy in the mid-19th century. Lutheran Germans had already successfully immigrated to South Australia settling in the Barossa Valley and so South Australia was seen as a perfect refuge for the Jesuits fleeing an unfriendly jurisdiction.

In 1848 two Jesuits Fathers immigrated with others of the same faith to Australia, to escape the religious and political persecution. Their role was as chaplains to a group of one hundred and thirty Catholics led by Franz Weikert, a Selesian farmer. They came to the Clare Valley, the furthest north of land available to them at the time and land offering fertile soil for agriculture.
Sevenhills Church

One of the Fathers was stricken by poor health and returned to Europe, however was replaced in time by two others. The Jesuits initially secured one hundred acres of land in 1851 and named it Sevenhill after the Seven Hill district of Rome, symbolic of the beginning of the Catholic brand. After years of struggle, raising money from farm produce sales to those between there and Burra, they established Sevenhill Cellars, initially to provide sacramental wine to the emerging Catholic parishes around Australia. In 1854 the first Catholic secondary school was opened on site, operating as St Aloysuis College and providing boarding facilities from 1856 through to 1886. From 1886 through to 1884, it became a training centre for Jesuit religious. Today the college buildings are used as residence for the Jesuits and those who come to enjoy the peace and quiet of the surrounds as a retreat.
Sevenhills ruins beyond the vineyards

The magnificent church was completed in 1875 and features Mintaro slate floors. The exterior is absolutely beautiful and inside, I was impressed by the high vaulted ceiling. Although the church’s presence was announced by the note on the map, I could not help but be surprised by this amazing structure right in the middle of this horticultural countryside. The church has another unusual feature, or at least unusual for this part of the world. There is a crypt below ground level,  which houses the corpses of thirty nine Fathers and Brothers, all lined up and labelled like boxes of herbs in a pantry. There are three spaces left empty waiting for the next three to go, perhaps the last three left in residence on the estate.

There have been seven Jesuit winemakers at Sevenhill, the most recent of whom is Jesuit Winemaker Emeritus, Brother John May, SJ, who still works closely with the winemaking team and is a passionate advocate of Sevenhill and the Clare Valley. It seems however that the majority of folk working in the property are secular and most likely in the greater part, contractors.

It struck us that Sevenhills is a lucrative business venture run by the Jesuits, as is Sanitarium by the Seventh Day Adventists, and as a “charity” is not taxed. Hardly fair especially when the fruit of their gain here at Sevenhills has dubious results, especially if you are of a temperance mind. 
Manicured vines of Sevenhill

We wandered through the vineyards on the paths which welcome those like us, popped our heads into the church and down into the crypt, then called into the cellar door, which apart from offering a variety of the pickled grape juice and souvenirs to remind one they once called here, has a little museum and an excellent DVD explaining the history of the place. Tours are offered on specific days, but not today, so we made our own way down into the wine cellar and around the property and were delighted with the place altogether.

So delighted were we in fact that we bought a couple of bottles of wine as souvenirs. Did I write a few days ago that our next wine purchase may not be until Christmas? No … surely not! Anyway, a glass of red went very well with the lamb shanks tonight and I am sure we can find something to put with the rest of the bottle sometime during the next week. Perhaps the white can wait for Christmas?

There was still plenty left on the day’s to-do list however we decided it would be better left for a more leisurely pursuit tomorrow. We will extend our booking in the morning.

Monday, August 26, 2013

26 August 2013 - Discovery Parks Clare, Clare, South Australia

Others may have thought we were not leaving this morning, so early were they up and about, swapping travel notes and farewells, most probably setting off across the arid landscape to Broken Hill and knowing there was not too much to break their journey. However it was not too much past 9 am that we thawed out and made our way down off the hill and onto the highway, today heading south toward Jamestown, but first passing the little settlement of Yongala that holds all those unenviable temperature records.

Yongala is only about ten kilometres away from Peterborough and it is the proximity that has probably held people back from conserving any services the village may have had. In fact it is evident from all the buildings, in either ruined or half ruined state, that it was once a place of substance. According to Wikipedia, it still has a population of about eighty people, and if this is correct, I can only say they should be ashamed of themselves. Once fine old heritage buildings are falling about their ears and it astounds us that the Health and Safety Little Hitlers have not been through to demand the remains be removed. One old church, for instance, has a gaping great hole in the side and it is surely only faith that holds it together, and you can be sure no nurturing of faith goes on inside.

The town was proclaimed in 1876 and within five years had a population of 353 as developers anticipated the connection of the railway. Instead the railway went through Peterborough, another disappointment in the same vein as that of Dawson’s inhabitants; so much hope and so much disappointment.

In its favour, the town is situated in the middle of lovely rolling farmland, mostly sheep grazing with some cropping; the pockets of golden canola delighting us here as they have throughout the countryside over the past month.

It was just south of here that Chris drew my attention to an unusually large flock of sheep in a paddock near the road. I noticed they had recently been shorn, and then, on closer inspection, was appalled to see so many of them butchered by the shearers. Sometimes a sheep being shorn can invite injury if she puts up a fight on the board, but it is rare; this display seemed to be evidence of a shearing school for amateurs. I was quite sickened; however the sheep seemed quite staunch, braving their bloody surface wounds and the bitter cold of winter.

A further forty or so kilometres on, we arrived at the charming township of Jamestown, home to about 1,700 folk and service centre to a further 3,000 in the surrounding district. We parked at the northern end of the town near the RM Williams Centre, an outdoor interpretative display, where self-contained motorhomes are welcome to stay for a small fee. 

From here we walked across Belalie Creek, formed into a chain of slow weirs to ensure water for the ducks and the tourists, on to the town centre and walked up and down the main street past numerous old heritage buildings; pubs, banks, and government buildings.
Main street, Jamestown

I was delighted to find a boutique of the variety never before encountered; one just selling supplies for shearers. Normally it is the stock and station agents who cater for this market, but here there is a shop just for this niche market. Today it was closed, but then, I was satisfied merely to press my nose to the window and peer inside.

There are many murals about the town telling the stories of pioneers and early settlers, but sadly so many of these once fine works are falling apart and it would seem that little is being done by way of restoration.

Jamestown’s town centre is full of trees, of locals going about their business and altogether a delightful place to break one’s journey.

It is no surprise the towns people are immensely proud of their own Reg Williams, born here back in 1908, although their monument to him is far more modest that that we visited in Eidsvold. RM Williams is, of course, an Australian icon and a countrywide known brand, and more recently in the news as the supplier to the boots for Australia’s defence forces, a tremendous boost for industry when the Chinese might have otherwise been given the contract.

I was particularly interested to learn of the master’s god bothering bent. He spent many years travelling and working with missionaries, doing practical and useful tasks. In 1925, while still in his mid-teens, Reg travelled to Underbool, Victoria to help build a church. When his work was completed, he was asked to journey to the Mt Margaret Aboriginal Mission near Western Australian gold fields, where he built a water tank and learnt many skills from the indigenous people. Later he undertook a much larger assignment when he joined missionary, William Wade, as a camel boy, on a journey into the far north-west of South Australia. When Reg married Thelma Cummings in 1929, the couple accepted a “lifeline” from industrialist Alfred Gerard of the United Aborigines Mission, journeying to the Gammon Ranges to find a permanent water source so that a new Mission could be established.

It was after this that he started his boot making and so began the RM Williams empire. I did wonder whether his faith continued to play a large part in his life, or in fact if it ever had? Perhaps he was simply an opportunist? 

Whatever the answer to this rhetorical question, it should be remembered that he was one of the important personages who were instrumental in getting the Stockman’s Hall of Fame up and running in Longreach. He is remembered as one of the many “unique” Australians who played a significant role in the development of the outback heritage.

After purchasing the newspaper and a loaf of bread in Jamestown, hardly enough to boost the local economy, we headed on south yet again, the road deteriorating although still sealed. Without a local geographical map, I had guessed that our route would continue across the high plateau and then gradually descend down into the fold of the Clare Valley. This was not so; Jamestown is still at quite a high altitude at 455 metres ASL. We soon travelled over a series of hills, still rolling but allowing for crops only to grown on the more gentle slopes. The countryside was absolutely stunning and it is hard to believe that it can be sometimes less than perfect farming land, however the many dilapidated and abandoned stone buildings along the route gave evidence of disappointment and disaster for so many in the distant past.

And then, almost without warning, just five kilometres north of Clare, we were in a much narrower valley, lined with the skeletons of vines, most beautifully pruned, ready for the new growth and the grapes which will inevitably follow. Arriving at lovely Clare, we found well maintained stone buildings reminding us of those all through the Barossa Valley further to the south.

Clare is at the head of the valley of the same name, today renowned for its production of Riesling wines sits at 392 metres ASL and has a population of just over 3,000. Wandering about the main street of Clare, we were able to learn its history and stories from the many interpretative panels all about and especially outside the beautiful old stone buildings.

The very first white settlement was by Edward Burton Gleeson in 1840 who set up a pastoral run to the north which was later developed into the town of Clare and in 1848, Jesuits were settling into the place which would become the town of Sevenhill. Settlers from England and Ireland, as well as those from Poland and Silesia arrived into the region during the 1840s producing a rich heritage of architecture and villages which remain largely intact. Vineyards were planted alongside those first villages and winemaking has continued ever since.

The discovery of copper at Kapunda and Burra in the early 1840s allowed the whole area to be opened up with the passage of bullock teams to and from the mining areas. Along the routes northwards small townships became established to service the travellers and these were the basis for future town communities in the district. Pastoral leases were cancelled by the early 1850s, hundreds were proclaimed and subdivided into sections and allotments. The sale of this subdivided land caused an increase in rural growth in the district and the new settlers set up dairies, vineyards and fruit and vegetable gardens along the Wakefield River which rises above Mintaro to the south east of Clare, and flows southward on through Auburn which is the extent of the valley we shall explore this trip. This prosperity continues to grow until the depression of the 1890s.

The railway, so often referred to in these recent postings, but here that from Gawler to Burra, was built in 1870, allowed greater accessibility to the region and resulted in a sharp increase in population. The closure of the Burra mines in the late 1870s adversely affected the economy of the area and many of the farmers left their properties, seeking employment elsewhere.
Easy-care sheep at Clare

But there were those who persevered and today the Clare Valley region hosts a vibrant and diversifies rural community and economy. Disaster struck again in 1983 when the Clare Valley was devastated by bushfires during Ash Wednesday. There were no fatalities but over 6,100 hectares were burnt out, casing $5 million worth of damage. The rail line between the Clare Showgrounds, more or less opposite this caravan park, and Penwortham directly south was severely damaged and subsequently closed. The old rail route has recently been transformed into a popular bike trail known as the Riesling Trail, a 35 kilometres sealed trail that links the villages of the valley, this giving a boost to the tourist trade.

We drove up to Billy Goat Hill, from where we were able to look down over the CBD, most of the wonderful buildings screened by the many lovely trees of the town. As we drove back down into town, we came upon a rather wonderful sculptural work, a “Mob of Sheep” by Ty Manning. These sheep were looking far more attractive than those seen up near Yongala and were worth a photo.

Back at camp we prepared the lamb shanks purchased from the wonderful little boutique butcher in Clare, ready for slow cooking tomorrow while we venture further afield to explore this valley that promises us, as tourists, so much.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

25 August 2013 - Peterborough Caravan Park, Peterborough, South Australia

We passed an excellent evening; another bottle of wine, probably the last until Christmas, and a defrosted pasta meal with salad, the third for me in a week. This too may be the last for a while because pasta is something I love and something Chris could well live without. Shall we simply say it was my week? An excellent rugby result rounded the evening off, especially shared with my parents on Skype who are even more enthusiastic about the game than we are.

I did hear a train or two through the night which reminded us that while Peterborough may no longer be the major cross-rail it was in bygone years, the Indian-Pacific rail still does pass through. I was woken again just before five this morning to the melodious song of a magpie suffering from insomnia and the far off cry of a rooster. Fortunately I slept again, finally waking to 1 degree temperatures and sunny clear skies. In fact the weather has been marvellous all day and promises to continue so all week. I should mention here that we are 535 metres ASL so it is no wonder that we are experiencing colder nights than those on the coast.

Chris discovered a mud map on the wall of the camp kitchen suggesting several interesting drives, which prompted him in turn to suggest we stay another day and explore the region further. And so we did, after unhitching and paying for a further day, the second discounted by 10%.
With lunch packed, we set off toward Broken Hill on the Barrier Highway, then at Oodlawirra, just short of thirty kilometres east of Peterborough, we turned north to Dawson and drove another twenty or so kilometres through the Dawson Gorge, following the bed of a dry river that must sometimes exist. The landscape reminded us of a day trip through the Flinders Ranges we did when we stayed at Wilpena Pound some time ago, although the sides of the gorge were somewhat lower. Here in Australia, the word “cliff” is used very loosely, and does not necessarily suggest the high dangerous cliffs I remember as a child; cliffs that caused death to sheep, cattle and small children if we foolishly were to stray. Here “cliff” can mean “low bank”.

Arrival at Dawson was marked by the ruins of the hotel, and a couple of churches, the latter two boarded up and relatively intact from an exterior viewpoint. The stone walls of the pub draw the curious in, to wander through the knee high weeds and imagine the function of each room. It could be restored or at least kept from further ruin if a roof were put over, however I suspect it will slowly disintegrate as so very many remnants of homesteads and farm sheds right through this part of the State already have.
Remains of Dawson's Hotel

We wondered about the genesis of Dawson, now that there seems to be just one homestead nearby and the farmland a little neglected, but found no clues. Surely there had been mining? Surely a few scattered farms could not warrant two churches, a hall (which looks like it might have been used in the last twenty years or even more recently) ? It was only after we arrived back at camp and I fired up this machine that I learned it really had only ever been the small centre of a farming community, and as such had a post office, a school, an Athletics Club, a Cricket Club, a Football Club, a Institute,  a store, a blacksmith, and so on. The area was initially settled in the 1870s and was to have been a wonderful wheat growing region. It was for a few years and then Australia’s weather cycles put paid to that. There was hope at one time that the rail might come on through however Terowie got that honour. It was a place of hope and disappointment as so many places have been, especially through South Australia.

In 1894 gold was discovered at nearby Mt Grainger; this did bring a surge in the population but was not enough to put Dawson on the map. And so it has continued to be a farming area, neither prosperous nor otherwise, and a place to tantalise those who bother to drive the rough tracks through.

A small plaque beside the road advised the pub had closed down in 1961, which isn’t really that long ago.

We drove back toward Peterborough on a more direct route then turned once more toward Broken Hill, this time turning south toward Burra. Twenty kilometres on, we pulled into the historic town of Terowie, this the place of where the varying rails met and where the hardworking inhabitants of the town transferred the freight from one system to another. Amazingly there is a photo of wagons of iron ore, taken in 1909, being transferred to the different gauge for transport on down to Adelaide. When we visited Broken Hill, we did understand that the iron ore had always been transported through to Port Adelaide for export, but had not realised about the complicated transfers required en route!

The area was taken up in the 1850s by graziers despite warnings that the soils and climate were unsuitable for farming. The town was founded in 1875 by a private leaseholder, John Mitchell, who died a few years later. By 1881 the population had reached almost 700, just one year after the rail had come through. This coincided with mineral discoveries and mining operation across the State border in Broken Hill and Silverton, and so Terowie became a centre from which supplies were drawn and to which produce was delivered.

The railway yards at Terowie were immense, extending for a length of almost three kilometres and included workshops, engine shed, shunting lines, a turntable, and the transhipping yards. The population numbered just over 2000 at its peak.

During the years 1941 to 1946 there was a further increase in activity due to the establishment of a large military camp in and around the town to cope with the transhipping of men and materials to the north.

In 1969, the broad gauge line was extended from Terowie to Peterborough and the station became a whistle stop. With its major employment base gone, the town’s population declined rapidly to about 130. The Barrier Highway constructed at the same time, bypassing the town;  Terowie’s shops and stores closed and it appeared it would become a ghost town. Almost all the workings and buildings in the railway years were removed and demolished from the mid-1960s onwards.

In 1985 Terowie was designated a Historic Town, one of only seven in South Australia. Today there are excellent interpretative panels about the town and along the rail line to the cemetery, a trail we walked in the sunshine and past several flowering cherry trees, and learned more about the towns past. It is also an RV Friendly town, offering free camping and good facilities but nowhere really to spent the money such a plan should include.

Along the track we came up close and personal to a Shingleback or sleepy lizard and enjoyed the small flocks of mallee parrots. We had stopped on our way into Dawson to greet a Shingleback; he had been enjoying the sunshine on the bare road. This one in Terowie was not quite so delighted with our attention.
Feisty Shingleback

There are some wonderful old buildings left standing but most are desperately in need of restoration or demolition. Some have been lovingly restored and are occupied, others are also occupied but possibly by squatters or at least that is the impression one gets.

From here we drove back to Peterborough by an alternate and more direct route, and in doing so distanced ourselves from the masses of wind turbines we had seen earlier to the south of the town. Later I learned that there are thirty eight turbines near Hallet, which is in turn about thirty three kilometres south of Terowie.
Views over Peterborough

Back in Peterborough we called for the second time into the Information Centre which is, unsurprisingly located in an old railway carriage. I picked up a couple of self-drive leaflets which would have been more useful had we called this morning. There we were encouraged to take in the award winning tourist attraction, the Sound & Light Show at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre. We had already decided not to do this, having picked up most of the history which interested us in our own travels about the area.  Instead we headed up to the lookout to the north of the town and the Greg Duggan Nature Reserve, ten hectares of scrub and fir trees. From here we enjoyed distant but expansive views over Peterborough before heading back to camp to quietly pass the rest of the afternoon.