The Flinders Ranges is the largest and most spectacular mountain range in South Australia. Home of the Golden Spike, the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby and the Pichi Richi Pass.
A grand entrance to the Flinders Ranges, Pichi Richi Pass holds many secrets and has many stories to tell.
Commander Mathew Flinders and his crew were the first Europeans to behold the majestic beauty of the Flinders Ranges although many of Australia’s explorers were to do so over time. So many that Depot Springs became an important water source for explorers looking to cross the great treeless plain (Nullarbor) or search for the giant inland sea. Mount Brown, Tickle Belly Hills’ neighbouring peak was named by Flinders after the ships Botanist, Robert Brown.
Bullock teams regularly traversed Pichi Richi Pass, the drivers’ fighting a constant battle against animal and elements to transport their goods. Towns throughout the Pass were once located 10km apart; the distance a Bullock team could travel through this rough terrain in one day – as long as they did not get caught in a flash flood, break a wheel spoke or lose their team! Whatever their plight they always managed to rise to the occasion – and the call of the pub in the next town to carry them through. The township of Pichi Richi, now ruined, even had its own brewery!
Construction of what was then known as the Port Augusta to Government Gums Railway began in 1878. The 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) line reached Hawker in June 1880 and Oodnadatta in January 1891. Until 1929, when the Alice Springs section was completed, the final leg of the train journey was still made by camel. The original Ghan was notorious for washouts and other delays on the line. The flatcar immediately behind the locomotive carried spare sleepers and railway tools, so that if a washout was encountered the passengers and crew could work as a railway gang to repair the line and permit the train to continue.
Originally offloaded at the Port Augusta docks, both camels and cameleers were immediately at home in Australia’s vast outback. Instrumental in opening the interior, these magnificent beasts of burden accompanied exploration parties, carrying supplies and materials where horses and bullocks could not. They carted supplies, mail and even water to remote settlements. They transported the supplies, tools and equipment needed for the surveying and construction of some of Australia’s earliest, and greatest, infrastructure projects, such as the Overland Telegraph.
One of Australia’s ancient trade routes, Pichi Richi Pass is well known to the traders of it’s namesake, the Piturie plant. From outback Queensland to coastal South Australia and back again, this was an exciting adventure to the Aboriginal traders. Piturie was a highly sought after dried plant with narcotic properties. Pichi Richi Pass was later to become well known to members of the “stolen generation”, being on the edge of the township of Quorn, home of Colebrook House.
Pichi Richi Pass and the plain beyond, the Willochra Plain, formed a natural waterless barrier to some animals and birds of the Flinders Ranges. Unable to cross the broad plain some smaller mammals, birds and reptiles were effectively separated from south to north. This is a fact also noted by George Goyder. Goyder was commissioned by Governer Gawler in 1865 to determine arable land boundaries. Based on the distribution of chenopods (saltbush & bluebush) Goyder drew Goyders Line, a remarkably accurate line dividing South Australia into arable and non-arable areas. Originally doubted, history has proven Goyder correct time and time again.
Paradoxically the Flinders Ranges is a geographically young mountain range made of geologically old rocks! Containing the rare Ediacaran fossil, the oldest multicellular life form on Earth, the Flinders Ranges is world-renowned! The geological story of the Pass unfolds like the pages of a book. Tickle Belly Hill itself, formed on a 580 million-year-old continental shelf of the Adelaidean Ocean, the same shelf contained deep submarine canyons. Evidence of an ancient, 1km deep submarine canyon is contained in the foothills of Mount Brown.