Early Exploration and Settlement
of the Flinders Ranges
Aboriginal people have lived in the Flinders Ranges for thousands of years. Evidence of their occupation can be found all through the area. It includes, among others, rock paintings, rock carvings, stone arrangements, and discarded tools. Non-Aboriginal people did not discover, explore or settle the ranges until after 1800.
Robert Brown and some other crewmembers of Matthew Flinders' Investigator saw the Flinders Ranges in 1802. Edward John Eyre was most likely the first white person to explore the Flinders Ranges in 1839. Travelling during the hot summer months he was not impressed with anything he saw. Having his way blocked with what he thought to be a string of large salt lakes in the shape of a horseshoe did not help matters either. A year later he was back trying unsuccessfully to get around the salt lakes. After climbing Mount Serle and Mount Hopeless, he concluded that the lake, which he had named Lake Torrens, formed one vast horseshoe around the Flinders Ranges. In 1842 Thomas Burr crossed the Flinders Ranges near Mount Remarkable, the later site for Melrose, the first town in the Flinders Ranges.
The 1842 and 1843 expeditions by Surveyor General Captain Edward Charles Frome confirmed Eyre's belief. In 1844 Charles Sturt and John McDouall Stuart explored the eastern shores of Lake Frome before turning north again searching for an inland sea. During that same year runs were established at Crystal Brook, Beetaloo, Mannanarie and Charlton. These were followed in 1845 by more northern runs at Mount Remarkable where Campbell and Gilles made a start with their pastoral enterprise.
In 1846 John Horrocks went north but did not make much of an impact. Being wounded by his own gun he had to return and died from his wounds at Penwortham on 23 September 1846. During 1850 William Chace, while looking for suitable pastoral country discovered Aroona, Arkaba and Wilpena Pound. Most of these properties had a number of springs and by 1851 all had been taken up by the Browne brothers.
After more farmers, pastoralists and settlers had moved north, several government surveyors visited the Flinders Ranges. Captain Arthur Freeling did some surveying in 1849 followed by H.C. Rawnsley in 1851. Six years later in 1857, J.M. Painter, was instructed to survey large areas in the northern Flinders Ranges to make it possible for pastoralists to fix the boundaries of their runs. In 1859 both Samuel Parry and George W. Goyder visited the area for the same reason.
Goyder was to make a lasting impression on the settlement pattern of the Flinders Ranges. Apart from his famous Line, he also did property valuations to establish the yearly rent on pastoral and mining leases. Although it was not until 1858 that the horseshoe myth was dismissed when the Gregory brothers, while searching for Leichhardt, successfully passed between Lake Blanche and Lake Callabonna, it had not stopped the movement of pastoralists, miners and other settlers north and into the Flinders Ranges.
Settlement in the Flinders Ranges, including the Willochra Plain, began during the early 1840s when most of the southern part was explored and taken up on leasehold by pastoralists. By the close of the 1850s most of the southern Flinders Ranges had been taken up in this way. By the end of the 1860s all of the northern Flinders Ranges, and much of the area beyond, was taken up by pastoralists.
Since that time two very distinct cultures, Aboriginal and European, have tried to survive and make a living from the land. Other cultures such as those of the Afghans and Chinese have done the same and left their mark on history and the landscape. All of them looked to the land for the supply of resources for their survival. All of them supplemented their local supplies by trade and continuously adapted to the ever changing conditions. They quickly learnt to improvise, using whatever raw materials were at hand in their isolation. All cultures, the dominant and even the smaller ones, were instinctly driven to survive through good and some very bad times and most of them did so successfully, more or less.