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Lake Frome and Western Rivers region

South Cliff Waterhole, Neales River, 2011. Photo: M Good

The Lake Frome catchment makes up the southern and south-west portion of the Lake Eyre Basin. Most of it lies in South Australia, with a small sector in New South Wales and a fragment in Queensland. The total catchment is approximately 202,000km2. This is the most arid part of the basin (average annual rainfall less than 200mm), so the rivers flow even less often than those of the northern catchments. However, all are prone to flooding, and the rivers in the south-west and west of the catchment can make considerable contributions to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre North.

Rivers

  • The Neales River rises in the west at Mt Brougham and flows east.
  • The Frome River rises in the northern Flinders Ranges and flows north-west.
  • Margaret and Warriner Creeks rise in the southern part of the Stuart Ranges and flow east.
  • There are several smaller rivers (e.g. Eurinilla Creek, Tilcha Creek) in the eastern portion of the catchment.

Major flood events

  • In flood, the Neales River reaches Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre North; on average this happens about every four years.
  • After heavy rain, the Frome River can reach the south-east corner of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre North.
  • When the Margaret and Warriner Creeks flood, they are the major contributors to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre South.
  • At times of extreme flows, a section of Strzelecki Creek (Cooper catchment) contributes to Lake Frome.
  • When they flow, the smaller rivers in the east feed into several large salt lakes.
  • In 2011, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre North filled to 75 percent of its surface area, short of the greatest recorded flood in 1974 which filled the lake to a maximum depth of 6m.

Landscape

  • This is a catchment of contrasts - the Flinders Ranges are found in the far south and the Musgrave Ranges in the west, but most of the catchment is low-lying desert, occasionally broken by huge salt lakes.
  • The landscape is varied, with breakaway country, dissected tablelands, arid ranges, stony plains (including gibber and gypsum plains), dunefields, sand plains and floodplains.
  • Major vegetation types include cane grass, spinifex, chenopod shrublands, tussock grasslands, acacia forests and gidgee woodlands, with River Red Gums and Coolabahs along creek lines.
  • The Flinders Ranges make up one of the few areas with an elevation over 600m (less than 200m in most of the Basin).
  • The most dominant feature is Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre itself, lying 15.2m below sea level. When full, it has a combined area of 9,690km2.
  • When dry, much of the southern half of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre North is dominated by a salt crust up to 460mm thick.
  • Other large salt lakes include Lakes Frome, Callabonna, Blanche and Gregory, all in the east.
  • Major aggregations of mound springs are found in the region, and the associated biotic community is one of Australia's nationally endangered ecosystems; many endemic species are present in these mound springs.

Unusual demographic or land use features

  • Pastoralism is the major land use, with several properties over 20,000km2; tourism, mining and conservation also contribute to the economy.
  • The population is very small and sparsely distributed (5,644 in 2006). Although Coober Pedy is the largest town, the smaller towns of Marree, Oodnadatta and William Creek provide important services.
  • The biologically significant mound springs also have heritage value - they are central to Aboriginal culture, and historically, provided a track for early exploration of the arid interior of Australia; their protection and management is an important priority for the catchment.
  • There are several parks and reserves in the catchment, notably Lake Eyre National Park and Flinders Ranges National Park.

'Famous' places

  • Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre - the fourth largest terminal lake in the world and the lowest point of a basin that drains around one-sixth of the Australian continent.
  • The Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta.
  • William Creek - a jumping off point for tours of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre; the Hotel is a heritage-listed building.
  • Algebuckina Railway Bridge, over the Neales River on the Oodnadatta Track, is the longest in South Australia (578m).
  • Marree - start of both the Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks; important in early history of Afghan cameleers.
  • Historic sites for the Old Ghan Railway Line e.g. railway sidings at Coward Springs and Curdimurka.