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Taking it to the edge: did you know? Mound springs in South Australia: stepping stones to the interior

''[Mound springs] are ecologically fragile and today face many developmental threats and pressures.''
South Australia's mound springs edited by John Greenslade, Leo Joseph & Anne Reeves Adelaide: Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, 1985 page 2

The mound springs of South Australia's north east deserts are 'a line of unfailing waters through the lowest rainfall country of Australia' (Harris 1981). In a region where the rivers are ephemeral, running only at times of high, but infrequent rain, the mound springs are a source of constant water in an arc from Lake Callabonna in the east to Dalhousie Springs just south of the South Australian/Northern Territory border.  The springs occur along the edge of the Great Artesian Basin, an enormous aquifer of 1.76 million square kilometres; the basin lies beneath much of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. (There are also mound springs in these other states). The springs are natural seepage from the Basin through fractures in the bed rock. The deposition of salts in the water largely builds the mounds from which they take their name. The first mound springs were located by Peter Warburton in 1858 (South Australian Parliamentary Paper 157/1858 p13/14); Benjamin Babbage also discovered some at about the same time.  During 1859 John McDouall Stuart discovered more springs as he explored north towards Central Australia.  Stuart realised that the springs as reliable water sources, would greatly assist his forward movement.  Subsequently in late 1870 the large Dalhousie Springs complex was found by surveyors for the Overland Telegraph Line. Mound springs continued to be located as late as 1951.

The presence of the springs aided the development of the pastoral industry, and after initial problems of overstocking, the springs were largely well maintained by the pastoralists, who fenced the springs, to protect them from stock. However later, when bores were sunk there was a twofold detrimental effect on the springs - the fences were neglected with subsequent degradation of the surrounding land; and the springs themselves dwindled in flow as the bores were sunk; some even ceased flowing entirely.  

Prior to European discovery, the mound springs had been important centres for Aboriginal occupation as is testified by the large quantities of stone fragments and flakes, hearth stones and animal bones. They feature also in the mythology of the people (Hercus 1980).

Further reading:

Harris, Colin "Oasis in the Desert; the mound springs of northern South Australia" Proceedings of Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), vol 81, 1980-1981 p 26-39

Hercus, LA The story of Gudnanamba. Adelaide, Government Printer, 1980

Natural History of the North East Deserts edited by M.J. Tyler et al chapter 9 Mound Springs by WE Boyd. [Adelaide, S. Aust.]: Royal Society of South Australia, 1990

Mound Springs Heritage Survey. Adelaide, Department of Environment and Planning, 1986

South Australia's mound springs edited by John Greenslade, Leo Joseph & Anne Reeves Adelaide: Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, 1985

Emerald Spring
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