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On The Mereenie Loop

Kings Canyon / Watarrka National Park

Northern Territory, Australia Travel

On The Mereenie Loop
Kings Canyon
Watarrka National Park

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It has been said that the geological features of Kings Canyon are like no other in the Northern Territory - a geological masterpiece evolved over million years.

Ancient Times
Kings Canyon was created when jointing caused fractures in the sandstone layers of the George Gill Range. As the sandstone3 cracked and fractured, large boulders were left on the surface where they eventually weathered to become ‘beehive-like’ domes, now called the ‘Lost City’. Some fell into the newly formed ravines, where they remain as fractured boulders that help to preserve water levels in times of drought.

The ancient upheaval of the landscape here left a valley with vertical sandstone cliffs. The porous Mereenie Sandstone collects water like a sponge during rain periods and slowly filters it through to the base of the ravine. There it collects in moist crevices that act as a refuge for many plants and animals.
 

If, and when the rains come, the surrounding country comes alive. But the more than 600 plant species, more than 60 of which are rare or relics of a bygone era, use the retained moisture from the canyon floor to survive between the rains. There are 64 varieties of reptiles in the park, ranging from the mighty desert perentie to the smallest skink. Birdlife is prolific whilst the waterholes feature Yabbies and other forms of aquatic life.


Traditional Lands

Surrounding this magnificent landscape are the traditional lands of the Luritja Aboriginal people, believed to have ancestral connections with this part of central Australia for some 22,000 years. In fact Watarrka is a Luritja name for an acacia species. (Acacia ligulata).

The Puritjarra rockshelter located in the Cleland Hills west of here has archaeological records dating back some 25,000 years.

Following the declaration of Watarrka National Park in 1983, the lands were handed back to the Luritja. They continue to live in small groups within the park boundaries and have a strong voice in its management. They are also involved in tourism, providing tours that give an insight into their rich culture.

Ernest Giles the explorer was also a bushman. (Via R. Alford)Early Exploration
To the early 1870s there had been a concerted effort to undertake the exploration of Australia but the terrifying central deserts had yet to be penetrated and crossed. Ernest Giles was determined to prove they could be crossed by Europeans.

He was supported by Doctor Ferdinand von Mueller, Victorian government botanist and the botanist on A. C. Gregory’s epic journey from the Victoria River to Moreton Bay in 1855-56. Von Mueller offered to finance an expedition to cross the desert from east to west and the collection of specimens of any new plants along the way. Giles was quick to accept the offer.

Tempe Downs was formed at the foot of the range, also by a previous explorer, Charles Chewings, and by 1889 there were around 6,000 head of cattle on the station. But the venture failed, due it was said to constant killing of stock by Aboriginals. Other stations failed around that time with most said to be the result of the attacks, but drought, depression and isolation were important factors also. Only one station, Erldunda, continued without being abandoned for any length of time.

William Liddle (NT Archives NTRS1336 Item 20 W.McKinnon colin)Stock from Tempe Downs was moved in to the Kings Canyon are in 1896 to try and avoid the drought, but resistance by Aboriginals here was very real. hey killed cattle in such numbers that they forced the abandonment of the country here around 1914. This paved the way for William Liddle and Sonny Kunoth - a pair with not a lot of money but an urge to succeed.

They took up blocks, individually and later in partnership, around the George Gill Range. Liddle worked as a contractor in central Australia from 1908, before moving to a cave at Reedy Rockhole and then to the mouth of Kings Canyon, where he built a cabin. He stocked his land with cattle accepted in lieu of payment for work at Hamilton Downs before forming a partnership with Kunoth. The pair ran cattle here until 1923 when Liddle sold out to establish Angus Downs as a sheep station.

From about 1931 the area around King’s Canyon was rarely stocked after the pastoral country reverted to Tempe Downs. It seems it remained so until 1973 when the Luritja people commenced a claim over their traditional lands.

Tourism
It was the English family of Jack Cotterill, his wife Elsie and sons Jim and John who first commenced a tourist enterprise here at Kings Canyon in 1961. They established modest tourist accommodation on Liddle’s old Angus Downs at Yowa bore, calling it Wallara Chalet.

During the heat, dust and drought of 1960-61 the Cotterills pushed a track though to the canyon to pioneer tourism in the area. The sons, John and Jim drove tourists in to the canyon and conducted tours here. After Jack and Elsie died the sons expanded the Wallara Ranch Motel until 1990. It was that year that they were served an eviction notice.

Wallara Ranch (30/8/1983) - NT Government PH0136/0052The Cotterills’ dreams were demolished along with the ranch and buildings. A store and roadhouse replaced them in the Ernest Giles Road.

Other tourist ventures were proposed for Kings Canyon. A resort, tours and a proposal for a safari lodge at nearby Kings Creek Station by Ian Conway, grandson of Bill Liddle, and Tim Lander, the son of Mack Lander, a ‘jack of all trades’ and prospector in the area from the 1920s.

These days Kings Canyon is a popular tourism destination on the spectacular Mereenie Loop.

This article is part of the Pioneers’ Path Historical Display in Kings Canyon Cafe
Source: Researched and written by Bob Alford, MPHA, Heritage Consultant

 
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