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The Mound Springs of South Australia

For further information on the Mound Springs,
look at the SEA-US website.

The Mound Springs of South Australia are unique sites of groundwater discharge located along the south-western edge of Great Artesian Basin, the world's largest and oldest groundwater system. They are vitally important sources of water in one of the driest regions in the world, supporting a diverse range of endemic flora and fauna, and are recognised sacred and cultural sites of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area. The springs were also critical in the European exploration of the interior of Australia and later in the opening up of this land for pastoral purposes. Excessive extraction of water from the Great Artesian Basin for pastoral use over the past century combined with large scale mining ventures in recent times, such as Olympic Dam and Santos, has led to significant impacts on the ecological sustainability of the springs.

The Great Artesian Basin

Stretching from Cape York in the north of Queensland to Bourke in central NSW, and to Cooper Pedy in SA, the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) covers 1.7 million km2 or 22% of the Australian continent.

Idealised Cross Section of the Great Artesian Basin
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Source - Olympic Dam Expansion Project EIS (1997).
Arrows represent water flow paths.

The majority of the water enters the GAB on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland, where the permeable sandstones appear at the surface. Smaller quantities of water are also thought to enter from the Western Desert in the south-east region of the Northern Territory. Research has shown that the water can take up to 1.5 to 2 million years to travel from the recharge areas in eastern Queensland to the discharge areas around Lake Eyre in SA, which means that the water in this region is fossil water.

Extent of the Great Artesian Basin and Major Spring Groups
gabwhole.jpg - 71.2 K
Source - Olympic Dam Expansion Project EIS (1997).
Arrows represent water flow paths.

Due to the size and complexity of the GAB, it supports many spring complexes where the groundwater is forced to the surface. There are about 600 individual springs, concentrated into 11 principal groups across the GAB. The south-western region of the GAB around Lake Eyre contains the largest number of active and unique springs. Some springs have characteristic mounds which have been formed by the combined action of water, sand, silt and clay and the deposition of limestone from the groundwater. Hence they are known as Mound Springs, and are also called "Oases in the Desert".

Cross Section of a Typical Mound Spring
spring-xs.jpg - 21.9 K
Source - Olympic Dam Expansion Project EIS (1997).
Arrows represent water flow paths.

The Mound Springs of South Australia - "Oases in the Desert"

The Mound Springs in the Lake Eyre region of South Australia are a permanent source of water in an otherwise dry, arid interior. Due to their isolation in the desert over many millennia, they have developed unique ecology with many rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. Many of these species, such as the Salt Pipewort (button grass), numerous snails and crustacea, and the Dalhousie Goby (fish), are unique to a particular spring and thus prone to extinction if the springs are not managed carefully.

The springs form wetlands and small creeks, with the size being dependent on the flow rate from the spring. These wetlands are important in the ecology of the arid lands, and are especially important in times of drought.

Aboriginal Heritage

As the primary source of water for the interior of Australia, the springs were important centres for Aboriginal communities. This is demonstrated by the large abundance of stone chips, grinding stones and other artefacts in their vicinity. Many of the springs are sacred sites for the Arabanna and other peoples, being important for many traditional ceremonies. The springs form an integral part of the ancient mythology of the people and thus all individual springs are seen as vital and worth protecting.

World Heritage Status

The unrivalled ecological and cultural qualities of the Mound Springs form the potential for a World Heritage area. However, the majority of Mound Springs are yet to receive even National Park status levels of protection. It should also be made clear that protection of the springs requires not just a surface land management feature such as a National Park, but also an integrated ecological management system that incorporates development of the Great Artesian Basin and the sustainable supply of groundwater to the springs.

This background information sheet may be used freely
with due acknowledgement of the Roxby Action Collective

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