National Heritage List inscription date 4 August 2009
Australia is home to the largest artesian system in the world. The Great Artesian Basin, which covers more than 20 per cent of the Australian continent, has around 600 artesian spring complexes in twelve major groups. Springs can range in size from only a few metres across to large clusters of freshwater pools known as 'supergroups'. Witjira-Dalhousie Springs is a supergroup that contains around 60 springs, extending over an area of more than 50,000 hectares.
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Situated about 250 kilometres southeast of Alice Springs, Witjira-Dalhousie is the most northerly group of springs in South Australia. It is a complex of 'mound' springs, which means the groundwater flow deposits calcium and other salts from the mineral-rich waters. These deposits, combined with wind-blown sand, mud and accumulated plant debris, settle around the spring outflow forming mounds that resemble small volcanos.
Great Artesian Basin groundwater movement rates are slow, between one to five metres per year. As a result some water in the centre of the basin is more that one million years old. Dating techniques that measure groundwater flow reveal that the Witjira-Dalhousie Springs appears to be recharged by thousands of years old water that has percolated down through the beds of Finke River, and adjacent arid zone rivers, where they overlie outcrops of the Great Artesian Basin aquifer. As a geological feature the Witjira-Dalhousie Springs complex is unique in Australia. It illustrates on a huge scale an artesian spring's system, with faults, impermeable confining beds, aquifer outcrops, mound spring deposits, and the large pools and rivulets of artesian water.
Evolution on display
Great Artesian Basin springs have been significant in providing reliable water and habitat as the Australian continent progressively dried out over the last 1.8 million years. As the only permanent source of water for 150 kilometres, Witjira-Dalhousie provides a significant refuge for a number of plants and animals. Due to the springs' isolation many of these plants and animals have evolved into distinct species not found anywhere else in the world.
Witjira-Dalhousie Springs is an integral part of Aboriginal tradition and life in northern South Australia. It is a place that is associated with many traditional stories and songs. Evidence of the spring's significance to Aboriginal people can be seen in the large camp sites found at the springs, some are thousands of square metres in size, and the vast number of stone artefacts found scattered around the area.
National Heritage List
Due to its extraordinary natural qualities and Indigenous significance, Witjira-Dalhousie is considered to have outstanding heritage value to the nation and has been included in the Australian National Heritage List. The National Heritage List recognises and protects our most valued natural, Indigenous and historic heritage sites. Places listed in the National Heritage List are protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Consultation with Indigenous people about the Witjira-Dalhousie Springs national heritage listed place
The Indigenous values of the Witjira-Dalhousie Springs National Heritage Place are not definitively mapped. Indigenous people are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and should be consulted on a proposed action likely to significantly impact on the listed Indigenous heritage values of the place and/or on a protected matter that has Indigenous heritage values (like listed threatened species).
Prior to undertaking any action, proponents should contact the appropriate Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which the action will occur that has listed values that may be significantly impacted, as well as the Aboriginal Traditional Owners and custodians of adjoining lands that may be significantly impacted by the action.
A letter from the appropriate representative bodies declaring that they have been adequately consulted on the action informs the Department that a best practice approach has been undertaken. Further information on Aboriginal representative bodies is available from Native Title Corporations or via local Aboriginal Land Councils. Guidance about best practice Indigenous engagement can be found at Engage early – guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
- Location and Boundary map (PDF - 755.86 KB)
- Gazettal notice (PDF - 356.81 KB)
- Australia's National Heritage - Witjira-Dalhousie Springs (PDF - 606.39 KB) | (RTF - 16.59 KB)
- Witjira-Dalhousie Springs factsheet (PDF - 114.19 KB) | (DOC - 485.5 KB)
- Australian Heritage Database record
- South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage