The Flinders Ranges in Australia: A Marvellous Place bidding for World Heritage Listing

David Penberthy in The Australian – “World recognition coming into view for the Flinders Ranges” 

It is one of the most ancient and fossil-rich places on earth, its centrepiece the gigantic Wilpena Pound basin, its towering gums the inspiration for Australia’s greatest landscape painter Sir Hans Heysen.

Flinders Ranges tourism operator Kristian Coulthard with visitors to the “gateway of the Outback”. Picture: Tourism Australia

But beyond South Australia, little is known about the Flinders Ranges, which lie just four hours’ drive north of Adelaide at what’s known as the gateway to the Outback.






Now, South Australia’s far north communities are hoping the Flinders Ranges will hold the same reverence as Kakadu, the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef, due to an increasingly likely bid to have them listed on the World Heritage Register.

The listing is based largely around the region’s extraordinary age and its status as the birthplace of animal life. Estimated to be 600 million years old, the Flinders Ranges were once an inland sea and have a stunning fossil record dating back to the Ediacaran period.

It was during this period that animal life exploded as the earliest forms of complex multicellular animal life evolved.

READ MORE:Life in the old bones

Earlier this month, senior geologists travelled to the Flinders to conduct further site visits to bolster the case for the region’s World Heritage listing.

With the Flinders enjoying a surge in popularity with South Australian visitors thanks to Covid border closures this past two years, local tourism operators are hopeful the listing will help spread the word beyond SA.

This month’s visit was led by Distinguished Professor Mary Droser from the University of California Riverside along with Steve Hore from the Geological Survey of SA and Honorary Professor Glenn A. Brock from Macquarie University.

They were joined on site by staff from the SA Department for Environment and Water and are now preparing the supporting documentation to make the case for the heritage listing.

Professor Droser told The Australian she first visited the Flinders more than 20 years ago and fell in love with the place.

“Douglas Mawson called it one great outdoor museum and it really is a great description because the fossil record is just amazing,” Professor Droser said.

“It will be a big deal if it gets World Heritage listing. It deserves it. It will mean a lot for the region too. There are people who travel the world trying to see as many World Heritage listed sites and places as they can.”

Flinders Ranges tourism operator Kristian Coulthard. Picture: Tourism Australia
Flinders Ranges tourism operator Kristian Coulthard. Picture: Tourism Australia

Local tourism operator and Adnyamathanha man Kristian Coulthard was born and bred in the region, hailing from the northern town of Hawker. In 2014, he and wife Gabby started their business, Wadna, which specialises in Aboriginal art in the Flinders Ranges and Outback on behalf of 25 local Indigenous artists. Their business originally started as a hobby where they sold their art and handicrafts at local fairs but has now become a major tourism destination in the region.

They opened an art shop in the town of Blinman in 2020 when the pandemic began and were sustained by SA travellers but hope that the Heritage listing can tell the world about what has long been a secret.

“This is one of the oldest landscapes on the planet and it’s just beautiful,” Mr Coulthard said.

“It is just mind-blowing that to this day the Flinders itself hasn’t already been recognised for its natural beauty and geological significance. Hopefully that’s about to change.”

David Penberthy is a columnist with The Advertiser and Sunday Mail, and also co-hosts the FIVEaa Breakfast show. He’s a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Mail and

ALSO NOTE  ……… .An Item in The South Australian Government Web Site ……………..

The Flinders Ranges is one step closer to World Heritage Listing. Here’s what that means and how you can help.

The Flinders Ranges – 500 km north of Adelaide – is a truly magical place, in terms of its cultural significance, breathtaking landscapes and conservation value. And it’s not just us here in South Australia that [people] have taken notice. The remarkable region is officially on its way to getting the global recognition that it deserves, in the form of World Heritage Listing.

Back in late April, the Flinders Ranges was added to Australia’s Tentative List for World Heritage. Not only does this signal Australia’s intent to prepare a bid for World Heritage in the future, but it’s also important because lodging the proposal with the World Heritage Centre in Paris means we’ve taken the first step in UNESCO’s World Heritage Listing process.

Wondering why this is so significant? Gaining World Heritage status for the Flinders Ranges recognises it as a place like nowhere else in the world.

Listing is not only something we can all be proud of, but it will also ensure the protection of this remarkable place and open up a range of funding opportunities to help conservation efforts. It’s also expected to grow the economy, largely due to a boost in visitors to the region. Win win.

If the bid for World Heritage is successful, the Flinders Ranges would be in special company – Australia has just 20 other World Heritage sites to its name. And in South Australia, the Naracoorte Caves in the state’s south-east is the only other site with World Heritage status (which it actually shares with Riversleigh in Queensland to form the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites.)

Read on to find on exactly why the Flinders Ranges are so special, how the process works, and how you can get involved in supporting the nomination.

What makes the Flinders Ranges worthy of World Heritage status?

The fossils and geology of the Flinders Ranges reveal the history of our planet and the evolution of life on Earth. They represent an extraordinary window into the major stage of Earth’s history known as ‘the dawn of animal life’.

And if that’s not special enough, the Flinders Ranges also contains a record of Earth’s wildly fluctuating climate over a 350-million year period – the interval between the Neoproterozoic and the early Phanerozoic. This is the period in Earth’s history that provided the special conditions that gave rise to animal life.

Uniquely, the fossils and geology that tell the story of the dawn of animal life in the Flinders Ranges are located close to each other and are highly accessible, which is great for visitors! It’s this outstanding geological record that puts the Flinders Ranges in a great position to nab World Heritage status.

World Heritage for the Flinders Ranges

What criteria do the Flinders Ranges need to meet and how does it all work?

For a place to be considered for World Heritage Listing, a strong evidence-based argument must be presented to demonstrate that it has Outstanding Universal Value.

And by ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, it means it’s so exceptional that it can ‘transcend national boundaries and be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity’.

The Flinders Ranges area is aiming to demonstrate its natural value. Our bid needs to show the Flinders Ranges meets certain criteria – that it represents an outstanding example of a major stage of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.

So to establish if the Flinders Ranges is worthy of World Heritage Listing, it gets compared to other sites that have similar natural value and a heap of detailed research is undertaken to make sure the claims made are supported by facts and that it does indeed meet the World Heritage criteria.

And of course, all of this information gets meticulously reviewed and assessed by a panel of international experts who need to be satisfied before World Heritage Listing can be considered.

Want to know more about the process? Check out the section below.

What’s next in relation to preparing the nomination?

The South Australian Government (through the Department for Environment and Water) is leading the nomination and is at the beginning of four major steps that need to take place before the Flinders Ranges can claim World Heritage status:

Step 1: Inclusion on UNESCO’s Tentative List

Step 2: Submission of a nomination to the World Heritage Centre

Step 3: Evaluation of the nomination by independent World Heritage advisory committees

Step 4: The World Heritage Committee review the nomination and independent evaluation and if satisfied, inscribes the Flinders Ranges on the World Heritage List

There’s a lot more to it than that – the process is very detailed and thorough, and for good reason! – so if you’re keen on the nitty gritties, then you might like to read up on the process on the UNESCO website.

But the main takeaway for now is that work is underway to prepare the nomination and it’s expected to take several years to ensure the nomination is ready to be submitted.

How you can help by supporting the nomination

Your support is critical in our bid for World Heritage Listing for the Flinders Ranges.

We encourage you to keep in touch with our progress by following the dedicated Facebook page and to share your thoughts, experiences and support posting on your own social media profiles and using the hashtag #worldheritagefortheflindersranges.

You can also visit our Adelaide Customer Service Centre and collect a free limited edition postcard to send to family and friends.

If you are visiting the Flinders Ranges, you can collect a postcard if you’re passing through Quorn or Hawker, staying at Arkaroola or visiting the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park’s headquarters at Balcanoona (on the Gammon Ranges Road).

Just one of several designs of free postcards available.

Stocks are limited but there are several wonderful designs available that showcase the unique attributes of the Flinders Ranges.

Delve deeper and learn more about our nomination by visiting the website.

The fine print

The upcoming nomination for the Flinders Ranges is the result of several individuals whose vision and passion for geology through to environmental conservation has led the effort for World Heritage recognition. Today it’s very much a collaborative effort. The state government is working together with the Adnyamathanha People (the traditional custodians of the Flinders Ranges) along with landowners and community, researchers, educators and experts from around the world.

Are you a history buff? You might like some of our other stories too, likeYour chance to celebrate 25 years of Naracoorte Caves’ World Heritage status.

Main image courtesy of Adam Bruzzone


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One response to “The Flinders Ranges in Australia: A Marvellous Place bidding for World Heritage Listing

  1. Thanks for your blog Lots of nice words in this article , nice to read , Do not stop.

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