November 14-16. Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges.
Sunday was forecast to be a scorcher – over 40 degrees with a hot northern wind – but since we only had a brief time in the Flinders Ranges, our group decided to make the best of it by taking off early to explore – with the backup-plan to rush home to retire indoors when our excursion became unpleasant. The locals at Willow Springs Station told us that they were hoping for a little rain. They’re always hoping for rain; their lives are circumscribed by the rainfall.
So, we drove north to enter the world famous Brachina Gorge geological trail.
Through this spectacular gorge you can follow a corridor of geological time: exposed rocks from 1,500 billion years to the Cambrian (beginning 541 billion years ago). We drove through a billion years of rock deposition!
We took a short excursion within the gorge to see the ‘Golden Spike’ which marks the spot where the relatively new Ediacaran geological era is defined (635-541mya). This significant place for geologists is on the bank of a dry creek bed surrounded by river red gums. Very low key.
Along the way, we saw several emus, including a family with nine chicks.
But sadly, during the whole day we saw only two kangaroos. In the past, before the current drought, kangaroos were plentiful. I searched the rocky hillsides for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies but saw none – previously they were plentiful at that location.
After about 10 o’clock the hot wind gusts made us rush back to the comfort of the cars. We carried on to the western side of the Flinders Ranges to reach the famous Prairie Hotel at Parachilna – it was an oasis! We had coffee and drinks before heading east through another gorge: the Parachilna. The temperature was now over 39° and dust eddies battered our cars.
We arrived home, thankful for the cool haven of the shearers’ quarters. About four pm, the sky turned weirdly brown. I drove up to the main station to pick up the local wi-fi. I was sitting in the car when the world around me disappeared in ferocious flurries of dust and flying branches. It seemed like a tornado.
Extreme wind squalls rocked the car, brought down huge branches from the eucalypts in the creek beds and torn tin sheets from one of the station’s houses.
I kept my car in the open, nervous to drive back to our accommodation, as I realised that driving under a gum tree was highly dangerous. The newly arrived sheep did not seem to mind these events: huddling together, they put their backs to the wind and rain and shook their fleeces.
The dust storm was followed by a short hail storm and hard rain lasting only 5 minutes – 2.5mm – hardly leaving a puddle.
The temperature dropped 15°, the wind abated and within minutes it was delightful to be outside: the trees were shining, the sheep ventured out, only the eastern horizon was black over the Bunker Hills.
But there had been further damage: a branch had taken down our local power line. We brought out the candles and torches for our last night.
So, it had been a memorable day: we experienced some of the extremes for which Australia is famous. To be a farmer here you need fortitude, patience and to ever believe that things will get better.
I arrived home on Monday to be greeted by the news that South Australia is again heading towards lockdown. A worker at one of our ‘medi-hotels’, where travellers are in quarantine, got infected – how so is a mystery at the moment. Before she was diagnosed, she had infected her family and they had all travelled around Adelaide and their kids had been to school. So, the wicked genii are out of the bottle and we are in trouble. Whether contact tracing, testing and other vigilance to stop the spread will work is the big question for us in the coming two weeks.