We arrived in Oodna in 1971 at the same time the National Census was being undertaken. My father-in-law, apart from his duties as Patrol Officer, also found himself the census collector for the northwest of South Australia. As an aside, this was the first time the Census had included Aboriginal people, following the overwhelming vote in the 1967 Referendum to extend full citizenship rights to them. I was happy to go along with him to collect the forms which he had distributed a week or two previously – and the trip took us the best part of a week.
We started off by visiting Indulkana (now known as Iwantja), about 200km west of Oodna. It was the base for some welfare officers, other support staff, and a variable number of aboriginal people. We arrived just on dark, so my photo is hardly impressive: then again, I found myself thinking much the same of Indulkana – there was nothing obvious to commend the setting for the straggle of administration buildings.
It’s no longer called the Indulkana Reserve as in the photo – it’s now part of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands. Either way, a permit remains necessary to go visiting, so for most people this area (the size of several European countries), will remain “Off the Beaten Path”.
Main photo: Reserve sign
Second photo: Indulkana
Anna Creek has the distinction of being the world’s largest cattle station, covering an area of 34,000 sq. kms. For comparison, you could fit Belgium (just over 30,000 sq km) into it and still have room for the largest ranch in the USA (about 3000 sq km). It is run by under 25 people! The station buildings are just a short distance from William Creek (which is within the station) and the Oodnadatta Track passes through it.
In 1971 we were fortunate enough to pass just as the stockmen were heading off to do some cattle mustering, taking with them a supply of spare horses. With them, they had a camel wagon with their supplies. These scenes certainly are no longer replicated, today the wagon probably would be a 4WD Toyota and the stockmen would be on motorbikes (if they aren't using a helicopter, as so many large stations now do)! It still would be a big job though, mustering the 13,000 or so cattle on the property.
Main photo: Anna Creek camel wagon
Second photo: Anna Creek camel wagon
Third photo: Anna Creek stockmen and horses
Update 5 Feb 07 Added two copies of the main and second photo, saved in PaintShop Pro rather than Photoshop. This is an attempt to resolve a problem where the photos as shown in VT were darker, duller and lacking in red than the originals. If it works I shall have to revisit all the photos in this page!
The Presbyterian Church set up Ernabella as a mission station in 1937, at a marvellous setting alongside the Musgrave Ranges. Showing uncommon foresight, in 1948 an Aboriginal art programme was established, originally to employ the women at spinning wool from sheep grazing properties. It is no longer a mission, but the arts programme now has been running constantly for nearly 60 years and has broadened its coverage extensively, with items now in major art galleries worldwide. You can read about it in their website listed below.
We had a brief look at the craft area, but we were not there to admire art, so after collecting the census papers and a very welcome ‘cuppa’, we continued on our way. Before leaving, I took a photo of the petrol pump with details of operating hours written in Pitjantjatjara – there is an English translation below.
Before returning, we continued on to Musgrave Park (now Amata): I found it no more impressive than Indulkana and the people looked distinctly unwelcoming to visitors. The sign in the fifth photo points toward it and to Giles, a very remote weather station further west.
Main photo: Ernabella tucked in the ranges
Second photo: General view at Ernabella
Third photo: Pitjantjatjara sign on petrol pump.
Fourth photo: Pitjantjatjara sign on petrol pump (detail).
Fifth photo: Signpost to Musgrave Park and Giles.
As we returned, we saw this marvellous sunset. The ‘red centre’ of Australia seems to be particularly favoured for great sunsets: whether it is the clarity of the atmosphere or the flat horizons which emphasise the sky, I do not know.
From Musgrave Park the shortest way to return was to detour into the Northern Territory, to the Ayers Rock road (we were within 100 km to the south of the Rock, but did not see it) before heading down the Stuart Highway. At the state border there are marker poles with plaques.
Main photo: Sunset in the centre
Second photo: NT border post
Third photo: Plaque marking NT border.
After leaving Indulkana, the country was arid but constantly changing. At times areas of low open scrub, at other times gibber plains, or tussock grass. From time to time we passed areas of low hills and, almost endlessly, there were corrugated dirt roads with clouds of red dust to mark our passing. We saw few vehicles. Eventually we came to the Musgrave Ranges, running more or less east-west with the Northern Territory border.
Main photo: Musgrave Ranges
Second photo: Musgrave Ranges
Third photo: Rolling hills and tussocks