The Flinders Ranges

The Flinders Ranges

The Flinders Ranges, named by Governor Gawler after Matthew Flinders, cover an area from Crystal Brook in the south, via Alligator Gorge and Wilpena Pound, to Mount Hopeless in the north. The Flinders Ranges provide a home to Aborigines, farmers, miners and pastoralists. The Flinders Ranges appeal to people of all ages and occupations, be they geologists, historians, painters, bushwalkers, opera lovers, botanists or photographers.

During the 1840s, particularly after 1844, the Flinders Ranges(MAP) were settled by enterprising pastoralists, many of whom had been successful in the eastern colonies before moving to South Australia. Pastoral settlement though, did not often lead to establishment of inland towns, as most business was mainly with the coastal capital cities. After the 1850s it did not rely on a great labour force either. Nevertheless it did lead to the opening up of the interior, including the semi-arid parts of South Australia.

John McTaggart had sheep at his Wooltana Station by 1856. In good seasons, pastoralists made excellent profits, but during prolonged droughts they often lost thousands of sheep and cattle, and their station as well. With their sheep, these pastoralists also brought their shepherds. These very shepherds, often bored to the extent that some even committed suicide, made most of the early copper discoveries.

The first mineral discovered and mined in the Flinders Ranges though, was not copper or gold, but the famous ochre from the Parachilna area. This particular ochre was sought after by many Aborigines, especially by members of the Dierie Tribe of Central Australia. Mining of this ochre deposit came to a sudden stop in 1863 when the manager of Beltana Station shot three of the Aboriginal miners. Very few Aborigines travelled south after this incident.

After the pastoralists came the miners and by the 1880s hundreds of mines had been opened up and abandoned. Few lasted or produced more than a load of ore. The Blinman mine, discovered in 1859, and the Sliding Rock mine, discovered ten years later, were notable exceptions. They produced copper for several years and even showed a profit occasionally.

There have also been silver and gold rushes, but all petered out eventually, leaving little to show, except disappointed diggers, some holes in the ground and the usual derelict buildings and mining equipment.

One of the main problems faced by both pastoralists and miners was the lack of a transport system. One solution would be the building of a railway. As early as the 1860s people had been talking about it but it was not until 1870 that the South Australian government appointed a select committee to look into it. During its inquiry many witnesses were called including Fiveash and Gleeson. All of them spoke of the need of a cheap transport system to keep mines and farms economically viable. The fact that such a railway would open up the country and thereby increase employment opportunities in both pastoral and mining industries was not overlooked either.

The pastoralists are firmly established now and a few mines are worked, but it are the tourists, rock and mineral collectors, painters, photographers and others who enjoy this spectacular area most. Rich in geology, flora and fauna it has become one of South Australia's main tourist attractions and many potential visitors, or those who have been there, want to know more about it. One painter who enjoyed the Flinders' scenery and made it famous through his paintings was South Australian Sir Hans Heysen.

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