Camelback explorers David Lindsay (1886), Edmund Colson (1936) and Cecil Madigan (1939) all chose to begin their confrontation with the Simpson Desert from the western side, as did the first man game to attack the desert by motor vehicle, Reg Sprigg, who headed east and gallivanted through with his family in 1962.

The oil exploring team Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) also mounted their heavy-vehicular charge from the west at Dalhousie in 1963 and left as a legacy their access road, the French Line, which has since so opened up the Simpson that the desert has become the classroom of scientists and the resort of adventuring 4WDrivers.



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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Central Australian Oasis

CGG's Desert Assault Begins at Dalhousie

Mt Dare Welcomes the CGG Crew

Aborigines had been pleased to see the CGG team fly in from their short break on leave because renewed drilling sometimes produced new sources of water supply for them.  Rex Lowe, the owner/operator of Mt Dare Station, had been monitoring the seismic survey crew's efforts on his lease in the weeks leading up to their crack at the Simpson proper.   As their drilling program took them closer to the rim of the Simpson Desert, Rex noted in his diary, 

"Met shooting truck on site where they have fifteen holes drilled to sixty feet.  Some have salt water, no good water so far."

DC3 Charter from Brisbane Touches Down

Some people say the Simpson starts at the junction of the French Line with the Finke at Alka Seltzer Bore and if that is the case, CGG was to provide the locals with abundant water from the hole to be drilled subsequently to 14000 feet at Purni, within a few miles of their entrance into the Simpson.  As his diary entry shows for July 1st 1963, Rex too was well-disposed towards the prospects for local development arising from the search for mineral wealth.

"Two DC3s, one ex-Adelaide and one from Brisbane landed afternoon with 36 CGG men on board.  They left for camp soon after, taking with them 360lbs beef.  DC3 crew Airlines of South Australia here for afternoon tea.  Air hostess and two pilots of TAA DC3 stayed overnight; particularly nice lot ...."

CGG's Camp on Spring Creek

The site for CGG's mobile living quarters, designated as Camp 4, was midway between Dalhousie Springs and the Finke River on the Spring Creek floodout - about eight miles south of Oasis Bore.  This had served as the base camp for the exploration program for May and June; now it was time to advance directly to the doorstep of the desert, to Camp 5 on Alka Seltzer Bore, where the team were to spend their first night of many in the Simpson.  Only David Lindsay of the other conquerors, had passed this way before.

Rex Lowe and the entire CGG party were unaware of a relationship that had its first moments on that most eventful of occasions.  The Chef de Mission Bernard Finzi, was eventually to wed the hostie he met on the TAA charter that July day in 1963.

Dalhousie is a Desert Surprise

Of all the sights he witnessed on his travels on REDEX Trials and other private journeys around Australia, 'Gelignite Jack' Murray rated coming upon Dalhousie Springs and the nearby ruins, as among the most remarkable contrasts he'd seen, arising as they seem to do out of stark and utterly contradictory surroundings.  [Jack had a service station in Bondi Junction and was a frequent visitor to the Automagic Carwash on New South Head Road at Edgecliff that I managed for Sydney investor Vic Davis and American Gale Harbour and to where I gravitated upon leaving CGG in June 1964.  We had many chats together once Jack learned of my oil-rig and seismic exploration background and our common interest in the rough middle of the continent - Ed.]

Jack Murray was notorious for his habit of roaring through a sleepy village while on one of his long endurance drives around the country and waking up the population by throwing a stick of gelignite in their midst.  Perhaps it was due to his appreciation of contrast ; his drive to make change, that he saw great merit in opposites.  He took quiet delight that he was one of the few Australians to visit the only stands of timeless waddy trees on either side of the Simpson.  One was on the easterly side at Andado and the other above Birdsville on the western edge.

Magic Springs of Dalhousie

Afghan camel teams opened up routes from the intermediate depot of Marree in both directions - up the Birdsville Track on the east and up along the 'Ghan route to stations on the west of the Simpson.  Certainly, the permanent waters were a drawcard for the Afghans and it is doubtless that when they emptied out their camelbags, the seeds of the date palms took root.  There on the rim of Australia's 'One True Desert' are the magic, bottomless Dalhousie Springs.   It was Jack Murray who told me in wonderment,

"They're bottomless, you know. The Springs are bottomless. They have tried to plumb the bottom and they have given up."

Writer Frank Clune believed they'd one day be developed into a luxury holiday resort and he was joined by many other worthies promoting the same sentiments but it is most unlikely to eventuate now as the whole area is a proclaimed national park.

Dalhousie Ruins Circa 1963

David Lindsay has little to say about Dalhousie Station in the field notes of his journey from there to the Queensland boundary in 1886, other than to report that he left with Mr. Bagot (who had recently come off Hamilton Bore Station) and Paddy the Murraburt native, starting at 1.40pm on January 4th with the thermometer standing at 110° in the shade.  At that time it was known that the property was in the hands of  F. & R. Sandford who also held Mt Dare.  It is reasonable to expect that Lindsay might have been entertained by the Sandfords prior to starting out.

Reg Sprigg once hinted to me with some small mystery in the air that his family had held Dalhousie 'around the turn of the century' and although I persisted I could not elicit further comment from Reg on the subject.   Kidman was just beginning his run of South Australian investments of the 1880's and had secured Macumba and the nearby Yeramunga lease, yet the records fail to show Sidney Kidman had made a successful play for Dalhousie, nor is the Sprigg name evident at all on pastoral maps.  It seems the Sandfords were still in occupation up until 1900 unless Reg was referring to his forebears having management of the lease.

The Ruins Thirty Years Later

A South Australian map (Picturesque Atlas Publishing Company Limited, Sydney and Melbourne 1886) in preparation as Lindsay was slogging away in the desert curiously pinpoints and gives the aboriginal names of the eastern three of the nine native mikiris (wells) that Lindsay confirms in his notes.  This indicates a significant exchange of information between station owners of the Channel Country and the local native people, for them to have revealed the whereabouts of their precious desert water supplies.

When did the demise of Dalhousie occur?   and how could it happen with good permanent water at hand?  Well, the same thing happened with Annandale on the Eyre Creek on the other side of the desert, so close to copious Kaliduwarry.   Annandale went down in the decade of the World War (1911-1920) when beef production was a distant second to wool and its other staple, lamb.  Loss of manpower might have been felt more severely on the most remote family properties, considering their supply and distribution handicap as the Afghan transport influence with camels also subsided.

There was a clear gap in services as one ran down and the other method got organised.  The motor truck had not yet been handed the baton for pioneers like Tom Kruse to run with from the roaring twenties on.


Coles Express Picks on a Pensioner .....
Try the  "with Malice a'Forecourt?"  link and read what they did


Leylands' Tough
Simpson Desert Sector 
The Pecaneks
of Oodna 
The Wright
A Geologist
Strikes Back 
Poeppel Stretches

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