EAST FROM OODNA

The Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) old hands who built the French Line regard Arkaroola as the key element in their hugely disparate 'trinity' of Arkaroola, Dalhousie and Birdsville and there is a strong Reg Sprigg connection with all three locations.   Dalhousie is the gateway to the French Line that has opened up the Simpson Desert to recreational and scientific use and prior to 1900 was itself a Sprigg family pastoral property.

The straight bulldozed track between Dalhousie and Poeppels Corner was the CGG Line 'B' now known as the French Line.   Come-by-chance travellers who are told about cameleers and walkers and riders and others - with nary a mention of CGG and their feat of opening up the desert, have sold our efforts short, even when they give credibility to the sponsors, the French Petroleum Company of Australia - rather than the operators.   It is a bit like saying the Mawson Antarctic Expedition of 1911 was the Adelaide Uni Expedition.


MARGARET &
DOUG SPRIGG BY
POEPPEL'S PEG

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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A Geologist Strikes Back

The Spriggs' Desert Chapter

Sprigg Family Cracking the Simpson


Members of the French Line construction team from 1963-4 who have stayed in contact with each other have developed an affinity with the Northern Flinders Ranges resort village of Arkaroola and are drawn back to it on a regular basis, in no small part due to the influence and energies of the late Reg Sprigg AO.

Reg purchased Arkaroola when it was an operational sheep station and upon his retirement began a process of converting the property into an Australian wildlife sanctuary that is continued today by his successors.

The Sprigg Family - Arkaroola 1994


All who have been there will testify:  nothing could be as uncommon as the rock palace of Arkaroola towering over the sea-level salt lakes at the foot of the Flinders and the Saharan oasis-like Dalhousie on the edge of the sandy Red Heart of Australia.   Yet Birdsville offers a contrast to both regions in its own inimitable fashion.

CGG pilot Kron Nicholas once said, pointing to the red stoney territory below, "I could land a 707 there!"   For Birdsville is at once the Gibber Capital of the country and the floodplain of the major Queensland rivers - all converging at Birdsville with floodwaters up to sixty miles wide and sometimes only a metre deep.    All three widely different and remarkable topographies, all within the Great Artesian Basin and all bordering the Simpson Desert yet only 300 miles apart from the other.

Arkaroola itself is an outpost of rugged crags and sheer cliff faces of five million years old bedrock - a geologist's playground.    The Spriggs gathered by their motel for this family photo (right) taken after the 40th anniversary of the founding of Reg's Geosurveys Australia.   Reg Sprigg stands on the left with Griselda, outside motel reception.   Following the passing of Reg then Sir Mark and more lately, Griselda and the relocations of some other family members in the group photo, only son Douglas and daughter Margaret remain on deck at Arkaroola.

CGG Originals Meet at Arkaroola 1995


A welcome stopover for tourists from populous New South Wales and Victoria, Arkaroola can be reached comfortably a day's drive out from Broken Hill going through Yunta and up past Lake Frome and you don't need a 4WD - you can do it safely in an ordinary passenger car.   Once in the Flinders its a different story.    Except for the walking tracks and the drives close by the motel, the tortuous old mining company trails snaking throughout Arkaroola and on the ridges definitely call for four wheel drive vehicles.   There's plenty to do and look at and a variety of accommodation types is available ranging from camping sites to motel suites.

Some CGG veterans line up beneath Observatory Hill on the occasion of their get-together.   They recommend the village as a worthwhile diversion for drivers travelling Marree to Birdsville, either way, on the Birdsville Track.    Arkaroola is a good spot to rest and 'vittle up', being equidistant and only a day's run out of Adelaide, Birdsville or Broken Hill.    There's a well-equipped workshop in the servo there in case your vehicle needs some attention too.

The Geosurveys Time Capsule


Reg Sprigg was in his element at Arkaroola.    He set about first ridding the property of stock and feral animals to transform it into a 'native-only' fauna resort.   He reactivated the old mining trails and put in miles of connecting tracks to open up other areas of interest for visitors, already having access to generations of abandoned mines that dot the hillsides.

Reg and Griselda Sprigg listen attentively as Sir Mark Oliphant dedicates yet another one of their cairns, this one to Geosurveys Australia on the occasion of the company's 40th anniversary.

The Ochre Wall at Arkaroola


In another curious parallel with the Simpson Desert, Reg found no evidence of permanent aboriginal occupation of his rocky lease in the ranges.    Like their counterparts who inhabited the fringes of the Simpson, Australian native originals travelled swiftly through the toughest, most inhabitable parts of the northern Flinders, rarely dallying, although the ochre deposits on Arkaroola were highly sought after and traded from St Vincents Gulf in the south to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north.   A small section of the long-abandoned massive ochre wall is shown in this photo on the left.

Bedrock on the Cliff Face


The most impressive natural attribute of Arkaroola is its perpendicular rock formations.   Captured, melted on the stone, are the impressions of sand and water in ripples created at the moment of fusion when the mountain range was a sea-floor and rose up in a mighty rupture to form the present peaks, bound to be undisturbed for a further five million years.   Although hidden for hundreds of metres underfoot, high up on the cliff-faces the bedrock is exposed to view in huge, flat, rippling sheets.

Arkaroola's Famous Ridge Top Tours


For those people with limited time to stayover who nevertheless want to see as much of these natural wonders as they can in a short time, Reg Sprigg initiated his novel 'Ridge Top Tours'.    As the name implies, these are hair-raising 4WD rides around the ridgetops, carried out along old mining trails.

Hosted by steely-nerved guides who seem willing and able to cast a wheel over an abyss for an extra thrill, the passengers are strapped in eight at a time in the back of a pickup cage and thrust about the hilltops and still they ask for more.

First Vehicle to Crack the Simpson?


An auto wreck lies crumpled and forgotten, ignominiously upside down and dumped among the empty oil drums in Tom Agnew's Copley SA junk yard.   Is it Reg Sprigg's chariot in which he and his family dashed across the desert in 1962?   If so, it is a very special vehicle.    Reg refused to publish the brand he drove when he beat Madigan's hoodoo that no "motor vehicle would ever penetrate" the desert.    He made enquiries of all the manufacturers' reps in Adelaide to see if they would provide a vehicle for a couple of weeks and back his challenge and on being turned down by them all, bought a secondhand 4WD for himself, vowed never to ask for a sponsorship again and then barrelled across the Simpson without publicity of any kind.

If his adventure had been well-scripted and filmed, a sponsoring manufacturer could have been favourably associated with an historic event having a considerable residual value at a peppercorn cost.   It was not to be.    Reg did the job, made the original vehicular crossing, kept the lid on the story and the Japanese car firm missed out.    The wagon is still there in Tom's yard in pieces, practically unrecognisable for the treasure it is.   Driven to a standstill, it bears the registration plates of the last owners, a local indigenous family.  Respecting Reg's feelings, not too many people who know the brand of the vehicle will let on if pressed, as if to make certain there'll be no free-kick for the firm.

A postscript allows me to reveal the Sprigg Family Chariot was a Nissan.  Happily, it has been recovered and restored and might yet 'ride the ranges' once more.

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LINK TO THESE DIGESTS FROM THIS PAGE

Cashbook and
Claypan 
Birdsville
or Bust 
East from
Oodna 
Alive in the
Dead Heart 
B-Line for
Birdsville 


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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