Stage Three – Burra to Melrose

The First End-to-End walk of the Heysen Trail

The start of Stage Three at Burra
Taking a rest on Camels Hump Road
At the trig point on Mount Gregory
Nearing the northern end of the Yackamoorundie Range
Preparing tea at Bundaleer Creek Weir campsite
Walking upstream in Never Never Creek
Vegetable growing at Bundaleer Gardens
Southern Flinders Ranges from New Campbell Hill
Approaching Bowman Park
Woodys clothes line
Building the Heysen Trail
First Flinders Ranges campsite
Approaching Melrose
End of third stage at Melrose

A year had now passed since the Jubilee 150 Heysen Trail Walking Project had commenced at Cape Jervis. On Monday 30 April 1984 the remaining six of the original eleven walkers – Lyn Steven, Carlien Melrose, Dick Grant, Bob Nicolle, Harold (Woody) Woodward and I gathered at Burra to commence our third ten day walk with Melrose the destination. Much of the excitement and anticipation evident from the commencement of this stage was the knowledge that we would reach the Flinders Ranges during the latter days of the walk.

I was reluctant to reveal to my companions that despite two days of walking we were still only a few kilometres north of the latitude of Burra. Continuing west we were surprised to be joined by a car occupied by our hosts from the previous evening, bringing with them an elaborate morning tea.

We elected to stay overnight in Burra’s historic Paxton Square Cottages to enable an early start on the first day of the walk. A celebratory tea at a nearby hotel ensured the walk was getting off on the right foot.

Soon after 8.00 am on Tuesday 1 May we walked the short distance from the Cottages, across the Burra Creek, to the Market Square. After the customary start of the stage photograph we commenced walking to the north through the town’s streets.

I took only a short time to walk to and through Burra North and reach Redruth Goal on the outskirts of the town. Our route that morning was following a series of road reserves north over bare hills. Several kilometres on we crossed the Burra Creek and then gradually gained height with excellent views opening up to the south and the west. Later in the morning we passed a group of farm hands busily marking lambs in a set of portable sheep yards, erected adjacent to the road reserve we were following.

After reaching the top of a high north-south ridge, leaving the headwaters of the Burra Creek in the process, we continued to walk north to our lunch spot at Mount Cone (789 metres).

The weather was excellent for walking, clear and sunny but not to warm, and we enjoyed the lunch with magnificent views to the north-east to Mount Bryan and to the north-west across a broad plain to Hallett Hill. Although there had been little contact between the members of the group since the completion of the second stage in early September 1983 it was like old times as we swapped stories and remembered the humorous and challenging events of the previous two stages.

After lunch we left the ridge, following a track north, then west, down onto the plain to the small township of Mount Bryan. We had reached the end of our first day as I had made arrangements to camp in the grounds of the small Mount Bryan School, quite a modern school with shower facilities and a cooking area. After erecting our tents on the school oval we took turns in using the shower. The kitchen facilities added to the luxury of the occasion, enabling tea to be cooked with a greater degree of precision that usual. By coincidence the school had a parent night on the night of our residency. We appreciated the opportunity to meet some of the locals although we wondered at their reaction to us.

We walked west after leaving the school in the morning. This was to be our general direction for the next day and a half. Following a minor dirt road we climbed over the Bald Hill Range. Several kilometres on from the top of the range we left our packs on the side of the road and followed a road reserve to the summit of Hallett Hill (760 metres). Equally impressive views as those experienced the day before from Mount Cone made the diversion worthwhile, particularly in the clear sunny conditions. After returning to our packs an hour later we continued to the west, and paused for lunch on the banks of the dry Walton’s Palace Creek. Soon after lunch, to the consternation of my companions we diverted south, and followed minor roads for the remainder of the afternoon, passing at one stage a few kilometres to the east of Booborowie. During the afternoon we were startled at one point by two jet fighter aircraft screaming low over the Booborowie plains. The noise was enormous, and more spectacular because it was so unexpected. The incident became even more significant to us when we learnt the following morning from the news broadcast on the small pocket radio I carried that one of the jets had ditched in Gulf Saint Vincent later that afternoon.

Late in the afternoon, soon after our route changed to the west, we reached the first of the two Leighton Forest Reserves, substantial areas of mature eucalypt plantings, established many decades before for the purpose of forestry research. Walking further south we reached the second experimental forest area where we established our campsite. My map indicated the Moomba to Adelaide natural gas pipeline passed through the middle of this area of forest, confirmed when to our surprise we found a substantial gas compression plant in the middle of the forest.

During our arrival in Burra the previous year the Chairman of the District Council of Burra Burra who lived near the Leighton forests had offered to host us for dinner at his home when we passed through the area. Prior to commencing this stage of the walk I had arranged for him to pick us up from our campsite and drive us to his home for tea and return us our campsite later that evening. The agreed time for the pick-up came and went without any sign of the Chairman. After some time we phoned from a nearby farmhouse – finding the recently confirmed arrangement had been forgotten. New arrangements we rapidly made and within thirty minutes we had been picked up and transported to the Chairman’s home for tea. For the second consecutive night we had the opportunity to shower – with an excellent tea provided as well. Following such hospitality if felt strange indeed to be returned to our forest campsite later that night.

The next morning we walked west along Camels Hump Road. I was reluctant to reveal to my companions that despite two days of walking we were still only a few kilometres north of the latitude of Burra. Continuing west we were surprised to be joined by a car occupied by our hosts from the previous evening, bringing with them an elaborate morning tea. These walks were to be an important contributor to my annual battle of the bulge and this was not helping!

After a pleasant interlude we resumed our walk to the west along the well-made gravel road. Crossing over Camels Hump Range we proceeded down into a wide valley, crossing Hill River just north of the small settlement of Hilltown.

Soon after crossing Hutt River lunch was taken in pleasant sunny weather adjacent to The Bluff shearing shed. Continuing further west after lunch we crossed the Clare to Spalding Road and following an increasingly rough dirt track we entered the foothills of the Yackamoorundie Range. As we contoured around the foothills and encountered a friendly (over friendly) horse we finally re-commenced our journey to the north, much to the delight and relief of my companions. We gradually ascended to the top of the range and as evening approached we diverted to the east, down to the site of our planned campsite at the Geralka property. This interesting property was one of the pioneers in farm tourism in South Australia, providing displays of farm equipment through the ages, farm tours and overnight accommodation. The property also had a replica underground copper mine. We soon erected our tents on an attractive lawn area adjacent to the homestead and an adjacent small caravan park. The opportunity to shower was again available – and taken up.

We commenced walking the next morning at our customary 8.00 am, walking north-west across paddocks to a gravel road that lead past the historic North Bungaree stud Merino property and back to the top of the Yackamoorundie Range.

Soon after reaching the top of the Range we reached Mount Gregory (492 metres), the highest point on the Range. Walking along the top of the Range was a pleasure. The gradient along a fire access track was gently undulating, the weather was fine and sunny without being too warm, the views were wonderful, and our direction was north! Seven kilometres north of Mount Gregory the fire access track petered out and we commenced a slow descent along a narrow ridge down to the River Broughton. Lunch was taken adjacent to a bridge carrying a pipeline from the nearby Bundaleer Reservoir across the river. This pipeline takes water from the reservoir to many areas of the Mid North and Yorke Peninsula. Our first glimpse of the Southern Flinders Ranges from the top of the Yackamoorundie Range earlier in the day had evoked great excitement and with the anticipation of being in the Flinders within a few days, the mood during lunch reflected that.

Following lunch we followed the pipeline north as it across grazing land adjacent to Bundaleer Creek. After crossing the Spalding to Gulnare Road and the Morgan to Whyalla Pipeline we stopped to inspect the earthen wall forming the Bundaleer Reservoir before continuing north along a minor road adjacent to the Bundaleer Creek and the Bundaleer Intake Channel. The Bundaleer Reservoir is fed by a series of weirs and channels emanating from the Bundaleer and Freshwater Creeks and the River Broughton, although the River Broughton is no longer utilised for this purpose due to its increasing salinity.

Four kilometres north of the reservoir we reached the Bundaleer Creek weir. We crossed to the western bank of the creek via the substantial concrete weir structure and quickly established our campsite in the fading light. Twenty two kilometres of northward progress during the day had ensured my companions maintained their positive mood.

Next morning we followed the Bundaleer Creek upstream to its junction with Never Never Creek. At this point the Bundaleer Creek diverts to the west to its headwaters. We followed the Never Never Creek upstream. The weather was again excellent for walking as we walked along the banks of the creek in a deep valley. After passing through the ‘Yandowie’ property in the mid-morning we commenced following a minor gravel road in lightly wooded country to Bundaleer Gardens, a fascinating little oasis of commercial fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

Soon after passing Bundaleer Gardens we entered the Pinus radiata and eucalyptus plantations of the Bundaleer Forest Reserve. On a shaded rise just inside the Reserve we enjoyed lunch whilst watching a small aeroplane busily top-dressing the bare hills of the nearby Campbell Range.

After lunch we followed steep logging tracks and fire breaks to the top of the Campbell Range, and soon reached the summit of New Campbell Hill (~ 720 metres). Excellent views of the Southern Flinders Ranges revived and excited us after the steep climb we had experienced to soon after lunch. The crest of the Campbell Range forms the western boundary of the Forest Reserve. Small isolated blocks of Pinus radiata have been established in the high valleys on the eastern side of the main ridge and we walked through several as we walked in a north-westerly direction to the historic Bundaleer Arboretum, our campsite for that night. In addition to being our campsite the Arboretum was our half-way food re-supply point.

Arriving at the Arboretum in the late afternoon a quick and increasingly desperate search of the area failed to reveal the food and water that I had arranged to be left for us. The arrangement was for the food to be left at the nearby Forest headquarters, two and a half kilometres to the east, and for the food to be brought up to the Arboretum earlier that day. Leaving the others to establish the camp Woody and I quickly walked down a gravel road and then through a Eucalyptus plantation to the headquarters, fervently hoping that our food had at least reached that point. To our relief we found our food at the home of the Officer in Charge. With the replenishments we were driven back to our anxious companions at the Arboretum.

Our overnight stay in the Arboretum, with its many various exotic tall trees was memorable and a feature of the stage. The next morning we walked west across Campbell Range and along well-made gravel roads adjacent to Teetuppennie Creek and then the Yackamoorundie Creek into which it flows, whilst crossing the broad, flat and virtually featureless Georgetown Plain. The 22 kilometre walk to Georgetown proved to be, as I had anticipated, the most testing sections of the walk since we commenced at Cape Jervis the previous year. We were determined to reach Georgetown before stopping for lunch. At 1.00 pm we stumbled into Georgetown. Adding to the frustration was the warm sunny weather without the benefit of any shade for the whole of the morning. I had spent a considerable time in the lead up to the stage, without success, trying to find a more interesting route from the top of the Mount Lofty ranges to the Southern Flinders Ranges and knew that our trek across the Georgetown Plan would be memorable to my companions, but for the wrong reason.

Following our late lunch on the lawns outside the Georgetown Public Hall we again walked west out of the town along an increasingly narrow track. We then entered an undulating area called Sams Hills, intersected by Rocky River which presented some difficulty in crossing. Some of my companions proposed to collect water from the river for our campsite later that afternoon but found it brackish. Our campsite several kilometres from Rocky River was probably the most significant our walk to date. Due to its exposure on a road reserve devoid of vegetation and the resultant lack of firewood it was the coldest we had experienced. But we were right on the boundary of the Northern Mount Lofty Ranges and the Southern Flinders Ranges. Although of the same origin (the Adelaide Geosyncline) there was a substantial difference in the nature and character of each range. We had experienced the generally soft and gentle hills and valleys of the Mount Lofty Ranges and were about to experience the steeper and more rugged Flinders Ranges. We were also passing progressively into more isolated and sparsely populated areas were the ability of our group to remain self-reliant was of greater importance.

Soon joining a minor road we continued walking west the following morning, crossing the standard gauge Port Pirie to Broken Hill railway line, and adjacent abandoned narrow gauge line, and passing the huge 5PI and 5CK radio masts before diverting north to our planned lunch spot at Bowman Park near the town of Crystal Brook. The historic Bowman Park property, located on the banks of Crystal Brook (the creek), provided yet another opportunity to shower. Originally the homestead of an early pastoral property the extensive buildings had been adapted for use as a school campsite and as a group of school children were taking up residency later that day the showers were already hot.

Following a leisurely lunch we continued walking northwards upstream on the banks of Crystal Brook, all feeling the pleasure of having reached the Southern Flinders Ranges, 27 walking days after leaving Cape Jervis the previous year. Nearly five kilometres on we crossed the Morgan to Whyalla pipeline for the fifth and final time. After crossing the Gladstone to Port Pirie Road at Hughes Gap we followed a minor road north along a ridge that steadily gained in height. As we continued to gain height views to the west began opening up over Port Pirie and Spencer Gulf. To the east the extensive former Gladstone ammunition dump could be seen across and thickly vegetated valley.

Soon we became aware of Heysen Trail markers, the first we had seen since we were about to enter the Barossa Valley near Pewsey Vale Peak. Continuing on for several kilometres we were surprised to come across two young men employed, as we came to know, under the then newly elected Federal Labor Government’s Community Employment Programme, busily constructing the Trail through the installation of trail markers. We could not pass up the opportunity to assist them in installing one of the markers. Later that afternoon we selected an attractive campsite on the roadside adjacent to Beetaloo Creek and the nearby Beetaloo property.

We continued to follow the road north the next morning until entering the extensive Beetaloo Reservoir catchment reserve. We were continuing to walk along the top of the ridge as it meandered north, passing the Beetaloo Reservoir hidden in a thickly vegetated valley to our east. The ridge we were following formed the western boundary of the catchment reserve. A very wide and extensive fire break which had replaced the minor road. In some places the fire break was 50 metres wide and completely devoid of any vegetation.

The Bluff with its high television broadcast tower slowly loomed closer, whilst we enjoyed increasingly spectacular views out to the west over Spencer Gulf. Eyre Peninsula on the other side of the gulf could now be made out. We had walked 14 kilometres and gained 400 metres in height during the morning when paused for lunch at The Bluff (~ 750 metres). From The Bluff we were treated also to wonderful views to the north.

The plan after lunch was to walk almost due east, descending along a ridge with the headwaters of Crystal Brook on the south and Ippinitchie Creek on the north, and then turn north to enter the Wirrabara Forest Reserve. In one of only several such incidents on the whole of the walk from Cape Jervis and Mount Babbage I lead my companions along the wrong route. Unfortunately I mistakenly took the wrong ridge, selecting what I thought was the correct walking track along a ridge leading off of The Bluff, but to the north of the ridge we were supposed to take, a track which petered out after several hundred metres. Before long we found ourselves plunging steeply through thick scrub into the headwaters of Ippinitchie Creek. After considerable effort we reached the bed of the creek where walking was marginally easier. Several kilometres later and now an hour behind schedule we finally reached TV Track which leads down from The Bluff, past the Wirrabara Forest Reserve headquarters and then onto Wirrabara. We followed the track, passing on our right the point where the walking trail we were supposed to follow down from The Bluff intersected with TV Track.

After passing the picturesque Wirrabara Arboretum, similar to the one we had camped in several nights before in the Bundaleer Forest Reserve, we stopped briefly at the Reserve headquarters to enquiry about the availably of water at the Ippinitchie camping ground, established for future Heysen Trail walkers, and our planned campsite that evening. Determining that water was available we continued east along the main road, finding the campsite several kilometres further on. After the effort of the morning and the disaster of the afternoon our camp was subdued that evening.

The following morning we walked west back towards the main ridge, passing through a mature Pinus radiata plantation. Reaching the western edge of the plantation a steep track (oddly named Apricot Track) lead us to the top of the ridge at Frypan Hill (718 metres). A fire trail (this time more modest) guided us north with spectacular views to the west over Spencer Gulf. The trail along the ridge formed the eastern boundary of the Telowie Gorge Conservation Park. The ridge began to slowly loose height as it commenced dipping into a steep gorge some kilometres ahead. Lunch was taken on the side of the trail, in isolated, thickly vegetated and rugged country.

Following lunch we continued to walk north for several kilometres, then just before the ridge started a dip steeply into the gorge ahead our route changed to the east into a deep valley, part of the headwaters of Telowie Creek. For several days we had been noticing strips of coloured marker tapes attached to vegetation which we surmised were to guide the Heysen Trail construction crew we had encountered several days before. Soon after reaching the valley floor the marker tapes lead us further east into a narrow gully. Then the markers stopped, causing us to waste some time trying to pick up the trail again. After some time was spent trying to locate further marker tapes we abandoned the effort, consulted our map of the area and picked a course to the north through a Pinus radiata plantation.

We followed various fire trails and then after passing through the last Pinus radiata plantation we were to encounter we commenced following a little used track along a road reserve. After reaching and passing over the historically important Port Germein Gorge road at Bangor we commenced following Survey Road north. Late in the afternoon we diverted east along a minor road for a short distance to an attractive spot on the banks of Stony Creek, our last campsite for the third stage of our walk.

Ever since the Heysen Trail was first mooted some graziers in the Melrose district had provided stiff opposition to the Trail passing near their properties. For this reason the following morning we walked the remainder of the stage into Melrose along well-defined road reserves. Whilst a more interesting and challenging route lay along un-fenced road reserves to the west of Survey Road we remained on the relatively non-controversial eastern side of Survey Road so as to avoid the risk of causing an ‘incident’. Mount Remarkable dominated the skyline ahead as we walked the 17 kilometres into Melrose, arriving at noon.

The stage concluded at the Melrose Post Office and as my companions rested I used the nearby public phone box to arrange for our vehicle to be brought down from nearby Wilmington for our return to Adelaide. We had been lent a Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme four wheel drive for the stage and on our arrival in Burra ten days earlier it had been left with a local person who had agreed, during the period we were walking to Melrose to bring the vehicle up to friends at Wilmington, undertaking our food drop at Bundaleer in the process.

I wasn’t prepared to hear the news that the vehicle wasn’t in Wilmington and it was with trepidation that I rang Burra to find out the problem. The good news was that the vehicle was in good order and the bad news was that it was still in Burra. No real explanation was given as to why it was still in Burra but I was assured the vehicle would leave for Melrose immediately. Fortunately the North Star Hotel at Melrose has a reputation for great hospitality, which is where we spent much of the time we had to wait for the arrival of the vehicle, after showering at the nearby caravan park.

The vehicle duly arrived however the return to Adelaide required returning to Burra to drop off the driver.

The completion of the third stage was celebrated with great enthusiasm by my companions. Again there had been no un-planned withdrawals and we had achieved the milestone of reaching the Flinders Ranges. The next stage, in the spring of 1984 would bring us to the half-way point at the historic Kanyaka Ruins.

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