The Yalata Indigenous Protected Area Lands contain spectacular coastal scenery with large dunes, fringing reefs and few obvious signs of human presence.
Our Lands are recognised by the National Wilderness Inventory as an area of important biodiversity. This is due to the naturalness of the area and indications that little damage and development has occurred over this 458,000 hectare area. Evidence has shown that natural ecological processes are continuing to occur on this land. The soils on which much of this system stands are fragile and lie in shallow layers therefore some areas have been zoned as no access areas and are maintained as environment conservation zones. The high quality of this wilderness area is of national significance. This is complimented by the fact that The Lands are bordered on soil and sea by neighbouring areas under state legislative protection.
Named by E.Alfred Delisser after the Latin term meaning “no tree” but this is not the case. The Lands are part of a significant expanse of 3,000,000 hectares of mallee vegetation from Eyre Peninsula across to Western Australia. With a strong history of clearing in South Australia this is now the largest and least modified area of mallee vegetation in the state. Its significance stems from its ability to meet the specialised habitat requirements for many species of birds, insects and other wildlife and its role as an important seed bank for future planting.
The Nullarbor Plain stretches for approximately 72 km from South Australia to Western Australia, extending inland from the Great Australian Bight for approximately 400km. Rain falls of 250-300mm annually fall on the plain, this and any other water that travels onto this almost flat surface, seeps through the Nullarbor Limestone, influencing the famous tunnel and cave systems below.
Standing at the edge of the Australian continent, west of the Head of the Bight, rise the majestic Bunda Cliffs. These ancient cliffs extending for 200km to Wilson Bluff, range in height from 40-70 metres above sea level. Millions of years ago the combination of changing sea levels and the uplift of the Nullarbor Plain culminated in the creation of these cliffs. The cliff front also stretches to the east of the Bight but now lies deep under the sand of the present dune system.
The far west coast exhibits a series of the most beautiful, wind shaped dune fields in Australia.
Appearing as white streaks on the horizon, these coastal dunes occur through the dynamic processes of nature. The dune sand is derived from shell and rock material broken down over millions of years. This material is washed up on the shire where it dries before being carried on the wind to the waiting dunes. The height and expanse of these dune fields is largely due to the stabilising effect of the existing vegetation. These plants have the specialised role of colonising the dunes and securing the drifting sand, they have the mechanisms to tolerate salt spray, head and the limited nutrients available in this environment. Damage to dune vegetation influences and interrupts the physical nature of the system.
The winds, waves and currents that feed the dunes vary in strength with the season. Just as beaches change in shape and depth from summer to winter, so does the dune surface. Beaches and sand bars protect the dunes and in turn the dunes shelter the land beyond, together they create a series of buffers against the impact of this coasts high energy waves.
The complexity of the system is apparent when you stand a the Head of the Bight and look from east to west. The design of a coastline depends largely on the types of waves and currents which are present. Here there are different systems at work, to the west cliffs are slowly eroding, while to the east a network of dunes is being constructed.
Head of the Bight
Over recent years the cliff top whale watching opportunities at the Head of Bight and within The Lands have become recognised as the best and most reliable such opportunities in Australia. During the whale watching season which occurs from June to October, over 15,000 visitors experience the unique environment of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park.
The Head of Bight whale watching site along with the Bunda Cliffs, which tune to The Lands western boundary, are separated from the public beach area to the SE by Yalata swamp and dune system. The area is of cultural significance to Anangu and Wirangu people and other Aboriginal communities. It contains the traditional waterhole and meeting place called Illcumba. The area of significance to Anangu people runs north and NE from the swamp, up to and beyond The Lands’ northern boundary.
White Well Tank
Numerous relics of pastoral history of the areas occur within The Lands today. Such relics include, White Well Tank and White Well Homestead ruins, many stock watering points, remains of the old mills and some interesting old crude stock yards and huts.
White Well Tank is the base for all activities related to the Head of Bight enterprise and provides Rangers with accommodation and amenities whilst they are absent from the Yalata Community.
The Nullarbor Plain, or treeless plain as described by the local Aboriginals,may be a desert but below ground is another world.
The Nullarbor Plain forms part of a limestone plateau, known as the Bunda Plateau which slopes gently south, terminating abruptly as wave-cut limestone cliffs along the Great Australian Bight. Many vast dry and wet cave systems are to be found in the limestone karst regions below the Nullarbor and they are popular with local and international divers as well as tourists.
Many caves like Cocklebiddy, Warbla and Weebubbie feature beautiful lakes of blue water and huge passages running under the Nullarbor Plain.
The floral emblem of South Australia is Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona Formosa or Clianthus formosus) named after the early explorer, Charles Sturt. This striking flower is one of the best known Australian wildflowers.
The majority of The Lands is covered by mallee open scrublands which tend towards a woodland formation in many places. The dominant vegetation includes red mallee (Eucalyptus socialis), and or white mallee (E. gracilis) with boree (Melaleuca pauperiflora) as a sub-dominant species.
A rather special tree of dry districts of South Australia is the Native Apricot or Pittosporum phylliraeoides. It is not a common tree though in favoured areas can be plentiful. The trees can be laden with their woody ‘fruits’ which stand out like beacons against the other vegetation.
The southern skies above the Nullarbor Plain provide an enchanting evening display and the opportunity to study the skies without the interference of city lights. As the earth moves around the sun on its yearly journey the night sky slowly changes. Using star charts and a pair of binoculars search for the myriad of constellations above.
On a clear night, the Milky Way spans the sky as a band of light through the darkness. Made up of billions of stars, the band is crossed by dim lanes – “Dark Nebulae”, where the light is blocked by vast clouds of dust hanging in space. Other patches known as “Bright Nebuale”, form wisps of glowing light which are often called ‘star nurseries’, as they glow from the energy of new born stars.
‘Falling Stars’ – ‘Shooting Stars’ are usually meteor showers which occur most frequently in the early hours of the morning. As comets orbit the sun they leave trails of dust and fragments. When the earth passes through this trail the debris is swept up by gravity and is burnt up in the earth’s atmosphere, appearing as great streaks of light across the sky.
The region experiences warm to hot summers and mild to warm winters. The hot summers are somewhat modified by the coastal breezes from the Bight.
No weather recording stations exist within Yalata lands and the climate profile is derived from records at Eucla, Ceduna and along the trans-Australian railway. Temperatures appear to follow a similar variation north to south but generally Yalata lands have a mean summer maximum in the low 30s degrees Centigrade (cooler at the coast) and a winter mean maximum of approximately 20 degrees Centigrade.