Monday, 4 August 2014

Wilpena Pound

The still rather unknown Wilpena Pound has always had a mystical and eerie allure for me. It's a natural amphitheatre 7 kms wide and 17 kms long with 1000 metre peaks and to top it off it's almost twice the size of Sydney Harbour. It's not a crater nor is it the remains of a volcano but it looks like an ancient cauldron. Perhaps it's the enclosed nature of the formation that is both magnificent and a little overwhelming. Or perhaps it's the fact that that when you visit there always seem to be eagles drifting above (it's a great place to take a scenic flight).  It should be one of our well known icons but for many Australians it isn't. 
Is it a cauldron, is it a volcano, is it a crater - no it's Wilpena!
The traditional owners the Adnyamathanha peoples named it Ikara - which means meeting place. The story goes that there was a ceremony taking place when two big Akurra (Dreaming serpents) surrounded their ceremonial group and their encircled bodies form the sides Wilpena Pound. How much more creative than that of the early colonials who named it a Pound which was an old English word for animal enclosure and Wilpena was certainly the perfect place for cattle thieves to hide unbranded calves! Attempts to farm in the Pound failed in the early 20th century. The old farmhouse still stands today as a reminder of the difficulties encountered by the early settlers. There was really only one way in (and out) through a narrow creek making access difficult. 
Inside the Pound - the old farmhouse survives
But it was the loss in January 1959 of 10 year old Nicholas Bannon - a student of St Peter's College in Adelaide - who was exploring with his family that has always remained with me. The group had divided into two but had kept close together and yet he was lost while walking through a clearing. The family raised the alarm within 30 minutes of his disappearance. Despite one of the largest manhunts ever taken by the police, army, indigenous trackers and volunteers over a 7 day period it was not until 18 months later that his skeleton was finally found just inside the Pound on St Mary's Peak - the highest peak in the Flinders at 3,900 feet. I can't  begin to imagine the anguish of the family losing a son on what began as a happy holiday expedition. The traditional owners call St Mary's Peak Ngarri-Mudlanha. Ngarri means mind and Mudlanha means waiting. Ngarri-Mudlanha means 'waiting to take your mind'. It was a mountain to avoid because it was high, you'd get dizzy and disoriented and then you'd be lost. What an extraordinary 'prediction'.  Many years later John Bannon - his brother - was Premier of South Australia from 1982 - 1992.
St Mary's Peak - just waiting to take your mind
Wilpena Pound - like so much of the Flinders Ranges is a tough, magnificent and yet unforgiving landscape.

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