50 years of field trips
For the past 50 years, students have been deciding on a career in geology thanks to their first major field trip to South Australia's Flinders Ranges.
One dramatic landscape is etched into the memories of more University of Adelaide geology graduates than any other - the Pichi Richi Pass.
Famous for its historic railway, Pichi Richi holds even more attractions for would-be geologists, with sedimentary rocks dating back more than half a billion years.
Part of the majestic Flinders Rangers, Pichi Richi is located 337 km north of Adelaide (more than four hours' drive) and 10 km south of the town of Quorn.
The site was chosen in 1963 for what has now become one of the world's longest-running annual geology field trips.
The field trip has become such a major part of the teaching and learning experience for second-year geology students that University staff, students and graduates will gather at Pichi Richi in October 2012 for a celebration in the lead-up to the trip's 50th anniversary in 2013.
"The Pichi Richi field trip is a defining moment for most students," says Associate Professor Alan Collins (Discipline of Geology & Geophysics, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences), who has been leading the trip for the past six years.
"Until that point in second year, the students' field experience has been limited. This is the first real chance they have to go out and see examples of the kinds of things they've been learning about in the classroom.
"Once they get to Pichi Richi, they're able to witness it for themselves and also participate in mapping the area - that's when many of them decide to do geology for the rest of their lives. The trip really is that important," Associate Professor Collins says.
One man who knows Pichi Richi better than most is Associate Professor Vic Gostin, Honorary Visiting Research Fellow in Geology & Geophysics, who led students on most of the field trips from 1970 to 2000.
"The area was chosen by Brian Daily in 1963 because it has a bit of everything - incredible geological stories are being told in all directions. There are highly deformed structures; there's not too much grass, so the formations are mostly visible; there are multiple types of structures, folds, outcrops, sedimentation and so forth; it's a small enough area that mobility with the students is not a problem and everyone loves to climb Devil's Peak," Associate Professor Gostin says.
Each student is asked to map the area and keep records such as photographs, sketches and notes.
"This is an important exercise for the students. They start with a blank piece of paper and by the end of the trip they have created a geological map of a unique landscape. This is when the students start to better understand the skills they're developing and how this work can be fascinating and rewarding," Associate Professor Gostin says.
"Another important aspect of the trip is the social bonding that occurs. The field trip offers a great opportunity for lasting bonds to be formed within the group of students and with the staff; there is a noticeable difference in the camaraderie on campus after the field trip."
The idea of a 50th anniversary celebration at Pichi Richi was eagerly embraced by Dr Wolfgang Preiss, who was a student on the very first Pichi Richi camp in 1963. He went on to become Senior Principal Geologist for the Geological Survey of South Australia. Wolfgang has contacted as many of his fellow students from that second-year class as he has been able to find, inviting them to join in the celebration.
Wolfgang says: "The 1963 second-year geology field camp at Pichi Richi Pass was not only my first visit to the Flinders Ranges but also my first ever trip away from home without Mum and Dad. I remember it being quite daunting - we had a week to map the geology but really had no idea what to expect. Even after extensive lectures on the theory, seeing the rocks in the field and trying to make sense of them was quite another matter.
"As it was the first time the camp was held at this location, our lecturers and demonstrators were also relatively unfamiliar with the geology, so it was a learning experience for them, too.
"We were divided into four or five groups, each with a demonstrator to guide us, and off we went. Some walked from the camp, while others were bundled into the back of the Geology Department Land Rover to drive a few kilometres up the road. No seat belts to worry about in those days.
"After a hard day's mapping it was back to camp to prepare our own food − not exactly Mum's cooking from what I remember. We were accommodated in the old railway cottages at Woolshed Flat in those days. Trying to compile our day's mapping in the evenings under the dim light of the kitchen area was a challenge, and sleeping arrangements were not all that comfortable, but we were tired out and slept well.
"By the end of the camp, we had learned so much and most of us were quite convinced that geology really was what we wanted to do with our lives."
The 50th-anniversary celebration will be held at Pichi Richi Park on Saturday 20 October 2012, with a formal dinner and geological walks included as part of the package. ■
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Pichi 50 page on Facebook.
Story by David Ellis