Range Rover Club of Australia, SA Branch Inc.
PO Box 381
MARDEN SA 5070
PO Box 381
MARDEN SA 5070
Report of Cactus cull at Wirrealpa Station - May 2021 by Ralph Abbot
How we happened to be at Wirrealpa
A couple of years earlier Ralph Abbot had been invited to the Range Rover Discovery Club SA to tell of the cactus cull program in which he was involved. As a result the Club expressed that they too would like to be involved. An attempt to get to Blinman in 2020 was thwarted when Covid-19 stepped in and the trip was cancelled. It was rescheduled to May 2021. Ralph, who was at Gum Creek station with the Land Cruiser Club in the week before, met the Range Rover Discovery team at Hawker and took them to Gum Creek station to collect GPS, buckets, tongs and fluoro vests and then on to Wirrealpa. With Wirrealpa being an organic property, no poisons were to be used nor taken.
Peter Allmand - Range Rover Discovery Club of SA
Ralph Abbot - Toyota LandCruiser Club of SA
Ron Westren - Range Rover Discovery Club of SA
John Harrland - Range Rover Discovery Club of SA
Andrew & Elaine Davies Range Rover Discovery Club of SA
What we did
Sunday 2nd May.
We arrived at Wirrealpa at 3 pm Sunday 2nd May and settled in.
Monday 3rd May.
We learnt that Wirrealpa had Riverina Pear, Devils Rope and some Wheel Cactus. So we went looking for cochineal on Devils Rope at Fountain Spring on Eregunda Creek where Ralph knew it existed. He also hoped to find Riverina Pear on the cliff at Fountain Spring but there was none. Later on Monday Andrew and Elaine arrived to complete the team.
Plotted above is our track in blue. We travelled west from Wirrealpa and first took the track to Fountain Spring. There we collected some cochineal infected Devils Rope but no Riverina Pear was to be seen.
It had been all over the cliff at Fountain Spring but cochineal had been introduced some years ago and it appears the Riverina Pear has been completely wiped out there. We travelled a short distance along Eregunda Ck but then went back to the Wirrealpa Road and travelled east to the track by the third grid that also went to Eregunda Ck. It did not look possible to drive along the creek to as far as we had driven at the Fountain Spring end. There is about a 2 km separation that would have to be walked.
We then drove west along the Blinman road to see if we could get to the back of Fountain Spring cliff and find Riverina Pear. We travelled south along the track to the west of The Bunkers as Ralph had been along that track about 10 years before and remembered seeing lots of Riverina Pear in the creeks as they crossed them. However no Riverina Pear was seen. We went along the track at the west of Fountain Spring mountain to Ti Tree Gorge Well hoping to see Riverina Pear but none was there.
We returned to Wirrealpa and Warren had suggested searching in the Wirrealpa Creek south of the homestead. We split into two parties with one team searching the creek each side of the track that crossed the creek. (The Eregunda Ck joins the Wirrealpa Ck just before Wirrealpa Ck enters the Wirrealpa property). Andrew and Elaine had not arrived so Peter and Ron searched east of the track, Ralph and John to the west.
All three cactus types on Wirrealpa were found, viz., Wheel Cactus, Riverina Pear and Devil’s Rope. Some plants were covered in cochineal. Peter and Ron found cochineal early and spread it on unaffected plants. Ralph and John did not find cochineal until late so did not spread any. In the plot below the Blue are Riverina Pear, the green Devil’s Rope. The yellow markers on the eastern side represent seeded cochineal on Riverina Pear. The yellow on the western side is a Wheel Cactus. Later on Monday Andrew and Elaine arrived to complete the team.
Tuesday 4th May
Armed with cochinealed pads from both Riverina Pear and Devil’s Rope (in separate containers) we set off to where Warren had graded an entry into the Wirrealpa Creek nearly 4 km east of the homestead. We turned left out of Wirrealpa travelling south on the Martins Well road. Immediately after the Wirrealpa Creek crossing we turned left and travelled east along the track towards Wyambana Outstation. We were instructed to turn left off the track at the two white tyres. That led us to the creek entry that warren had graded. The arrangement was that we would drive about 500 m along the creek. From there half the team would search back (west) along 500 m along one side of the wide creek and return along the other side of the creek. The other half team would do the same along the 500 m ahead (east) of the vehicles. When both teams returned to the vehicles the vehicles would move about 1000 m east along the creek. From there the procedure would be repeated with half the team walking and searching 500 m back (west) with the other half searching the 500 m ahead (east). Each day repeating the procedure we covered approximately 3 km along the creek. When we found clean plants we would lodge a cochinealed piece in the clean plant. The lodged piece would eventually dry and die but by then the cochineal should have moved onto the clean plant and commenced breeding.
Wednesday 5th May
Wednesday was a rest day. We drove to Blinman where we drove down the lane east of the mine a few hundred meters to a large patch of Riverina Pear onto which we placed a piece of cochinealed pad. We then drove then through Glass Gorge to the Moolooloo Station turn off. The route through Moolooloo went through Hannigan Gap and led onto the Artimore PAR (Public Access Route). We stopped at the Artimore ruins for lunch. After lunch we continued until at the end of the Artimore PAR we drove onto the Narrina access road. A detour off that saw us looking for the Eregunda Mine. Ralph knew there was a clear avenue that led to the mine but could not locate the start of that. Three of the group reached the mine near the top of the hill. On the return down the hill we walked along the avenue which most likely the route for the ore as it was taken to Blinman for smelting.
At the end of the day the team retired to the Blinman Hotel for dinner.
Thursday 6th May.
We did not have much cochineal so the first part of the day was to return to the Wirrealpa Creek south of the homestead to collect cochineal. Once that was completed we continued from where we had finished on the Tuesday. There is a large island in the middle of the creek and we mainly searched the northern branch of the creek. We found plants already bearing cochineal so some was harvested to top up the buckets and used during the day. At the end of the day it was intended that the vehicles would go around the eastern end of the island and exit the creek at the point where the creek and road are quite close.
Friday 7th May
On Friday the team returned to where they finished the day before. The intent was to search the southern side of the island. A gully was found on the island that was rich in cactus. That gully can be seen in the plot below, south of the 197 altitude point, the gully runs NW to SE across the island. Presumably when the river level is high, the gully fills with water and holds it for a while. We called it Cactus Gully. Cactus Gully held a lot of Riverina Pear and Devil’s Rope. We continued searching past the island as far as No 1 Bore. All vehicles exited the Wirrealpa Creek at the No 1 Bore. Below the waypoints are plotted.
We began packing up late Friday. Barbara and Warren joined us and we enjoyed pre dinner drinks with them. Hence the earlier photo of the pair at drinks.
Saturday 8th May
We packed up and drove home via Gum Creek station where the gear was returned.
Observations about the cactus
It was noticed that Riverina Pear, that already had cochineal on it, appeared to drop many of its infected pads apparently trying to rid itself of the pest. There were many green pads (with live cochineal) on the ground. Eventually the cochineal would overwhelm the plant. Clean plants did not drop pads. Devils Rope is an awkward plant to handle. The slightest touch will cause segments to drop off. Around old plants many small plants were growing from dropped segments. A cochineal-infected segment was placed on a clean plant in order to infect the plant.
Below is a map of cactus distribution from the year 2009. The red area in the centre is the Blinman area with Wheel Cactus. There is a long tail heading out towards Lake Frome. The brown represents Riverina Pear which was then called Prickly Pear. The single blue dot represents Devil’s Rope (but we know there is a lot of it along the creek). Ralph has proposed clearing out the outliers from Lake Torrens in the West to Lake Frome in the east. The northern extent near Blinman is just north of the Oratunga homestead while the southern limit is the Flinders Ranges National Park (Wilpena) northern fence (as the park operators say they are looking after the cacti in the park). In 2019 a team from Oratunga covered the western end where the rivers flow out through Parachilna Gorge towards Lake Torrens.
In the image below Wirrealpa is on the eastern end. The rivers east of Blinman flow into Lake Frome. The Wirrealpa Creek joins Balcoracana Creek which then flows into Lake Frome. There is about 60 km of creek, east of where we finished at #1 Bore, to Lake Frome. We may be able to drive most of that way to survey whether the whole 60 km has cactus and therefore has to be searched. The Eregunda Creek requires searching upstream to rid cacti which otherwise will wash downstream during a wet season. Eregunda Ck joins Wirrealpa Ck upstream from Wirrealpa homestead.
So Wirrealpa Ck and Eregunda Ck need to be searched upstream. Eregunda Ck will have to be searched back as far as the Narrina Road because we have previously found Devil’s Rope on the Narrina Road. It is about 10 km to Fountain Spring from the homestead and a further 10 km to Narrina Road.
Not all waypoints represent treated plants. Sometimes we had run out of cochineal. Cochineal will spread a small distance (10 m) so it is not necessary to seed all plants. But mostly all plants were treated whilst we had cochineal.
The cacti we dealt with:
All involved in the Wirrealpa cactus cull contributed to the photo collection. Some have been included in this report. Thanks everyone.
Desert Parks of SA Trip - September 2020
Thursday September 24th 2020 Day Four
The day was sunny with a slight breeze. After refuelling the cars, we headed along the rough road to the Dalhousie Spring turnoff. The road is a graded path over the gibber plains and quite rough in places. First stop was the Opossum Waterhole, an obvious billabong with the trees visible for some distance. Morning Tea was at the 3 O‘Clock camp ground. A fairly sparse area with bore water, an eating shelter and close to Christmas Creek. On to Dalhousie Station ruins.
The original Pastoral Lease was taken up in the 1873 and eventually sold in 1904 to the Lewis Family who held the adjoining lease. When you look at the location, it would have been a hard and lonely existence. After spending some time reading the information boards, looking at the building ruins and what is left of the cattle/horse yards, we headed towards our main objective, Dalhousie Hot Springs.
There are a number of large ponds in the area being fed with artesian basin water. The ponds are all surrounded by vegetation and there is also a good campground with amenities. This is usually the start point to Frenches Line and across the Simpson Desert. To get to the main spring we walked along a boardwalk and then entered the water via an aluminium ladder. They even supply a couple of airmattresses and noodles for swimmers. The water is quite hot, about bath water temperature and due to the minerals and salt in the water your buoyancy increases and you float easily. After the swim, lunch at one of the eating shelters, we struck up a conversation with a family who had arrived from Oodnadatta in a newish Discovery Sports. Standard tyres, road pressure and no second spare, but they were enjoying themselves. After lunch we had a quick look around the campground and then the long trip back to Mt Dare for a shower (in less salty water) and sundowners.
Friday September 25th & Saturday 26th 2020 Day Five & Six
With quite a distance to travel that day we planned an earlier start than usual, but when travelling in the bush you can always expect issues to arise that slow your progress. While hooking up their caravan, our companions the Pedersons, found the tow coupler adjustment screw had broken and needed replacing. With help from the bush mechanics at Mt Dare and their well-equipped workshop, a bolt with the correct thread was found and the bolt head was ground to fit the coupler. We left Mt Dare an hour and a half later than planned. The first ten to fifteen kilometres were the worst and after that it was quite a good dirt road.
We visited Eringa Waterhole again for morning tea and on past Hamilton Station and into Oodnadatta for fuel and lunch. On leaving town the Road Restrictions sign was not encouraging, but the word from the Pink Roadhouse staff was that they expected the road to open within a day or two. This section of the track had not been affected by rain, so good progress was made but by around 4pm it was obvious that we would fall short of our proposed destination. That night we camped in the shadow of Algebuckina Bridge. This very impressive bridge was the longest railway bridge in SA until the Seaford Line was extended over the Onkaparinga River.
Minor running repair in the morning to Tony’s caravan and on to William Creek. For the size of the town, the caravan park and accommodation buildings are certainly set up to handle large numbers of travellers. As it was still quite uncertain if the Track would be open in the next few days and as we were now a day and a half behind schedule, it was decided to terminate the trip. The Pederson chose to leave and head home. Tony and Cheryl would stay the night and then head off and we booked our Lake Eyre flight for 7 the next morning. That evening drinks and dinner at the Pub, where even the locals are Covid conscious.
Sunday September 27th. Day Seven.
It was a beautiful cloudless morning as Jo and I made our way to the air strip for our flight. We had booked the two hour flight, firstly over Lake Eyre, followed by the Painted Hills. There were four of us, plus the pilot, for the Lake Eyre leg. After a short safety briefing we all squeezed into a six seater and lifted off. Due to the clear morning with no wind, it was a very smooth flight. The pilot’s commentary during the flight was informative and covered considerable information about the lake and its surroundings. The lake is so immense, that even at our height it extended beyond the horizon and due to the recent rain, there was still very shallow water over parts of the surface, which glistened in the morning sun. After about an hour, we returned to William Creek.
With only two passengers for the Painted Hills flight we used a four seater, with Jo next to the pilot and me in the back seat. Still a bit squeezy for a person of my length. The Painted Hills are located some distance into Anna Creek Station and although you can drive to them (with permission), they are best seen from the air. The formations are not dissimilar to the Breakaways at Coober Pedy but much larger and more condensed. Layers of different coloured sedimentary rocks, weathered into different shapes over the millennia.
Our pilot was not in a hurry and as we circled the hills, the light changes highlighted the various layers. Returning to William Creek, the wind was starting to increase and our pilot was forced to use the alternate air strip. A dirt strip on the other side or the Oodnadatta Track from the All Weather Strip. Once landed and taxying towards base, requires crossing the Track. Before crossing, the pilot must stop and look in both directions to ensure there is no traffic! During peak tourist times, with at least fourteen planes using the strip daily, it would be a very busy airport.
After some lunch, we hooked up the van and headed to Coober Pedy for a couple of nights and eventually joined up with the Horse Shoe Top End trip members. Geoff and Jo.