Ochre pits

General, Art + Environment

Desert Trip 2010, part 2; Flash flood Italowie Gorge

After our excellent time at Kalamurina Reserve, see Part 1, we drove down the Birdsville Track through pretty slippery and tricky conditions, a rare event to see rain on the track which forced back motorbike riders and the 4WD club it seems and stopped in the late afternoon at the iconic Ochre pits just north of Copley. They are a significant and protected Heritage indigenous site and contrasts starkly with the Coal mining activities within kilometres distance.

The colour of the pits in the rain was stunning and everyone was impressed with just how extensive the site is. As we headed south to Leigh Creek we realised the 5 inches of rain through there the day before had caused significant road damage and closures. The road east to the Gammon Ranges and Arkaroola was open though and we drove in the late afternoon up the gorge over creeks showing clear evidence of big flash floods. We found a beautiful spot to camp under some mallee which were silhouetted dramatically by the moon and looked beautiful when I sketched them at sunrise with the red morning light glowing on their glossy trunks. It was a really chilly night because we were higher and the ground was saturated from the rain but at least there were less mozzies.

We drove through the dramatic Italowie Gorge which has ancient river red gums growing in the sandy wide creek beds. Leigh Creek and Italowie creeks still had pools of water and running water in places. We stopped at Iga Warta, www.igawarta.com which also has extensive ochre pits and chatted with the Aboriginal managers there about their Adnyamathanha culture and people. After that welcome coffee break we came across an unfortunate traveller who hadn’t heeded a council detour (or safe speed given the cheery wave he gave us a few hours before when he passed us) and had ended up with his 4WD more than half submerged in water. I grabbed the chance to make a sketch while Guy and Steve performed the heroics of winching him out of the water. It was very tricky and involved the poor man, with a personalised number plate,“Rodge”, having to duck down underwater to attach the winch in pretty freezing water. We hope he still isn’t sitting on the bank where we left him dripping, waiting for it all to dry out. His camera gear, GPS and mobile phone all seemed ruined with water and according to Guy, his food was all floating around the back seat of the car from the fridge. We located his travelling companions later that  day at Arkaroola and they went to his ultimate rescue.

I have wanted to go to the Gammons and Arkaroola all my life and was really happy to see them at last, we only had a long afternoon at Arkaroola in the end, after repairing a tyre and chasing Rodge’s mates but it was just enough to cook up some curry and make a sketch at Arkaroola waterhole which looked stunning in afternoon light. We sat in the shade and saw Yellow footed rock wallabies nimbly hopping about the escarpment and rocks.

We were pleased to escape the numerous 4WD’s and dust and head down the fringe of Lake Frome to a creek bed camp outside the National Park. The distant view of the rain shadow side of the Flinders Ranges was magnificent at dawn and the river red gums, just massive. I managed to sketch everything before the flies became too persistent and then we headed out of that wonderful part of the world further east.

General, Art + Environment

Desert trip 2010. Part 1, Flood in Tirari Desert

A small group including Guy Fitzhardinge, Faye Alexander, Steve Morton and Australian Wildlife Conservancy operations manager, Tony Fleming and myself visited Kalamurina, an exceptional Australian Wildlife Conservancy reserve in the Tirari Desert, South Australia in April.  www.australianwildlife.orgThe big rains in Queensland have gradually flowed down the desert river systems in massive volume to now flood the Warburton, Kallakoopah and Macumba Rivers. Kalamurina fronts over 160 kms of the Warburton and this reserve, more than the size of Tasmania, reaches all the way from the Simpson Desert down to Lake Eyre. The flood peak is just reaching the Warburton groove above Lake Eyre and the eastern part of the lake is flooded.

We camped for 5 days on the Warburton, and despite our worst fears the mozzies and the flies weren’t too bad, our major problem, mainly for my paper canvases and sketch book pages, were huge storm cells moving across the wide horizons and we had 5 mls of rain overnight one night. The Birdsville track was cut above Mungerane and briefly closed again below it after up to 5 inches of rain fell near Leigh Creek.

This rain and flood waters made driving around the property tricky and a simple trip 200 kms to turn off a tap at a bore took 10 hours one day. I fortunately know what days like this can be like and spent a long day painting by the Warburton. I made an experimental 3 panel study bringing together the expanding and massive coal mining operations at Leigh Creek with the Warburton in flood. The following days I painted a 3 panel study of the Warburton River in flood!

Fellow artist, Faye Alexander, works in recycled materials and was able to collect some wire and pieces from the dump at Kalamurina to make some work. Guy, Steve and Tony did some avid birdwatching and poked about the camp fire, telling yarns and cooking the camp oven!

The property managers Tessa and Mark McClaren were terrific hosts and Mark took us down the Warburton in a dinghy one afternoon. The experience was more like being in Arnhemland in the wet with water horizon to horizon reflecting light through the half submerged coolabah and also big storms shafting light down through rain. The birdlife is wonderful and Mark turned to engine off so we could drift and just appreciate the silence and birds. A beautiful red dingo howled and sniffed along the bank near us when we landed on shore for a walk.

Trevor Wright from Wright Air flew up from William Creek and took the 4 of us for a 2 hour flight in a circuit over the 3 rivers in flood, the Warburton, Kallacoopah and Macumba rivers, then over the Warburton groove and the top part of Lake Eyre.

Everyone says it is a memorable experience and this certainly will be unforgettable. Flying at 300- 500 feet one loses one’s depth perception and it was often only when a flock of pelicans or camel hoof prints showed up in the river mud, that we were able to tell our actual height. The landscape is just immense and seeing it interspersed by misty rain, storm cells, shafts of light and huge cumulus clouds added a rare dimension and atmosphere to the flight.