Travelling Australia - Journal 2015c




7 June 2015
Broken Hill to Peterborough
281 Km


Another bright and sunny morning, but with a cool wind as we set off along the Barrier Highway bound for Peterborough in the southern Flinders Ranges. The land appears generally flat to the eye although there are many long slopes according to the GPS. The road is mostly in very long, straight, stretches with very few hills to slow things down.

Early after leaving Broken Hill the road passes through the Thackaringa Hills which are (according to the topographic map) part of the Main Barrier Range although this is not obvious on the ground. Then the road levels out for the short stretch to the New South Wales/South Australia border marked by the settlement of Cockburn (in South Australia). Cockburn was founded as the border terminal of the line from Port Pirie and Peterborough to carry ore from present-day Broken Hill to Port Pirie for smelting but the New South Wales Government refused to co-operate and a private company built the train line from the SA border to Broken Hill with a settlement called Burns in New South Wales immediately across the border from Cockburn where the transfer between states (then independent colonies) took place.


Sheep feeding on saltbush/bluebush in the Thackaringa Hills.

In South Australia the Barrier Highway runs mostly across flat, open land and across some low hills. Bluebush and saltbush dominate the flat landscape, often with hills in the distance.

The railway line from Broken Hill to Peterborough runs beside the highway from the NSW/SA border almost to Peterborough. This is now part of the main line between Sydney and Perth but was built to carry ore from the mines at present-day Broken Hill to Port Pirie for smelting. This train line is now a standard gauge line used by diesel trains requiring no local infrastructure other than the line itself but the history of the area is based on the steam engine era when engines on the narrow-gauge line needed frequent stops to top up with water and/or change driving crews. Up to 120 trains a day were recorded on this line at its peak requiring extensive supporting infrastructure and employing thousands of men. That has all gone now leaving a few nearly abandoned settlements which usually prompt the question "Why would anybody live here?"

The settlement of Yunta was larger than most and, more importantly, had a couple of service stations selling fuel. Fuel is not readily available on the Barrier Highway west of Broken Hill (Cockburn may have had a pump but it was not advertised as available fuel; otherwise there is none). Earlier in the trip we had heard one of two vehicles towing caravans towards Broken Hill saying on the UHF radio that his fuel gauge needle was bouncing below empty and he still had thirty or forty kilometres before Broken Hill.

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We chose not to refuel at Yunta because we had enough fuel to reach Peterborough and the open service station had caravans queued for fuel, probably because they were going further than Peterborough, so we would have had to wait our turn.

At Oodla Wirra, next township of any size after Yunta, we passed the Quarantine Inspection station. Not open today although it was a public holiday. Quarantine Restrictions entering South Australia are quite strict and we were ready to be inspected after eating several apples for lunch so we wouldn't carry banned fruit into South Australia.

olary pub

The hotel at Olary is one of the few building in the settlement. This is one of many settlements along the railway line established to support steam engines pulling ore trains; now the steam engines have gone but the settlements remain.

olary train station

Olary railway station has seen better days; even at the height of train business on the line this building was described dismissively by writers of the day.

Oodla Wirra, between Yunta and Peterborough, is in the middle of the transition between the arid or semi-arid bluebush/saltbush grazing land of the north-east and the more fertile area around, and beyond, Peterborough. South of Oodla Wirra the paddocks grow grass (unlike further north where the stock eat bluebush/saltbush, because there is no grass) and the sheep themselves are no longer coloured red by dust blowing around. Vegetation also undergoes fundamental change from saltbush/blusbush in the north to widespread mallee in the south.

We were seeing the vegetation changes noted by George Goyder in 1865 when he produced Goyder's Line beyond which he recommended cropping not be attempted. This was actually the 254 millimetre annual rainfall line although Goyder based it on observations of vegetation.

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Several year of above average rainfall followed and crops were grown successfully in the area not recommended by Goyder. Many developers, politicians, and print media as well as desperate settlers derided Goyder with the claim that "Rain follows the Plough". When rainfall reverted to average all those settlers were ruined and walked off their land leaving collapsed stone houses still dotting the landscape.

flat land

Land south of the Barrier Highway with the train line in the foreground.

Our destination for the day was Peterborough which is not on the main highway to Adelaide but is on the logical route to get to Port Augusta for travellers bound for Western Australia, the Eyre Peninsula, northern South Australia or the Northern Territory. We turned off the Barrier Highway (the A32) onto the B56 to go to Peterborough. As if to re-inforce Goyder's recommendations we passed a couple of paddocks under crop on the B56 approaching Peterborough, well into the better rainfall parts of South Australia.

In Peterborough we checked into the caravan park for a couple of nights (later extended to four nights).


daily map