The peaks and valleys of South Australia's Flinders Ranges have been well travelled but that does not diminish the appeal of the world's oldest mountains.

Story By Emma Mulholland

Looking into the evening sky, above some of the most arid mountains in the northern Flinders Ranges, ‘Stony’ Steiner, the operator of Warraweena Conservation Park, points his stubby finger into the air and traces the flight path of a commercial jet. The warble of the plane thousands of metres overhead bounces against the ranges and seems to hang over the dry, flat plains forever: a sound with nothing but rocks and spinifex to absorb it.
“The jets are the only things to remind you about civilisation,” Stony says. “For the first few months I was here, I didn’t even have a radio. It’s good just to hear the sound of the wind and your own breathing.” Seven hours north of Adelaide, there’s an incredible stillness to this place. Perhaps it’s the dry air, the ancient rock faces or red dust that hasn’t been disturbed by a decent rain in years. The ghostly white trunks of old river red gums line dry creek beds that wind around the park, providing challenging four-wheel-drive tracks to some of the more secluded camp sites. The shearers’ quarters also serve as accommodation and the old shearing shed, like many in the region, has been left to the dust.
For Stony, the thrifty Swiss-born bloke who’s been running the station as a conservation park for the past eight years, the remnants of yesterday’s business are today’s scrap-metal goldmine. Sifting through the rubble of the old shed, Stony rescued enough native pine and corrugated iron to build himself a tourist office. Although visitor numbers are down this year, Stony – like many residents – is preparing for some busy years ahead.
The rush of backpackers, families and grey nomads is all a matter of time and tar. Road workers are currently laying bitumen from Wilpena to Blinman, providing arteries to get your average family sedan through some of the wildest and most interesting parts of the ranges. Further north, Queensland’s Department of Main Roads is working with Bullo Shire Council and mining company Santos to seal a stretch of Innamincka Road that will give Queenslanders better access to the region.
Most travellers head into the Flinders from Adelaide. An easy four-hour drive north brings you to Port Augusta, the southernmost tip of the Flinders. Taking in views of Spencer Gulf, it’s an industrial city that depends on evening deliveries from Leigh Creek’s coal mine to keep its power station – and the state’s economy – churning. It’s also a point of departure for the historic Pichi Richi steam trains. Maintained by volunteers, the old locomotives head north, snaking across rickety bridges and steep precipices, taking in the first glimpses of the looming ranges.

This story excerpt is from Issue #59

Outback Magazine: June/July 2008