from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: a Scorcher

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.

the ‘golden’ spike

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!

Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges

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.

Emu Family – Flinders Ranges

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.

Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby – taken on a previous trip

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.

the Begining of the dust storm

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.

The dust storm in the creek

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 shearers’ quarters in the rain squall

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. 

Sunset after the storm – Willow Springs’ shearers’ quarters and woolshed

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.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: 1,200 sheep outside my window

November 14.

Willow Springs Station

I am 530 kms north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges. My creative writing group is spending 3 nights at a working sheep station called Willow Springs. We booked the shearers’ quarters with its communal kitchens and close proximity to the woodshed.

This a different world controlled by the weather and long term decisions about stocking and de-stocking large quantities of sheep. The dramatic world of USA elections seems as remote as Mars.

the stock truck arrives – 3 stories of sheep

We arrived to see a stock-carrier vehicle discharging 1,200 8-month old merino lambs into an small paddock. The lambs had to be encouraged out of their confinement but once free they hurried to the piles of hay. Another 1,000 lambs arrived today.

persuading the sheep to disembark!
thank goodness it was not a hot day for their journey

The sounds of the ma-ing in all their varying tones has been the backdrop to our hours here. The Reynold family, owners of Willow Springs, are excited. They have suffered 4 years of drought with only 17 inches of rain over 4 years when the average is normally 12 inches a year. They are north of the Goyder line (north of this virtual line grain is not considered possible).

The fodder for sheep wilted and died and pastoralists in this region sold their stock. On our walk today we could see how huge numbers of the hardy native callitris pines and river red gums have also died. They stand as ashen sticks on the hillsides and in the creek beds.

Struggling River Red Gums

This year, Willow Springs has received 9 inches of rain and the hillsides are once more green with pasture. To the untrained eye the feed seems minimal but apparently there is enough for the lambs to survive our coming blast of a summer.

I have discovered that each sheep has a slightly different voice. Some high, some low. Why do they call so? It is strange to listen to them calling to one another and to watch them huddle together in the shade of the few river red gums. What I do see is how frightened they are of us and I can understand why – we are indeed a brutal lot.

Noises in the night

Mrs Reynolds told us that before the drought there were huge problems from dingoes (or wild dogs x dingoes) mauling their sheep. Distressing. The drought has decimated the dingoes – and the mobs of kangaroos that we used to see along the roads all over the Flinders Ranges. We have yet to see a kangaroo. The pastoralists are happy about this as the kangaroos competed with the sheep for the fodder.

Tomorrow morning, the sheep will be released into the larger paddocks of the station. It is forecast to be 40 degrees and they will need to find a cool spot in the dry but cooler river beds.

The dry creeks

At Willow Springs they are hoping for some sort of return to normalacy very soon. I hope this will also be the case in the USA.

Morning with the flock