A Tale of Ruin at Aroona

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the Flinders Ranges National Park in northern South Australia, and our first priority was to decide where to camp for the night. The Aroona camping area, in the most northerly section of the park, was the obvious choice, and in no time at all we’d settled into our new environment and I wandered off into the bush to see as much of the area as I could before night crept upon us.

The camping area, which is beside the stony and often dry Aroona Creek, lies in a narrow valley bordered by the Heysen and ABC ranges. Its 13 designated sites are hidden among woodlands of eucalypts and cypress pine trees that spill down from the adjacent rocky hillside, and being near the dead end of the road it was as quiet as the depths of the ocean. Even the creatures of the bush made little noise here, and as I returned from my brief stroll, a red kangaroo hopped silently from one patch of verdant grass to another, a ring-necked parrot settled down in a dense shrub to munch on the fruits of mistletoe, and a red-capped robin, for a fragment of a second, illuminated the shadows with its gaudy plumage before vanishing from sight.

The following day I crawled out of my sleeping bag at the crack of dawn and shivered as the yawning sun glinted on the cloak of frost that was draped across my tent. With a small fire offering its welcome warmth the morning chill was quickly forgotten, and after scoffing a simple breakfast we made our way to the end of the road to visit the ruins of the old Aroona homestead, which are only a short distance from the camping area.

John Hayward, the first pastoralist to arrive in the region, took up the Aroona run in 1851 and stocked it with 3,300 sheep. His harsh life was made even harder, he complained bitterly, by aborigines who routinely stole his sheep, by wild dogs that slaughtered lambs, and by shepherds who were “the dregs of the colony”. The profits were small and in some years nil, he whined, despite the fact that, in 1853, he made a profit of 1,419 pounds from the wool shorn from his flock, which had increased to 9,500 sheep. In 1862 he sold the property and returned to England, but it was not as a pauper. When he first stepped onto Australian soil he had merely 40 pounds in his pocket, but when he left, merely 11 years later, he had an enviable fortune of 40,000 pounds.

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