Twice a year, over the school holidays in the Australian states of South Australia and Victoria, the Flinders Ranges comes alive, with a series of activities aimed to provide an insight into this majestic, yet environmentally sensitive area.
Originally, the seasonal events were organised by the National Park staff, however, several years ago funding and staffing cuts threatened their discontinuation, until The Friends of the Flinders Ranges National Park volunteer group stepped in and took over the job.
The organiser, Athol Jackson, puts in a huge effort every year with all the planning, liaising with the event presenters, programming, and printing and delivering of programme brochures. He, along with his family, also sets up the events booking tent and a wonderful display, and mans it twice a day for a couple of hours to personally speak to people about the events, as well as running nightly astronomical telescope evenings himself. He also goes about various tasks on the Park while he is there, such as fixing problems with the watering system to some of the revegetation projects and weed control. Now that’s dedication — especially for a man in his mid 70s!
“This amazing area has been so much a part of my life.” Says Mr. Jackson “I brought my family here a couple of times a year, ever since they were babies… and we just keep on coming back! I come up here every month (that’s over 400kms, each way!) for the Friends working bees, and then for about a month twice a year to run these events. It’s my way of giving back to a place that has given me so much, and it’s very enjoyable besides. My daughter, son-in-law and my 17 year old grandson have been a big part of this project for many years, especially after my wife was not well enough to travel, as have a couple of other Friends members who give up their time to come and run events.”
Athol Jackson at work in the Flinders Ranges National Park
The activities are mostly run by Friends members, Wilpena staff and stations which adjoin the National Park. All profits raised by the Friends members go straight back into the Park, through funding the projects that the Friends undertake. The events are as varied as this spectacular country and cover areas such as repairing the environment so that native populations can flourish, native flora and fauna, and exploring the geological and historical significance of the area.
Athol Jackson preparing for
‘Discover the Wonders of the Night Sky’
Mr. Jackson’s ‘Discover the Wonders of the Night Sky’ gives some perspective to our place in this immense Universe, as well as an understanding of just how much pollution (both smog and light) cloaks our city skies, through experiencing the beautifully dark, clear skies of this remote area.
Peter Venhoek, a now retired tour guide in the area for 17 years, and quite a character (according to him he speaks ‘Double Dutch’ — he is a Dutchman by birth) shares some of his observations and memories of the area, such as the birds and animals that have returned since much work has been done on revegetation and feral control, the history of the area and the sheer beauty he has found in the Flinders Ranges which feeds his soul. He also shows some of the thousands of photos he has taken in the area over the past 25 years, which include some truly inspiring and remarkable shots.
Peter Venhoek ‘retired’
There is a guided walk of the Old Wilpena Station, which operated on part of the Park until the mid 1980s. This area is of great historical significance because many of the mid 1800s buildings are still intact. Fortunately, the caretakers of this station respected the past and didn’t just demolish history, so we are able to ‘walk back in time’ to explore their lives. The old Blacksmith’s Workshop even has its old forge, with bellows and tools, and a good collection of items forged on it.
Old Wilpena Station Blacksmith’s Workshop
Old Wilpena Station Blacksmith’s Forge
Old Wilpena Station Blacksmith’s Cottage
The unusually shaped store is fascinating for the ingenious and ‘environmentally friendly’ vermin control used within it. High shelves suspended from the ceiling, with tin cones over the suspension wires adequately kept mice and rats off the provisions.
Old Wilpena Station Store
The Old Wilpena Station precinct is a great example of the ingenuity of a simpler time, and how people lived with what was there, without access to public infrastructure. Water was supplied from a spring, a windmill and rainwater tanks, and piped to stock troughs and the homestead and its garden. In later decades, power was generated by a wind generator on top of the hill! Ahead of their time perhaps…. Food was grown in extensive veggie gardens and an orchard, along with chickens and other farm animals. Entertainment was in the form of time spent as a family, and in the excitement of visits from neighbours, where food was shared, along with good conversation and laughter.
Old Wilpena Station Homestead
Rawnsley Park Station, which adjoins the Park at Rawnsley Bluff, is in itself of interest for its ever-expanding efforts in environmental sensitivity and sustainability. They have entered into a Heritage Agreement with the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage in order to protect the diverse vegetation of Rawnsley Bluff.
Rawnsley Bluff from Rawnsley airfield
Of particular note are the Eco Villas, which are strawbale buildings, with many environmentally friendly features and advanced ecotourism certification. They go to show that eco doesn’t have to mean basic! Rawnsley Park is also rolling out other eco-measures to the rest of their accommodation complex.
Rawnsley Park Eco Villas
Rawnsley Park runs several events, which include walking, horse riding and driving tours looking at the environmental aspects, flora and fauna, and geological importance of the Park and surrounding country. Learn about how ‘Operation Bounceback’ is helping restore ecosystems and allowing native flora and fauna to make a comeback. They also have scenic flights, which allow people to see the immenseness and ruggedness of the landscape from a wider perspective. A glimpse into outback station life is also provided by a couple of their activities.
Wildflowers in the Flinders Ranges National Park
Emus in the majestic Flinders Ranges
Organiser, Athol Jackson, expresses his thoughts on the importance of getting people to experience wilderness areas. "We’ve got to get people involved, get them out there, interacting and seeing what all this is really about. People in the cities are often too removed from the natural environment, it’s not real enough to them to fully appreciate what we risk losing. These kinds of events help them to see, to understand. It’s especially essential for the children to grow up with a connection to nature."
The Bookkeeper’s Cottage
He goes on to say “When my kids were little, they spent their school holidays walking and climbing and exploring in the Park… finding out what lives on the bark of trees, and what the power of flooding water is capable of. They knew the flowers and the birds and animals they ‘met’ each trip. They learned how to be still, and quiet and just ‘be’ with the wonders around them. It was a huge part of their lives, and still is. Now they are bringing the next generation to this wonderful area! Today, it saddens me to see so many kids spending their holidays ‘organised’, with much of the time indoors, and not getting these freeing experiences and connections. What will they take into the future?”
Wise words indeed. Let’s get our kids, and ourselves, away from civilisation now and then, and ‘go wild’. We will all be better, in countless ways, for the experience.
If you would like to ‘go wild’ in the Flinders Ranges, the Autumn Seasonal Events in 2012 will be held over the period of April 2nd — 20th. For more information and a full program see:
Athol Jackson’s grandson Jamie — a new generation of ‘Flinders Explorers.’