Day 5. Down the Mines

25 August 2021. Words by Andy Le Roy. Images by Creolumen


There was frost on the car windscreens this morning. Someone in the dining hall, over breakfast, said the temperature was forecast to be in the mid twenties here next week. It can get to about fifty degrees in the summer in these parts, but in the old copper mine, it’s always twenty two.

It was raisin toast and hash browns for breakfast this morning with some coffee and pineapple juice. I managed to gingerly walk down there and back OK, but realistically, a six kilometre walk was not going to be a good idea, regardless of the incline. The four wheel drive tour wasn’t running again until Saturday. There’s also lots to see in the area that doesn’t require a hike, and we decided today was the day to jump into the car and head to Blinman.

Blinman is a small small small town about sixty k’s away where they use to mine for copper. Mr Blinman was a shepherd and one day, as he was playing with some rocks on the hill where he sat, he had an inkling there was something in the rocks could be quite lucrative. While he wanted to apply for mining rights, that would have cost him his year’s wage, so he went in with some others in the area and together they paid the twenty-pound fee so they could start digging. The Blinman mine ended up being one of the most lucrative in the country and they ended up selling the mine for about seven thousand pounds. Ka-ching!



Blinman, the town, has a population of twenty four and relies on the mine to stay alive. Not by continued mining of the minerals, that stopped in 1907. Tourism is it's lifeblood, its inhabitants conducting daily tours of the preserved mine. It’s an easy walk and a really interesting commentary.

Back in the day, a boy was considered a man the day he turned fourteen, and would start working in the mines. Life was no picnic, and there’s the story of a fourteen year old who fell down a shaft on his first day of work, unable to see his way because he didn’t have a candle to light his way. The copper was mined by candle light, which takes the romance right out of that lighting option!

A Cornish pastie for lunch and a custard tart from the local bakery showed is the reason why there’s always a crowd there - the baked goods are supreme! I thought it was odd that one end of the pastie had sugar sprinkled on the top, but found out during the mine tour that traditional Cornish pasties have meat and vegetables at one end and apple at the other as a sweet treat/dessert. A fine meal for hard working miners.

The road between Wilpena and Blinman is just as awful as the rest of the scenery I’ve described so far. Torture. Rugged mountain ranges give way to smaller hills and mountains with rocky features that make the hills appear to have teeth as you wind through them. Some parts of the road are like a roller-coaster, rising and dipping as you wind alongside the dry creek bed, which at other times of the year goes into full flood.



A flock of emus were gathered on one hillside, pecking for food. No other wildlife was to be seen until we met the sparrows who, oddly enough, hung around the local bakery in Blinman to see what crumbs drifted their way. One of them reminded us of Harpo, its plump little body planted firmly on the round nearby. Wildflowers are scattered throughout the landscape, clumps of yellow through some fields, clumps of wild white daisies in other sections.

Not far out of Blinman is The Great Wall Of China, which is a natural feature of hills capped with stone, like you were looking at the great wall, itself. Everywhere you turn there’s a photo opportunity, like Huck’s lookout that looks back across to Wilpena pound on the way to Blinman.



On the way back to Wilpena we took a small diversion towards Parachilna. We decided not to take the road all the way there because it was thirty kilometres of dirt road, It was in good condition, but it wasn’t a dirt road kind of day. What we did want to see, though, was the Wadna Gallery, run by local artist and Adnyamathanha man Kristian Coultard and his wife, Gaby.

Kristian showcases Indigenous art from the region, including his relatives, near and far. He carves pieces out of mulga and is also a brilliant painter, creating canvases reflecting local stories. Gaby’s craft is sewing, and she fashions some beautiful items out of fabrics adorned with Indigenous designs. They’re super friendly people and very welcoming, and the art is captivating. We spoiled ourselves with a couple of canvases as a memento of such a great trip.

Kristian also informed us that he was one of the people who worked on making the walking track that we climbed the other day. I can only imagine how difficult that task must have been, knowing the effort it takes to climb the finished product, but they managed to carve that path in a matter of five months. It’s always nice to meet the people behind the story of the stories, I think.

It was nice to experience Welcome To Country, and quite moving to hear Vinny say "welcome home" as he told us the Dreaming story about Ikara, the Adnyamathanha word for meeting place we know as Wilpena. The region contains the oldest known evidence of Aboriginal settlement and covers nearly 42,000 square kilometres of land in and around the Flinders Ranges. He told us about family structure and song lines and the Adnyamathanha smoking ceremony that requires a flame for participants to cross over for cleansing.

It's our last night in Ikara. Our time seems to have raced along, bandaged, yes, but raced just the same.

Tomorrow we head towards Adelaide and our next stop in Clare, hoping everyone is safe and well.


Day 6.

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