FROM THE ARCHIVES

An account of the 1998 CGG Reunion Crossing of the Simpson Desert when the originals who constructed the French Line in 1963 returned at the invitation of the Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria.  Written by John Thompson, one of the desert veterans who made the first crossing, it records his surprise at the differences observed along the 'Line following an absence of exactly 35 years.

Thommo was hired by Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) in Adelaide and caught the old 'Ghan to Pedirka at the end of summer that year to join the rest of the waiting crew.  The early April temperatures approached the century in the old Fahrenheit scale.  This time back in 1998, he relates how snow fell in his path en route Sydney from Canberra.  Thus somewhat topsy-turvily, Thommo began his return to the Simpson.


DINNER AT THE
BIRDSVILLE PUB

DESERT DIGEST

Cashbook and Claypan
Share in the tribulations of the admin manager as he balances the books from his Office-in-a-Blitz

Birdsville or Bust
Learn how French know-how and Australian muscle carved the French Line through the Simpson

East From Oodna
Marvel at the initiative of the early pathfinders who solved the mysteries of the Red Centre

Alive in the Dead Heart
Recollections from the crew who first burst the road through Australia's One True Desert

B-line for Birdsville
Join the CGG veterans on their return journeys to the French Line. Take their tip and travel with experts

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Thommo's Desert Report

1998 Vintage Rover Desert Safari

At the beginning there was snow.    Tankred Mueller picked me up in his Kombi in Canberra to travel to Kevin and Jennifer in Sydney.   As we drove north out of Canberra we topped up with gas at the last petrol station and the cashier asked which way we were going.   We told him Sydney.   He said,
'The road is blocked after a terrific snow storm and it is estimated it will be closed for 24 hours.'
We decided to go northeast and join the Hume Highway at Gunning but when we reached there the road was also cut by the snow.    The local council were clearing so we had about an hour wait.    For the next 40kms the whole countryside was covered in snow, a marvellous start to our trip.   After Goulburn the rest of the trip was uneventful but we reached Sydney later than we anticipated.    We dined that night at an Italian restaurant that Kevin and Jennifer frequented and enjoyed the meal.

Rover Australia Help Out


The following day, Wednesday 24th June, we all drove over to the Rover showroom at Parramatta to pick up the dark green Discovery that was loaned to us.    Luckily while looking at the car Tankred noticed that the four spare tyres were for an MG, so they changed them for a single Rover spare.    As it turned out it did not matter, as we had no flats or blowouts.    The spare tyre was placed on a wheel lent to us by the Rover repairman Graeme Cooper in Newtown who also lent us his black and white striped Discovery that was named Stripey.

The rest of the day was spent loading the Rovers with the gear, food and water.   Extra petrol was carried in jerricans needed for the crossing as the green Rover was not equipped with long range tanks.   Communications expert David Kesby who joined us for the crossing and Jennifer's son David Bradney fitted the Rovers with radios so that the five CGG crews could speak to each other and Spripey could communicate with the Rover Club (Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria or LROCV).

Next Stop Broken Hill RFDS Base


At 4.30am next morning, Thursday we drove out from Sydney and it snowed from Katoomba to Orange, not heavy, just drifting down in the dark before the dawn.   Lunch at Nyngan, then a frosty camp at Spring Creek between Wilcannia and Broken Hill, 1024kms on the first day.    At Broken Hill we were given a tour of the Flying Doctor Base.

Friday at Arkaroola, 647kms.    Met up with the contingent from WA John and Margaret Blaney-Murphy, Pip and Barb Dunkley and John and Jenny Fernley.   Saturday we drove to Echo Point and Arkaroola Waters where there were still some feral goats and a few rock wallabies.

Pre-Desert Briefing at Arkaroola


Sunday walked to Bararranna Gorge to see the ripples in rocks that were once an ancient seabed.   That afternoon we had a briefing from the producer and cameraman who were going to record the crossing.

Dean Drayton also arrived by plane with the flying Padre.    This then was the total of the CGG crew, Kevin, Tankred, Dean, John, Pip and myself.   John McFayden had also come to Arkaroola with Trish Wright for the FFL annual general meeting, but they were unable to accompany us on the crossing.

Historic Vintage Reunion Departs Arkaroola


Drove to Leigh Creek to pick up the film crew who had been taking aerial shots of the Flinders Ranges in Doug Sprigg's aeroplane.    There were rain squalls that day and Greg Parish the cameraman had to hold his camera out of the open door of the plane as they flew and was he freezing when they landed?

We camped that night at Coward Springs that was once a station for the Ghan.   All had a dip in the hot spa.    This was the first of the mound springs we were to see.

Moving on to Oodnadatta the following day we spent a couple of hours fossicking around the ruins of an old copper smelter and exploring the old telegraph station at Peak Hill.   Reaching Oodnadatta that afternoon there was a bit of bad news.    The Fernley's Disco had been fitted with the wrong tyres and the closest Rover dealer was at Coober Pedy so a breakdown vehicle was sent from Coober Pedy to escort them over there.   They would meet us later at Dalhousie.   One coincidence, we ran into Ross Loader in the local pub.   He was also with CGG and was working at the store doing their annual stocktake.

Oodna to Dalhousie a Tough Stretch


Dalhousie was an eye opener.    The homestead ruins were still there but the camping area was set out with low timber post and rail fences into small campsites just big enough for about six cars to park and tents to be erected.    Shrubs and trees had been planted, toilets, shower and laundry facilities provided.   The aborigine Park Ranger said that about 25 cars a day used the camp.   It is a part of Witjira National Park.   We had a barbecue that night and a camp sing-along with Greg the movie cameraman playing Margaret Blaney-Murphy's guitar.    An enjoyable concert.

Thursday was to be a rest day for everyone and then to move into the desert tomorrow, Friday 3rd July.   We swam in the largest of the mound springs, quite hot.    It showered lightly for most of the day.   John, Margaret and I did find time to wander around a couple of the mound springs.   Even though fenced off and quite a walk from the camp there was still a lot of rubbish scattered about.    In the morning two Rovers and a Toyota left for Mt Dare for extra petrol.

Hasty Takeoff From Dalhousie


At around 1 o'clock in the afternoon a violent storm was reported in Oodnadatta and heavy rain was falling at Alice Springs.   A decision was made to move to Purni Bore on the eastern side of the Finke River.    If it came down in flood we would be stranded at Dalhousie.    The people who went to Mt Dare returned with the Fernleys, who had arrived from Coober Pedy.

Pip's water tank had sprung a leak so Tankred repaired it with a battery-powered welder that was a pretty neat unit.    He would use it again later in the desert.   We moved out around 2.30pm and at one wet spot I bogged the Rover I was driving, the only person to do so.    Pip winched me out and so continued on to Purni bore.   Arrived at dusk with no more drama.   A few light showers during the night.

The bore was artesian and the flow had been restricted to conserve the resource.    Where the water ran there was a green oasis for the many birds and no doubt, animals, although I did not see any.   In the morning John Fernley discovered a fuel leak.   This was repaired with a patch that took two hours to set, so it delayed our start into the desert proper.    The light orange sand hills in this part of the desert were not very high and with the moisture in the sand the driving was easy.

Flowers Without Bees


The spinifex was green and starting to set seed.    The various species of desert flowers mainly yellow daisies and everlastings with their yellow centres and white petals and with a sprinkling of two species of light blue flowers, were in bloom.   The flowers were to be with us all the way.   Although I made cursory inspections when we stopped I could not find any pollinators, I thought they would be swarming everywhere as the blossoms do not last very long.    The stunted acacia trees (gidgee) and hakeas sparsely dotted the dunes and appeared to be exactly the same trees and bushes that I saw 35 years earlier.    Some of the Rover people said that it did not feel like a desert, as it was alive with the yellow and blue flowers.

On this stretch of the 'Line about 70kms from Purni the Rig Road bore off to the south.    This road was constructed with clay and skirted around the ends of the sand hills to allow oil-drilling rigs to enter the desert and drill on sites thought promising by the seismic survey.    One such was Purni Bore.   Drove another 70kms to Colsons Track where we camped that night.   Colsons Track runs from the Rig Road south of the French Line northeast, crossing our 'Line and through to Andado Station and on to Alice Springs.   After this point in the survey we were supplied along Colsons Track

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Cashbook and
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Alive in the
Dead Heart 
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GONE TO MOTHBALLS .....
Thommo's Desert Report The BeeGees Page
Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner The Kid From Towra Point
Bulldozing a Desert Trans National Causeway
Signwriter for the Simpson The Long Haul
Simpson Desert Birdlife French Line Circa 1979

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