Wednesday, November 18, 2009


In an attempt to dress up its decision to allow mining exploration to proceed in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary the SA Government has produced a glossy document 'Seeking a Balance.'

It makes for depressing reading.

Not only is the document afflicted with bureacratic waffle -  "the need to further refine the existing management and regulatory framework for ongoing resource activities" - its core premise is also deeply flawed. The notion that there is some happy point of balance to be found between uranium mining and conservation within a Wilderness Sanctuary, reflects a profund misunderstanding of wilderness concepts and practise.

In the case of Arkaroola this mythical balance point is magically created by fragmenting the landscape into four different categories of 'access zones.' Of these there are more than 30 different zones marked on the map. The zones don't correspond to any natural or cultural divisions in the landscape. In truth they are simply a device to allow the discredited Marathon Resources to set up shop in the very heart of Arkaroola's spectacular highlands. By splodging some bright colours on a map to represent the various zones, the Government would have us believe they are simply trying to be 'balanced.'

This, of course, is rubbish. The reality is that the eventual mine site would be smack bang on the path of Arkaroola's acclaimed Ridgetop Tour. It would destroy the vistor experience and the integrity of the region as a declared wilderness sanctuary - a status it has enjoyed for more than 40 years. Wilderness, by it's very nature is an entity; something that can't be hacked into little pieces. To do so would be like saying 'here's the MCG - we'll just take away this back pocket and that forward flank and give you the rest."

Any argument that, because mining exploration has happened here deep in the past it should be allowed to continue, ignores the many changes of recent decades. Not just the changing attitudes to conservation. Or even the hard-won efforts of the Sprigg family - and others - to protect Arkaroola. But most of all the changing community involvement with this landscape, it's history and culture, the way it has been embraced as a region to explore and cherish.

Not that 'Seeking a Balance' gives much weight to the richness of the experiences enjoyed by thousands of overseas and Australian visitors. There's no mention of people as such or campers or bushwalkers or families. Instead, the document reduces the discussion to souless, dehumanising  terminology like "landscape values."

Even on economic grounds, it can be argued that the long-term benefit of preserving Arkaroola as tourism destination, community employer, scientific resource and wilderness drawcard far outweigh any short-term gains from yet another mine. SA already has two uranium mines and many others soon to start - but there will only ever be one Arkaroola.

Now is the time to have your say. Public comment is required by 19 December and can be addressed to:

And here's the plea from Marg & Doug Sprigg:

"We are appealing to all Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary friends and supporters to please examine this document very closely and to note that whilst some areas of the northern Flinders Ranges, in particular Mawson Plateau, are being afforded total protection, the majority of important Arkaroola sites are not.
We only have until 19 December 2009 by which to submit objections / suggestions to this proposal.  This could be our last chance to save the Arkaroola Sanctuary from mining and we ask everyone to carefully consider the matter and to please make written submissions in accordance with page 18 of this report."

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Huge skies, endless space, rocks and granite ranges - the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands abound in many things. Among all the other reports we hear about this northwestern chunk of SA, it's worth noting the place is achingly beautiful, in that vivid, arid kind of way. One of the bumps on this horizon is Ngarutjara, the State's highest peak and just one crest on the mighty Musgrave Ranges.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Meet Sang, one of the 19 camels who were with me in the Simpson Desert in July. Unlike the other camels - who held their heads upright when 'hooshed' down - Sang would rest his head quietly on the ground at the end of each walking day. This made it especially easy for us to give him a rub down. He seemed appreciative of the attention, which, in turn, made him a favourite among our party.
Unfortunately at the end of this year's trekking season, (his 11th in the Simpson), a vet diagonosed an inoperable tumor that had spread across Sang's jaw. Sadly, he had to be put down a couple of weeks ago.
Even though it's nearly four months since I was in the Simpson, the memories of the trip and the the special experience of sharing the desert with the camels still stop me in my tracks. Like the needle-sharp burs I inadvertently collected in the soles of my Croc sandals - and that still jab me in the foot when I walk on gravel - some of of these flashbacks feel particularly pointed.
None more so than trying to reconcile the unforced communal feeling that presided between us and each of the camels, with the knowledge that- for sound ecological reasons - a million of their wild kind need to be 'culled' from Central Australia.
In this context it seems lopsided to single out Sang's passing as noteworthy. Yet, as we all have to discover, everything can change when we come to know and respect our fellow travellers.

(For more on the Simpson experience see my stories in the latest Australian Geographic [Issue 96] and next month's issue of Wild [Issue 115].)

Sunday, November 1, 2009


For those who may not of caught up with the news, mild-mannered author Alasdair McGregor - seen here 'at large' in the Gammon Ranges - recently published his bio of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Certainly worth a look for anyone interested in Canberra's troubled birth, political intrigues and a life-long creative partnership with few equals. To catch Alasdair and ye olde Phillip Adams yacking about "Grand Obsessions" visit here.