Total solar eclipse 2002 December 4

in South Australia

Location Report for Ceduna
part 1 of 3

Ceduna regional map

Click here to download a high-resolution version of this map (3.0 MB zip)

If you have come directly to this page from another website; you can find my other eclipse information here.

Thanks to Heidi, Greg and Rob for their help with this Report. And thanks to the District Council of Ceduna for sponsoring the trip which made this Report possible.

General notes

Ceduna, with a population of about 3600 (2001 Census), is the largest Australian town in the path of totality; and the major service centre for the northwestern Eyre Peninsula. Ceduna is also a popular overnight stop for travellers to and from Western Australia; so there are several hotels/motels/caravan parks. All are booked out for this eclipse but you may get lucky if someone cancels. Alternatively, bring your own tent or caravan and set up in one of the designated eclipse camping areas, or use the 'tent city' in town. If you are part of a tour group then your tour operator has already arranged your accommodation.

Standard unleaded petrol was about (Aust) $0.92/litre and LPG was about $0.55/litre during my visit (September 2002). Prices in the local supermarkets are about 20 percent higher than Adelaide for non-perishable foods, and about 30 percent higher for fresh fruit and vegetables. The latter is expected to rise in price everywhere because of Australia's continuing drought. Fish and meat are similar prices to Adelaide. Bread is made locally. Milk retails for about $1.80/litre. Note, however, that large crowds are expected for the eclipse and some items may sell out -- so if you can bring your own supplies then do so. There are of course a variety of eclipse souvenirs on sale; with the top-selling item (so far) being the Ceduna Eclipse Stubby Holder.

The adjacent deep-water port of Thevenard exports millions of tonnes of cereals, gypsum and salt every year; and also provides a base for the local fishing boats and aquaculture operations.

The entire Ceduna region is low-lying, nearly flat, and was heavily eroded long before the continents of Australia and Antarctica separated about 55 million years ago. The huge coastal lagoon of Lake MacDonnell, about 65km west of Ceduna, provides almost all of Australia's gypsum, and large quantities of salt. The oldest rocks in the region are a complex sequence of metamorphosed sediments, metamorphosed volcanic rocks, gneisses and granites -- some of them half as old as the Earth itself. They have many similarities to the rocks which contain the huge Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) copper-gold-uranium orebody, and to the host rocks for the historic copper deposits of Moonta and Wallaroo. Consequently they are now the focus of great interest from various mining companies. The small deposits found by early prospectors are also being re-examined.

These ancient rocks are now seen in many places along today's coastline, or as scattered granite tors across the countryside. granite tor near radio telescopeThis specimen can be found by the road 2.5km south of the radio telescope and almost 2km inside North Limit for this eclipse. Download a high-resolution image (283kB zip).

To the west of Ceduna these rocks are overlain by a thin layer of ~20 million year old limestone -- the eastern extremity of the vast limestone sheet that forms the Nullarbor Plain -- and by younger aeolianite, a rather weak whitish rock formed when sand is blown into dunes and cemented together by saline and lime-rich groundwaters. Today's complex coastline with its many headlands, cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, lagoons, bays, islands, reefs and shoals is geologically young; and being actively eroded by the relentless waves of the Southern Ocean. Fishing, diving, sailing etc are popular around Ceduna's various bays and islands.

The Ceduna region has no rivers or bodies of fresh water, but it gets enough rain -- in good years -- to make broad-acre cereal farming possible. Many of the farms in the region were started by soldiers returning from World War One; on lands granted to them by the government as a reward for their military service. One of the conditions of grant was that the "useless scrub" which had grown there for millennia was cleared away to allow "productive use" of the land. In hindsight this was a bad idea. Crop failures are inevitable if the winter or spring rains fail; and then the wind blows away the unprotected soil. Many of these early farms were abandoned decades ago. Their buildings are nowadays collapsed ruins, and their small fields were incorporated into today's much bigger paddocks...

Cereal harvesting normally begins in late November and continues 24 hours a day until it's completed, typically several weeks later. In a good year this would mean lots of harvesters churning through the paddocks, and lots of trucks on the roads, and lots of dust and headlights to spoil your astronomy. But the winter rains in 2002 were patchy and below average. Some farmers will get a harvest -- but a poor one -- while other farmers will be ploughing the scrawny remnants of their crops straight back into the ground, and hoping 2003 will be better.

Despite all the land-clearing of the past, the original vegetation of the region still exists on some roadsides (especially along the minor roads), and also in those few paddocks that were never cleared. Most trees are only a few metres high; growing in a distinctive multi-trunked habit known as mallee and forming a near-continuous canopy of leaves overhead.

centreline 22km from CedunaThis afternoon photo of the roadside mallee was taken on centreline 22km northeast of Ceduna. The dirt track in the image is in fact the White Well Corner to Maltee road -- and not far southeast of here it was overgrown and impassable with this car.
Here's a better image of the same road (taken from inside the car) a few km north of centreline.road from white well corner to maltee

Botanists hypothesise that the mallee growth habit is a genetic response to poor soils; where limited nutrition and root-holding capability works against the survival of tall trees. Many tree species found in mallee will grow "normally" in good soils. A few patches of less-poor soils provide a home for taller species of acacias and eucalypts, but even most of these are under 10 metres high. Here's another afternoon photo, taken on the road from Ceduna to the radio telescope. OTC road

Many birds including crows, magpies, wagtails, finches, honeyeaters, lorikeets, assorted parrot species, falcons, and even wedgetail eagles all find refuge (and food) among these remnant trees.

By contrast, many parts of the coastline are almost unchanged from their first European sighting in 1627 (Pieter Nuyts) and their first detailed descriptions in 1802/1803 (Matthew Flinders and Nicholas Baudin). Flinders' charts were so good they were still being used by ships 150 years later. By contrast Swift's very detailed 17th century description of this region in Gulliver's Travels has not been confirmed... ;-)

The mingling of rocky cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, lagoons and quiet bays provides a large variety of habitats for plants, birds and aquatic life. In a tidal inlet west of the town, for example, I spotted 11 species of terns, gulls, pelicans and other water birds in about five minutes...some of them on nests. Elsewhere along the coastline I saw sea-eagles, ospreys, and Fairy Penguins; all hunting for fish. Dozens of species of coastal plants can also be found, and despite the low rainfall this year I noted 20 of these species in flower during my visit.

Skinks are the most common reptiles in the Ceduna region -- but the footprints of these fast-moving little lizards are much easier to find than their makers! The larger Blue-tongue and Shingleback lizards are less elusive; and may be found almost anywhere -- including on roadways -- searching for food. And they do eat almost anything, including carrion and food scraps in garbage. When cornered these larger lizards will puff up their bodies and hiss aggressively, and they will bite if you try to grab them. Any bite wound is likely to go septic because of the decay bacteria on the lizard's teeth.

The snake population is dominated by two species, both up to 2-2.5 metres in length. The straw-coloured Myall Snake is not venomous and avoids deliberate contact with people; but it is a fast mover and its fangs deliver a very painful bite. Myall snakes seem to prefer the paddocks and adjacent roads, where there are plenty of mice and other small prey.

The Brown Snake prefers scrub, fallen trees, leaf/bark litter, undergrowth, rocks and similar places of concealment. Browns are highly venomous; and aggressive when confronted or when defending their nests. Browns also exhibit regional variations in their colours (sub-species?) across Australia; and Ceduna's Brown Snakes are actually olive-green-and-brown, or olive-green-and-tan. When in their domains, wear CLOSED shoes/boots and socks, tread carefully, and don't pick up "sticks" without checking first! The other snakes of the Ceduna region are much rarer and I saw none of them during my visit.

The Ceduna Radio Telescope

The 34km road from Ceduna to the radio telescope begins as Goode Road from a roundabout on the Eyre Highway. The bitumen ends at the Council works depot on the edge of town, and a well maintained dirt road continues to White Well Corner and the telescope itself. But do watch out for patches of loose gravel, especially on bends, when driving on this road. Centreline crosses this road 4.4km from Ceduna post office but viewing would be impeded by the roadside trees here. Fortunately all but the final 770 metres of this road are inside the path of totality, and long stretches of it have no obstructions to the west at all. For example here's the view looking southwest from White Well Corner.white well corner

Ceduna radio telescope panoramaThe telescope's 30 metre diameter fully-steerable dish was originally built for satellite communications. But when Telstra closed this station a few years ago it seemed destined for the scrapheap. The University of Tasmania took over the station and converted it to radio astronomy. This dish is now in regular use, observing radio sources in the southern sky, and it also provides a useful western extension to Australian VLBI arrays.

North Limit near the Ceduna radio telescopeThe telescope is a mere 670 metres outside North Limit (proof that Murphy is running the universe I reckon...!), and will have to wait until 2038 December 26 for its first total solar eclipse. The photo here was taken on the road at North Limit, just to show how tantalisingly close it gets!
The telescope will nevertheless be observing the eclipse, and guided tours for visitors will be available.

CONTINUE to part 2 of this report....

Copyright © 2002   Fraser Farrell. All rights reserved.