Flinders Ranges

This article is about the mountain range in South Australia. For the associated locality, see Flinders Ranges, South Australia.
Flinders Ranges

The Flinders Ranges from Devil's Peak
Highest point
Peak St Mary Peak
Elevation 1,171 m (3,842 ft)[1]
Length 430 km (265 mi)[2] north/south
Country Australia
State South Australia
Range coordinates 30°55′S 138°37′E / 30.92°S 138.62°E / -30.92; 138.62Coordinates: 30°55′S 138°37′E / 30.92°S 138.62°E / -30.92; 138.62

The Flinders Ranges are the largest mountain range in South Australia, which starts about 200 km (125 mi) north of Adelaide.[2] The discontinuous ranges stretch for over 430 km (265 mi) from Port Pirie to Lake Callabonna.[2]

Its most characteristic landmark is Wilpena Pound, a large, sickle-shaped, natural amphitheatre that covers 80 km2 (31 sq mi),[2] and contains the range's highest peak, St Mary Peak (1,171 m (3,842 ft)[1]) that adjoins the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. The northern ranges are protected by the Arkaroola Protection Area and the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park. The southern ranges are notable for the Pichi Richi scenic railway and Mount Remarkable National Park.

Several small areas in the Flinders Ranges have protected area status. These include the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park near Wilpena Pound, the Mount Remarkable National Park in the southern part of the ranges near Melrose, the Arkaroola Protection Area at the northern end of the ranges, The Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park, west of Quorn and the Mount Brown Conservation Park, south of Quorn. The Heysen Trail and Mawson Trail run for several hundred kilometres along the ranges providing scenic long distance routes for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.


Flinders Ranges from space

The Flinders Ranges are largely composed of folded and faulted sediments of the Adelaide Geosyncline. This very thick sequence of sediments were deposited in a large basin during the Neoproterozoic on the passive margin of the ancient continent of Rodinia. During the Cambrian, about 540 million years ago, the area underwent the Delamerian orogeny where the geosynclinal sequence was folded and faulted into a large mountain range. Since this time the area has undergone erosion resulting in the relatively low ranges today.[3]

Most of the high ground and ridgetops in the Flinders are sequences of quartzites that outcrop along strike. The high walls of Wilpena Pound are formed by the outcropping beds of the eponymous Pound Quartzite in a synclinal structure. The same formation forms many of the other high parts of the Flinders, including the high plateau of the Gammon Ranges and the Heysen Range. Cuesta forms are also very common in the Flinders.

The Ranges are particularly renowned for the Ediacara Hills, South-west of Leigh Creek. This was the site of discovery in 1946 of some of the oldest fossil evidence of animal life. Since then similar fossils have been found in many other parts of the ranges, though their locations are a closely kept secret due to the risk of sites being desecrated. In 2004 a new geological period, the Ediacaran Period was formed to mark the appearance of Ediacara biota.


The region has a semi-arid climate with hot dry summers and cool winters. Summers usually have temperatures reaching over 38 °C (100 °F), while winters have highs around 13–16 °C (55–61 °F), depending on the elevation. Although rainfall is erratic, most of the precipitation is seen in the winter months.[4] There are also some monsoonal showers and storms that move in from the north during the summer months. The area gets around 250 mm (9.8 in) of rain annually, with the highest rainfall at Wilpena Pound, at 350 mm (14 in). Frost is common on winter mornings and temperatures have dropped as low as −8 °C (18 °F). Snow has even been recorded in the Wilpena Pound and at Blinman.[5] The last significant snowfall in the Ranges occurred in 1995.[6]

Flora and fauna

Arid land in the Flinders Ranges

The flora of the Flinders Ranges are largely made up of species adapted to a semi-arid environment such as sugar gum, cypress-pine, mallee and black oak. Moister areas near Wilpena Pound support grevilleas, Guinea flowers, Liliaceae and ferns. Reeds and sedges grow near permanent water sources such as springs and waterholes.

Since the eradication of dingos and the establishment of permanent waterholes for stock, the numbers of red kangaroos, western grey kangaroos and euros in the Flinders Ranges have increased. The yellow-footed rock-wallaby, which neared extinction after the arrival of Europeans due to hunting and predation by foxes, has now stabilized. Other endemic marsupials include dunnarts and planigales. Insectivorous bats make up significant proportion of mammals in the area. There are a large number of bird species including parrots, galahs, emus, the wedge-tailed eagle and small numbers of water birds. Reptiles include goannas, snakes, dragon lizards, skinks and geckos. The streambank froglet is an endemic amphibian.

The Ranges are part of the Tirari-Sturt stony desert ecoregion.[7]

Human occupation

The Flinders Ranges at the southern end of Wilpena Pound

The first humans to inhabit the Flinders Ranges were the Adnyamathanha people (meaning "hill people" or "rock people") whose descendants still reside in the area, and the Ndajurri people who no longer exist.[8] Cave paintings, rock engravings and other artefacts indicate that the Adnyamathana and Ndajurri people have lived in the Flinders Ranges for tens of thousands of years. Occupation of the Warratyi rock shelter dates back approximately 49,000 years.[9][10]

The first European explorers to the region were an exploration party from Matthew Flinders' seagoing visit to upper Spencer Gulf aboard HMS Investigator. They climbed Mount Brown in March 1802. In the winter of 1839 Edward John Eyre, together with a group of five men, two drays and ten horses, further explored the region. They set out from Adelaide on 1 May 1839. The party set up a depot near Mount Arden, and from there explored the surrounding region and upper Spencer Gulf, before heading eastward to the Murray River and returning to Adelaide.[11]

The Flinders Ranges as seen from the Stuart Highway

There are records of squatters in the Quorn district as early as 1845, and the first pastoral leases were granted in 1851. William Pinkerton is credited as being the first European to find a route through the Flinders Ranges via Pichi Richi Pass. In 1853 he drove 7,000 sheep along the eastern plains of the range to where Quorn would be built 25 years later (Pinkerton Creek runs through the Quorn township).

In 1851 Wilpena, Arkaba and Aroona were established as sheep stations, and within a few years other runs were marked out through the hills and along the adjoining eastern and western slopes.

In 1852 Kanyaka Station was established by Hugh Proby.

During the late 1870s the push to open agriculture land for wheat growing north of the Goyder's Line had met with unusual success, with good rainfall and crops in the Flinders Ranges. This, along with the copper mining lobby (copper was mined in the Hawker-Flinders Ranges area in the late 1850s and transported overland by bullock dray), induced the government to build a narrow gauge railway line north of Port Augusta through Pichi Richi Pass, Quorn, Hawker and along the west of the ranges, eventually to Marree. (It was intended to service the agricultural and pastoral industries in the region).

Abandoned Kanyaka homestead between Quorn and Hawker.

The rainfall returned to a normal pattern for the region, causing many of the agricultural farms to collapse. Remnants of abdandoned homes can still be seen dotted around the arid landscape. Wilpena station, due to its unusual geography, along with areas around Quorn and Carrieton are now the only location north of Goyder's Line to be able to sustain any crops - Wilpena has now been left to the wild and is only a tourist location. Today kukri, unpopular with most Australian farmers as it yields 10-15% less grain than other varieties of wheat, is being grown for export to India.[12]

Mining exploration continued in the region, but coal mining at Leigh Creek and barytes at Oraparinna were the only long-term successes. Pastoral industries flourished, and the rail line became of major importance in opening up and servicing sheep and cattle stations along the route to Alice Springs.

Hawker townsite was surveyed at a bend in the railway line where the train line left the main road to Blinman, and named in 1880 after South Australian politician and pastoralist, George Charles Hawker.

Quorn was surveyed by Godfrey Walsh and proclaimed a town on 16 May 1878. The township covered an area of 1.72 km2 (0.66 sq mi) and was laid out in squares in a manner similar to the state's capital city, Adelaide. Governor Jervois reputedly bestowed the name 'Quorn' because his private secretary at the time had come from the Parish of Quorndon.

See also


  1. 1 2 Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2008. p. 682. ISBN 9781593394929. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Schultz, Patricia (2011). 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Workman Publishing. p. 658. ISBN 9780761168713.
  3. Australia: The Land Where Time Began - A biography of the Australian continent
  4. http://www.flindersranges.com/region/weather.htm
  5. http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/96122/20090317-1643/www.bom.gov.au/lam/climate/levelthree/c20thc/temp4.html
  6. http://history.flindersranges.com.au/living-with-the-land/climate
  7. World Wildlife Fund (2001). "Tirari-Sturt stony desert". WildWorld Ecoregion Profile. National Geographic Society. Archived from the original on 2010-03-08.
  8. Hema Maps (1997). Discover Australia's National Parks. Milsons Point, New South Wales: Random House Australia. pp. 320321. ISBN 1-875992-47-2.
  9. "Oldest known evidence of Aboriginal settlement in arid Australia found in Flinders Ranges rock shelter". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2016-11-03. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  10. Annalee Newitz (2016-03-11). "First discovery of 50,000-year-old human settlements in Australian interior". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  11. Domin, Eduard R.; Mincham H; Swinbourne R; Cook J (1986). The Flinders Ranges, A Portrait. St Peters, South Australia: Little Hills Press. pp. 12–19. ISBN 0-949773-37-9.
  12. Prue Adams. "Flour Power". Landline. 2009-04-20.
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