Home' String of Springs : String of Springs Contents Landforms
You will see lots of different
landforms along the Track.
Floodouts and watercourses
are common. In between are
vast sand and gibber plains and
tableland dotted with mesas.
In several places the Oodnadatta Track passes
through sand dune country where the dominant
features are dunes and flat areas between them
known as swales. There are salt lakes like Lake
William and the greatest of them, Kati Thanda-
Lake Eyre. The Peake and Denison Ranges in the
north and Willouran Ranges close to Marree,
the rocky outcrops at intervals along the Track
and the dramatic shapes of Hermit and Pigeon
Hill at Bopeechee provide further variations to
the landscape. Each land type supports different
You may also notice small depressions where the
ground cover is denser and more diverse because
water and nutrients accumulate there and are
held for extended periods. These are gilgais (crab
holes to the locals) ranging from a few metres in
diametre up to 10 metres in the gibber plain.
Walk along a dry creek bed where the soil has been
nourished regularly by the nutrients washed down
after rains. You will usually see a much greater
variety of plants than on the surrounding plains.
You will notice this if you stop and take a short
stroll along some of the larger watercourses you
cross as you travel the Track. Here too you will find
gidgee (in the northern part) and coolabah: two of
the largest trees that need the deep moisture that
accumulate along these watercourses. By contrast
there is very little vegetation on the sides of most
mesas (flat topped hills).
The Great Artesian Basin
When white pioneers set out to
explore Australia’s interior, they
thought they would find an
‘inland sea’. As it turns out, they
were only partly wrong.
Early explorers were devastated to find an
apparently ‘impassable’ horseshoe of salt lakes.
But beneath the surface lay an ancient water
source that now sustains wildlife; a significant
pastoral industry; a strong mining operation at
Olympic Dam; Australia’s largest inland oil and
gas field, the Cooper Basin; and of course, a
thriving tourism industry.
The Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is one of the
largest groundwater basins in the world,
underlying 22% of the Australian continent.
Groundwater naturally discharges from the basin
via diffuse upward leakage and spring discharge.
Pumping and discharge from bores over the last
100 years has also added a significant level of
discharge. Recharge occurs around the margins
of the basin with most of the current recharge
occurring on the eastern margin. The western
margin currently receives very little local recharge
and only partial recharge from the east. However,
the basin is vast and it is this reserve of water that
maintains the springs through these dry periods.
The springs have been discharging GAB water
for at least one million years during which the
climate has changed dramatically around them.
They occur in the driest parts of Australia and
provide oases for unique aquatic life forms. The
ecological communities dependent on natural
GAB discharge are listed as ‘endangered’ under
the Australian Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservations (EPBC) Act 1999. These
communities include the amazing diversity of
unique and relict flora and fauna that are found
in the springs of the Oodnadatta track.
The Oodnadatta Track lies on the western
margins of the Great Artesian Basin. In many
places the Basin water has squeezed to the
surface in the form of natural springs. Many of
the GAB springs are known as ‘mound springs’
because of the characteristic mounds associated
with them. The mounds have been formed by
mineralised material coming to the surface with
the ancient water. You can also see extinct
mound springs along the track, most notably at
Hamilton Hill and Beresford.
There are almost 5000 individual spring
vents in 169 spring groups within the South
Australian part of the GAB. The largest group
is the Dalhousie complex, where more than 60
springs are located. Most springs in fact are not
‘mound springs’ but small inconspicuous soaks
in the ground. The water in the GAB varies
across the region in quality but is generally
slightly saline and neutral to slightly alkaline. The
water typically contains high concentrations of
dissolved solids which are mainly sulphates in
the north and west and carbonates in the east,
with a clear transition in chemistry between
Strangways and Beresford Springs.
Many springs have great significance for local
Aboriginals whose ancestors relied on them as
watering points and as sacred sites for important
ceremonies. There are many Dreamtime stories
associated with the springs such as the story
behind the ‘Bubbler’ (told on page seven).
Indigenous tourism services operate from Marree
for those wanting to find out more.
Emerald Springs, and Blanche Cup were the first
GAB springs to be located by white explorers.
This opened the way for European settlement
and by 1859 the first pastoral leases were
established in this region.
You are also now part of that story!
A typical mound spring
Conserving water and pressure of
the GAB is paramount. In 1999
the Commonwealth introduced
the Great Artesian Basin
Sustainability Initiative (GABSI) to
cap and pipe free-flowing bores.
The scheme builds on existing
efforts to control flows from the
GAB. It offers financial support to
landholders to rehabilitate bores.
In South Australia, BHP Billiton
has also made a major financial
contribution to the scheme.
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