Monday, July 10, 2006

Australia's Painted Desert

image from The Australian

Only a handful of people know the true location of one of Australia's most stunning natural treasures.

Australia's 'Painted Desert' is located in the South Australian outback and sits on land owned by a handful of farmers, and they don't want anyone to know that it's there.

Fear of 4WDs trashing the apparently fragile, extremely ancient landscape being Fear Number One.

South Australian Tourism Commission chief Bill Spurr - who flew hours through the outback to reach the location last week - told The Weekend Australian it offered a glimpse of some of the world's most stunning natural formations.

"Imagine a lunar landscape with conical shaped mountains stretching across the horizon," he said. "Now imagine the area covered in a patchwork of rich ochre, ranging from mustard to iron-ore red and whites. That's the beauty of the painted desert."

William Creek-based pilot Trevor Wright is one of the few people who have seen the clay and iron-oxide formations estimated to cover an expanse 20km wide and 10km long.

"The people who look after it guard it with their lives," Mr Wright said. "It was known about for years on the stations, but they wanted to keep it secret because of its fragility."

Paeleontologist Jim Gehling said the rocks were probably formed as a result of millions of years of climate change.

"The climate has gone from glacial to wet and semi-tropical over millions of years," Dr Gehling said. "Australia's landscape has only really dried up in the last three million years or so.

"What you're looking at is the leftover effects of about 50million years of climate change."

Adelaide University geologist John Foden said the rock formations were extraordinary.

The changing colours were the result of oxidation, he said. "The desert landscapes are red because of the oxidation of iron in the rocks. And you get leach zones where the iron has leached away and sections are white."