Danggali Conservation Park

Tuesday, Apr 19, 2016 at 20:55

Stephen L (Clare) SA

There is nothing more special than heading away out into our many remote Desert locations that we have in abundance here in Australia. We have all heard of the Canning Stock Route, The Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks, the many great tracks put down by Len Beadell such as the Anne Beadell Highway or the Connie Sue Highway, but have you ever heard of the Nanya Pad Track or the Tipperary Hut Track that can be found right here in South Australia’s Riverland area?

Less than a 90-minute drive from Renmark, driving these remote tracks will have you thinking that you are thousands of kilometres away from your home when in fact you are so close to civilization. Do not underestimate and be fooled thinking that because you are so close to Renmark, that you will have full services out there in the way of emergency communications. Out in Danggali Conservation Park, you will be just as remote as if you were out in the middle of the Simpson Desert, so you must come fully prepared for any situation, from water and food to emergency communications like a satellite phone, HF Radio or PLB, as the chances of getting help from UHF Radios will almost be non existent.

The week prior to Easter had us back on our yearly Riverland pilgrimage “Civilized Holiday “ and keen to get back to Danggali, we set out on a truly perfect Riverland morning, with not a cloud in the sky and a predicted high of only 30° C. The main Wentworth Road must have been graded recently, as the road was in very good conditions, compared to other times that we have travelled this road when it has been corrugated and a slow trip. The only thing that had me on edge were the constant kangaroos that would often dash across in front of us, and by the time that we had to head north to Danggali off of the main Wentworth Road, the sun was a lot higher in the sky and roo numbers had dropped, but were still very evident standing or lying down under the bushes and trees.

Leaving the hard packed Main Wentworth Road will have you immediately on a good true red sand bush track that heads north up to Danggali Conservation Park. Every time we have been up this way we have never encountered another vehicle, but you must always be prepared as you crest some of the dunes as you head north. The drive north will have you passing through 3 main types of vegetation forms, from thick stands of Mallee, large open plains of Bluebush through to tall stands of Black Oak.

Upon reaching the Park Boundary, you will have to stop and open the only gate on the track, and for those that intend to camp, use the self-registration envelope and pay your fees. Not far from the Registration bay, you can take your first small detour to see the now abandoned Hypurna Homestead.

Hypurna History.

A Mr J Chambers first leased the area around Hypurna Station in 1872 and he held the lease until 1895 when it was taken over by 3 Adelaide women, Fanny Weaver, Priscilla Bickford and Ella Lucas. The women did not hold the lease for very long and by 1915, Ernest William Castine held the lease for the next 20 years and named it Swastika Station. Mr Castine was responsible for the construction of most of the long narrow dams on the Station. In 1934 the lease was transferred to a syndicate from New South Wales, namely John Higgins, Alexander Higgins, Hurtle Higgins and James Higgins and the now standing station buildings and airstrip were constructed in the 1940’s. During this period, the station was managed by John Higgins and during World War II; the Station name was changed from Swastika Station to its currant name of Hypurna Station.

In 1958 the property lease was transferred to John and Alexander Higgins. After subsequent ownership by a Mr LG Martin and his wife, the station had its last private ownership by the Gilfillans from Tarlee until it was sold to the South Australian Government in 1975.

Leaving Hypurna, the track is still in good condition and in a very short time; it is time to turn off onto the track that indicates the camping area at Canopus with no mention what so ever of the 2 tracks that the public has access to. In this short section of track, you will be driving on the edge of the airstrip before you come to a junction in the track, where you can either continue straight ahead to campsites 1 and 2 and then further out on the Tipperary Hut Track, or turn right at the signposted Nanya’s Pad Drive for campsites 3,4,and 5 and the interesting Nanya Pad drive.

Canopus History.

The area that you will now be travelling through is all part of what was then known as Canopus Station. The area around here was first leased like the other stations in the area during the late 1800’s, but when the lease was surrendered in 1909, Harry Martin, a butcher and farmer from Berri and his partner, William Crozier, also a butcher, but from Renmark took over the lease. After some time, Harry Martin brought out William Croziers share and continued to acquire other small parcels of land in the area. Around 1918 when the area was being surveyed by Government Surveyors, it was suggested the Station be named Canopus, after the night start that greatly helped the surveyor survey this remote area. During the period that the Martins owned Canopus, they greatly improved the area by constructing a shearing shed and shearer’s quarters, put in over 800 kilometres of fencing and sank a number of wells and constructed many dams. In 1955, William Snell purchased Canopus and in 1960, the northern property of Morgan Vale was incorporated into the Canopus Station. The Snell’s were the final owners of Canopus, holding the lease until 1976 when the Government of South Australia purchased the lease.

With the State Government now owing all the Stations in the area, The Riverland’s largest Conservation Park and Wilderness Protection Area was proclaimed and in 1977, the area now become known as Danggali Conservation Park, named after the Traditional Aboriginals that occupied this area, and became Australia’s first Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO’s ‘Man and the Biosphere Program’ to conserve its dense Mallee woodlands, Black Oak woodlands and the Bluebush scrublands.

Nanya Pad Drive.

This drive arrives its name from the once outlawed Aboriginal, Nanya. Around 1864, Nanya settled a tribal dispute in traditional Aboriginal manner that resulted in the death of another Aboriginal. Under White mans Law, this was regarded as murder and Nanya did not wish to face white mans law, so Nanya took two Aboriginal women and fled Cuthero in New South Wales and headed for South Australia with the Police hot in pursuit. Crossing into South Australia, the Police gave up their pursuit and Nanya and his two lubras vanished into the scrub, leaving no trace of where they were heading.

Returning to a true nomadic lifestyle, Nanya and his wives lived a very peaceful life living entirely off of the land, as their descendants had done so for countless thousands of years. The one item that was never in large quantities was water, and in true Aboriginal fashion this was never a problem, with a never ending water supplied being tapped from a particular Mallee tree, and to this very day, the exact species of Mallee is still unclear. Over the following years, Nanya’s tribe slowly grew in number to around 30 Aboriginals and when captured, there were 12 men, 8 women and 10 children, with the youngest child being only a few months old. In 1884, Tom Mullens from Oakvale Station sited Nanya but in true fashion, he vanished as quick as he was sighted.

In the early 1890’s a man called Whiteman offered his Aboriginal Stockman a £100 pound reward for the capture of Nanya and his tribe. In the ensuing hunt, many of his tribe were terrorized and injured, with the eventual capture of Nanya in 1894, where he was taken, along with his tribe to Urntah Lagoon where their numbers slowly dwindled. While in captivity, Nanya and his tribe were docile and in 1895, Nanya and 2 of his daughters were taken to the Adelaide Exhibition, (Royal Adelaide Show) and put on display like wild animals and not long after, Nanya died. His tribe was dispersed and living a European lifestyle, they slowly died out, with his last descendant, William McKenzie died in Queensland in the early 1960’s.

The Drive

Not long after starting the Nanya Pad Drive we came across our first marker, but without any information available at the Information Bay, we had no idea of the significance of each stop, which is a real pity, as there are 14 such stops along the 90 kilometre drive. Some stops it is easy to see what you are stopping at, but the rest of the marked stops remained a mystery until we returned home and I contacted the National Parks Office in Berri, where their very friendly and helpful staff were able to email me out an old information fact sheet for the drive. After reading the information in the comfort of our home, rather than in the car as driving, I found out our greatest disappointment was at one stop, where you only have to walk around 100 meters from the stop and there are the remains of one of Nanya’s Wurleys. This 130-year-old Wurley is constructed from Black Oak and was first discovered in 1922 by Ray and Howard Martin from Canopus Station when out mustering for stock. Some things are meant to be, so it will now give us another excuse to go back to Danggali and see the old Wurley first hand.

The scenery for the drive is ever changing and in a number of places, I would have been forgiven in thinking we were driving some of the BMR Tracks out in the Great Victoria Desert northwest from Maralinga, but no this was the Nanya Pad Drive. As you drive through the Conservation Park, the most evident reminder of its past Pastoral history are the numerous dams that you will pass by, and all are very different for each other, but with one common factor, their sizes.
Most of the dams that you drive past were constructed almost 100 years ago by either horse or bullock teams. One can only imagine the time and man power involved in their construction and knowing the country where they were constructed, you can just think of what was going through the station owners minds as they waited in hope for heavy rains to fill the dams that would sustain the sheep that these stations carried. It was getting that time of the day when we were looking for a nice little spot to stop for lunch and then as we came around a corner in the track, we spotted a great little spot that occupied over an hour of our time. This special spot was stop 11 on the drive and had a very quaint old hut, called Birthday Hut.

The 98-year-old Birthday Hut was constructed in 1918 and was the main Canopus block homestead until 1920. There are many very interesting old items around the hut and around 500 meters to the north of the hut perched on a small mound are the remains of a wooden structure that was used as a water tank. This is remote country out here even today in the twenty first century, so 100 years ago out here would have been like living on the other side of the world, with no outside help in the event of any emergencies, with no communications with the outside world at all. There is only one modern feature here today, three metal poles and a dropper, that mark survey points used by modern day surveyors.

With lunch over and a very thorough look around the structures, it was time to head south again through more dense stands of Mallee and back to our starting point on the edge of the airstrip. At this point, we then headed north towards campsites 1 & 2 and to drive the Tipperary Hut Track. This drive was similar to the Nanya Pad Drive, with the exception of no marker posts along the way. Not long after campsite 2, you leave the Danggali Conservation Park and enter the Danggali Wilderness Protection Area and judging by the very lack of tyre marks in the sand along this drive, I would have thought that it had been some time since any vehicles had driven this track. There are a number of small sand dunes on this drive and in a number of locations; we have never seen Mallee so dense to the point that it was impossible to see any more than 20 meters through the Mallee and would have proven a real challenge to muster stock on horseback all those years ago. A friend of mine who’s father once owned Morgan Vale Station, the station to the north of Canopus has told me that it was very hard country indeed and if there was full cloud cover, it was very easy to get lost in the Mallee, even for experienced station people that lived and worked out here.

The furthest northerly section of track you get to drive to on this drive is the junction of the Morgan Vale Track and the Tipperary Hut Track, and at this location is the small Station Hutt, know as Tipperary Hut. This hut is a lot smaller that the Birthday Hut, but never the less in very remote country and 100 years ago if you needed urgent help, it would have been a very long wait. At this point in the track, you are now travelling in a south easterly direction and through more dense sections of Mallee before coming out again at Birthday Hut. Leaving Birthday Hut the return drive did not seem to take as long, as we were not continually stopping and while on this section, came across the only other vehicle we would see that day. The couple were not tourists, but from Calperum doing a field Botanical survey of local Mallee. After a chat with them, we were on our way again and leaving Danggali and heading back to Renmark.

So if you are ever passing through the Riverland area in South Australia and want to experience a true remote outback area, yet so close to Renmark, make sure that you plan a visit to the Danggali Conservation Park and you to will enjoy the Riverland’s largest Conservation Park.

Stephen Langman
April 2016
Smile like a Crocodile
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