Simpson Desert Native Wells
The key to unraveling the puzzle of Aboriginal occupation is to be found in the journal of the late nineteenth century surveyor and explorer David Lindsay. In 1886 Lindsay, with the help of a Wangkangurru man, used a series of nine native wells to cross the southern and central parts of the desert.
Inveterate traveller Denis Bartell retraced Lindsay’s journey in 1980. He was able to locate seven of the nine wells and later research by Dr. Luise Hercus from the Australian National University, using first hand accounts from the last remaining Wangkangurru people who were born in the Simpson, obtained direct evidence of Aboriginal lifestyle and habitation. The native wells, or mikiri, were the critical focus of life because they provided the only source of permanent water. The wells were actually shallow freshwater soaks in the centre of low lying depressions between the dunes. The soaks are formed when rain water percolated through coarse-grained sands around the depression until it met an impermeable clay layer. Water so trapped was obtained from a soak by digging narrow shafts, some of which were seven metres deep. In this way the wells were able to provide permanent, albeit limited, supplies of water. Most of these wells are now silted over as a result of wind erosion and lack of maintenance since the Wangkangurru left the desert. However water still exists in the wells at the same depth and of the same quality and taste as described by Lindsay over a century ago.
A typical day in the life of the people living at a well would see the men occupying their time hunting animals and the women searching for seeds in the nearby dunefields. Stone material for tool manufacture and grinding was a precious material in a sandridge desert and the Wangkangurru would travel long distances to exchange goods and interact with groups from different regions. The trade routes often followed the Dreaming trails of ancestral beings and, as a result, were highly significant in mythological terms. After 1900 the Wangkangurru never lived permanently in the Simpson Desert again. Regular supplies of food and water could now be obtained from the stations on the desert fringe. Unlike other groups, they left of their own accord and were nor driven forcibly from their land.
Nevertheless, a culture had vanished forever.
Extract from ‘The Simpson Desert’ by Mark Shephard. Reprinted with kind permission of the author.
Background to this survey:
In 2015 we began Stage One of the Mikiri/Munga-Thirri Expeditions conducting a complete traverse of the Munga-Thirri National Park to explore for evidence of more mikiri that we believed were located between two known wells. Wangkangurru elder Don Rowlands is sure that there are more mikiri lying within the Simpson Desert dunes and during the course of the two 2016 expeditions we were able to discover more about this important network.
One of these wells was originally discovered in 2006 by the Outback Camel Company whilst on a 28 day Simpson Desert Expedition. That discovery was made possible purely by two reasons: because they were traversing the country on foot, and keen observation by the expedition leader Josef Schofield. The discovery brought home the point that to understand the desert, and to read the signs that the land holds, walking is definitely the best method. ADE founder Andrew Harper explains:
"Even in this day of 4WD travelling, the best way to see the deserts is to walk them. With the demise of the stockman and his horse, and the Aboriginal leaving of the Simpson and Western Deserts in the 1900s, very few people walk the remote desert any more for extended periods. Consequently, the stories the desert holds have been missed over the last few decades. The desert deserves to be approached gently, so its mood is revealed. The way people have always approached these (areas) was on foot, as we have done today. That reveals the country - the continuum of country."
The 2019 Mikiri Survey follows on from the successful 2014-18 surveys that were conducted in an area west of Poeppel Corner.
In 2018 we visited two known mikiri sites and documented the country between these wells, discovering numerous significant artefacts.
We have decided to revisit at least one of these areas and carry out further documentation. The most important element of our survey in 2019 will be to explore and document the area around a known well and the country between the wells - where people no longer walk. This is where having dozens of pairs of eyes scanning the landscape shows the strength of our walking surveys.
As in 2017, we may find more artefacts, perhaps an old midden (cooking fireplace), a small pile of stone chippings on a dune top - all this can be a 'pointer' to occupation of an area and are things that can never be observed by driving across the landscape.
Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi Elder, National Parks Ranger, and ADE Research Advisory Panel member, Don Rowlands OAM
Read more about Don's grandfather Watti Watti here.
THIS SURVEY IS RATED AS MODERATE
See here for a guide.
WHAT DO I NEED TO BRING?
We will issue you with a comprehensive Survey Information Guide that details everything you need to know about what to bring and what to expect on your trek. This will be sent to you both as a PDF document and printed hard copy.
DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes, travel insurance is compulsory.
- Charter flights from/to Adelaide from/to Olympic Dam
- Charter flight from/to Poeppel Corner and from/to Olympic Dam
- All specialist safety equipment & communications
- Swags & tents
- Trek kit bag for your personal gear
- Desert silence!
- Your flights to Adelaide and any other transport in Adelaide prior to the survey
- Your flights from Adelaide and any other transport in Adelaide after the survey
- Accommodation and meals in Adelaide
- Personal trekking equipment you may wish to use such as walking poles etc
- Eating and drinking utensils
- Sleeping bag, sheets & pillowcase. (You need to bring these items and they will be put into our swag)
- Day pack
You must notify us upon booking if you have any known medical and/or food allergies.
GETTING TO THE SURVEY
The camel team will be in the Northern Territory. You will fly via scheduled and charter aircraft from Adelaide to Poeppel Corner and then transfer via 4WD to the camel camp. The return transfer will be the same route. Your flights will fly over the southern Simpson Desert including the extensive salt lake system, the Kallakoopah Creek, the Warburton River, Lake Eyre-Kati Thanda, and part of the Tirari Desert.
Information about what to bring etc is contained in the SURVEY INFORMATION GUIDE which is issued upon booking
IMPORTANT! PLEASE NOTE
Excepting for vegetarian, we only cater for dietary allergies and definitely not preferences.
The survey is not the place or time to 'try out a new diet' regime!
We may ask for a medical certificate detailing any known allergies.