Friends of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park

Current Projects

Kirwan's Eating House

Photographer: Margaret W

Background Information

Until the early 1860's, travellers in the North relied on Station homesteads for accommodation and meals.  The number of travellers eventually reached a point where local station owners could no longer afford to provide this service, so many of them built 'accommodation houses' or 'eating houses' on the main tracks - preferably a few kilometres away from their homesteads.

Henry Strong Price of Wilpena Station built such an eating house at the Wilpena Gap, where the Wilpena Creek passed through a gap in the ABC Range.  He put John Kirwan in charge - Kirwan had been prospecting for copper in the district - and Kirwan brought his wife Jane (nee Close) and family to live at the eating house.

Within a few months Kirwan had expanded the accommodation house site to include a general store, and had built horse yards to cater for the mail coach horses.  The mail coach stopped overnight at Wilpena, so there was a fairly reliable business in meals, accommodation, general store sales and stabling.

Conditions became difficult in the mid-1860's when a severe drought raged for three years, but the Kirwan business survived - although it had to face the threat of insolvency at one stage.  A fire destroyed the store building and its contents in 1869, but again the family business survived.

In the early 1870's John and Jane's daughter Caroline, and her husband Henry Daniel Ryan, took over the Edeowie Hotel, north-west of Wilpena Pound.  John and Jane took on the nearby Edeowie Store, leaving the Wilpena site in the hands of one of the Kirwan sons.

On 1st January 1873, John Kirwan died at Edeowie.  He is buried in the graveyard near Edeowie Homestead.  Jane died at Wilpena in 1888, and the newspaper report showed her as 'keeper of the accommodation house at Wilpena'.

Installation of diorama at Eating House

In August 2023, a new diorama was added to the interp signage at the site of the Wilpena Eating House. The installation was funded and installed (via a government grant) by the Friends of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park. It was designed and contstructed by Tony Rosella of George Street Studios, Thebarton SA.

The plate glass image is some 1.4m long. The part of the original photo above the roof-lines has been erased allowing the real-life hills and redgums to give the viewer someting of a 3D diorama effect. 

Some twenty-odd years ago, the same Friends Group was involved, with the then owners of Edeowie Station, in the restoration and fencing of the Edeowie Station cemetery site - with John Kirwan's grave.

If you're trying to get a photo of the diorama, try lining up the ground level in the photo with the ground level in the real-world in the background.

Aroona Ruin Well Covers

Aroona Homestead and its Wells

The homestead at Aroona was built by Englishman Johnson Frederick (Fred) Hayward in 1854.  The choice of this location was made not only because of its beautiful valley vista but because of the natural springs nearby.  Fed from the ABC Range almost 1 kilometre to the west, a series of permanent springs is located on the ridge of land running south of Aroona Homestead site.

In 1851 Hayward was watering 3,300 sheep from these springs.  By 1863 the flock had increased to 9,500 making Hayward a huge profit.  He sold Aroona in 1862 and returned to England a very rich man where he purchased a country mansion naming it "Aroona".

The springs exploited by Hayward and others can still be found along the ridge.  Number 1 at the northern end of the ridge, has been maintained by park staff for decades and continues to provide water for park visitors and for fire fighters, from taps located in the Aroona carpark.

Wells 2 and 3 have been cleaned and restored by Friends of the park within the last decade.  The stone lining of the sides and base of both wells was found to be in remarkably good condition when the silt and detritus was removed.  Some tidying of rocks around the top perimeter, and improvements to the century old plumbing made these two wells usable.  Water from all three wells connects to pipes supplying the stand-pipe and taps in the car park.

To prevent the growth of algae in the spring water, covers to exclude sunlight were fitted over each spring by Friends.  Previously Friends and park staff had fitted covers over each spring to provide safety for visitors to the area.

A stroll past the three covered wells or springs will take visitors past a further couple of soaks on the ridge top.  Then continuing south across the narrow dirt track and onto the creek you can find where water originating in the ABC Range has passed along the ridge and surfaced to spill into the creek.

The Well

Many hours of hard work went into getting Well 2 to this condition.  Before being able to access the well a huge amount of dead trees and other vegetation needed clearing from the site.  Only then could we begin the laborious task of removing silt, rocks, animal bones and other debris to expose the side walls and floor, all lined with rock which was in remarkable condition after almost 150 years of being installed.

After the well was cleaned of debris and water, it was cleaned and ready for a safety cover to be fitted.

Construction Phase

The well is about 1.5 metres deep and presented a safety hazard to unsuspecting visitors.  Park staff provided pre-fabricated material for us to erect a safety cover over the well.  Sections of the frame were positioned in place then bolted together and then a heavy mesh was secured to the frame. The mesh prevents accidental falls into the well but doesn't block the sunlight - which can  cause algal growth.

Completion Phase

To eliminate sunshine, which promotes the growth of algae, we needed one final covering - plain old corrugated iron. 

Sheets of corrugated iron were attached to the covering framework and the well covering project was finished.

We will continue to inspect the wells regularly and carry out any maintenance required.

Miners Dugout

Miners Dugout<br>
Miners Dugout
Photographer: Kim Needham

Background Information

Conditions for the men working the Appealinna Mine in the 1880's were crude by today's standards.  While a few lived in stone walled buildings near the Appealinna Spring, 3 kilometres west of the mine, others lived much closer in single"room" dugouts.

Only one of those miners' dugouts remains, others having been destroyed by roadworkers some years ago.

The dugout is simply a square hole dug a metre and a half deep over which timber beams form a pitched roof which is covered by soil and rock to protect the living space from the elements.

A stone chimney near the entrance enabled a degree of warmth on cold outback winter nights, and the cooking of food.

A timber beam holding the roof timbers in place was showing signs of rot from age and moisture.  This made the dugout site unsafe for visitors who are free to walk around and inside the structure.  Friends were tasked to restore the area to ensure visitor safety and to prolong the life of the dugout for the enjoyment of future visitors.

After clearing vegetation from the roof we began the tough task of removing tonnes of soil and rock to expose the roof timbers.

The timbers are all native pine (Calitris) around 120 mm in diameter and 3 metres long.  We needed to uncover them to determine which were in good condition and which needed replacing.

Miners hut with the roof beams exposed<br>
Miners hut with the roof beams exposed
Photographer: Kim Needham

Exposing the beams

Removing the soil and rock exposed a covering of old hessian bags, many still showing the stencilled name of the sheep stations from which they had been "borrowed".  Taking the remnant pieces of hessian away from the timbers provided unexpected surprises. 

Photographer: Pin

Photographer: Pin

The roof, unmolested for countless decades, had become home to unique species of lizards.  The first to alarm one of our volunteers was a large Gidgee Skink.  Quite harmless, the Gidgee Skink is not the most attractive animal.  It is a chubby lizard, about 20 cm long, with a typical lizard shape head, but a rather distinctive spiny tail which is almost one third of its body length.  Its scaly body is a mix of brownish speckles.  Six were uncovered in the de-roofing operation, two large and four small.  A family perhaps.  We provided a suitable alternate house for them and will return them to the roof if they are still around when we finish it.

The second lizard discovery was a little more attractive and much less alarming.  It was a Knobtail Gecko.  Much smaller than the Gidgee, these little fellows were around 12 cm long.  They have a large head for their body size, a slim body, long legs, and a rather large bulbous end to their tail.  The body is an attractive light sandy colour on which markings of purple dots and yellowish lines make fine patterns.  Our roof demantling exposed four of these, all of which were given delightful alternate accommodation.

Removing the beams

All roofing timbers were removed for inspection.  Less than half were considered suitable for service.  Rather than waste those being discarded, they will be re-used for fence posts elsewhere in the park.

To finalise the re-roofing of the Miners Dugout we need to harvest new roof timbers, a new centre beam, and two posts to hold the beam aloft.  All will be trees from within the park, untreated in any way so that the authenticity of an old structure is retained.