Saturday, June 2, 2012

Exploring the Flinders - Bunyeroo and Aroona Valleys

Friday 25 May

Today we left the Wilpena / Willow Springs area and headed north through Bunyeroo Valley towards Brachina Gorge, a more remote area of Flinders Ranges National Park. We encountered more spectacular scenery as we stopped at Razorback Lookout. The area looks much drier generally but has also had rain recently. One of the surprising features of the Flinders Ranges is the plant life. Mature river red gums line the banks and creek beds of almost every creek we encounter, whether it has water or not - mostly they are dry. There are also mountainsides covered with a native cypress, but often very little other plant life. It is unusual to see healthy mid-sized shrubs growing on a stony hillside. We set up camp in cloudy conditions, in an ideal spot to top up our solar panels in the morning, but unfortunately had to leave our warm campfire due to more drizzle.

Views from Razorback Lookout

Bunyeroo Valley
Magnificent old gum

Saturday 26 May

The drizzle of last night turned into wind and rain overnight, and this morning the surrounding mountains were invisible due to low cloud and misting rain. After sitting it out for a while we decided to head for the Aroona hut and ruins nearby. Hans Heysen, the watercolour artist spent considerable time in the Flinders, especially at Aroona, painting and the hut he stayed in, the home of Eddie Pumpa, has been restored. It is constructed of pug (mud) and pine.

Eddie Pumpa's pug and pine hut
View from inside the hut
One of the locals

The ruins of the Aroona homestead are nearby, built by John Hayward in the 1860s.  The homestead and adjoining cottage, as well as the surrounding paths and garden features, were built of stone. Little remains of the homestead but the ruins of the cottage with its underground cellar are still evident. There was also an extensive garden and orchard but all that remains are some very mature mulberry and willow trees. The autumn leaves of the mulberry were a stark contrast to the surrounding native vegetation.   Hayward only stayed about 11 years – he started with 4000 pounds and left with 40 000 pounds – so despite the remoteness and the harsh conditions, there was obviously money to be made in the good seasons, until the sheep ate out all the native vegetation, starting the steady deterioration of this semi-arid area.
Mulberry tree at Aroona
Willow tree at Aroona

Returning to the campsite we experienced undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip so far. We have seen many emus in the Flinders Ranges National Park, but this was different. A group of five emus, the father and four mature chicks, were grazing in a creek bed. Unlike most emus that skitter away when people are nearby, these continued to feed, undeterred by the presence of our two cars, for at least five minutes. It was a privilege to experience such unconcerned behaviour. Even the sun came out briefly.
The family of emus feeding while we watched

We revisited the Aroona site two days later in the sunshine and found a different place. With the fog and mist lifted we discovered some of the landscapes Hans Heysen had painted in the 1920s and 1930s
Aroona Valley from the hill above the hut

The three sisters were painted by Heysen in the 1920s

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