FRENCH LINE BEGINNINGS

The Simpson Desert remains Australia's One True Desert.    Over 460,000 acres in size and spanning the corners of three Australian mainland States,  it was vacated by the first Australians more than a hundred years ago and has never yet been settled by the Europeans who had so rapidly taken over the rest of the country.

Although the coming of the pastoralists was the usual precursor for opening up new territories and they had the Simpson well and truly in their sights and surrounded inside one hundred years of the original settlement,  it was to be another eighty or so years before oilmen provided the thrust that would burst a path through the centre of the dunefields.


REG SPRIGG
FIRST DRIVER
IN THE DESERT

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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The Construction of the French Line

Simpson Desert Oil Search

The Fresh-Cut French Line


French Petroleum committed to spend  £4m (worth about $AUD40m today) over five years of oil exploration in the Great Artesian Basin to earn a 50% stake in the Simpson Desert leases held by Delhi/SANTOS.    French Petroleum chose as prime contractor its compatriate company, Brisbane-based Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG).

A thorough geophysical survey of the southern Simpson was ordered.   Preparatory work began in the Pedirka district along the Hamilton River before the attention of the French oilmen turned to the main game - South Australia's formidable Simpson Desert.


First a road had to be built to facilitate the movement of the oil search crew as they advanced across the dunes.

CGG named their traverse following convention, as Line B.    Today their handiwork is known universally as the French Line.    CGG hired the Adelaide earthmoving contractors Roche Bros to carve a path across the dunes to Eyre Creek.    A Brisbane firm Oilfield Caterers, secured the concession for accommodation and catering.   South Australian Air Taxis (SAATAS) contracted to provide aerial 'lifeline' support with their Cessnas.

Simpson Shaken by Massive Blasts


Five tons of Geophex explodes in the Simpson Desert - way out of harm's way it would seem, where only the devil gives a damn.    Although damaging to the peace and quietude of the desert, it was all in a day's work for CGG.

Forty-five men toiled three months in the desert from July 1st 1963, working either side of Line B as the bulldozing team advanced into the heart of the Simpson.

The Living Quarters Relocate With Difficulty


Straight as a die from Dalhousie to Poeppels Corner, the French Line originally carried Chev Blitzwagons toting living-quarter trailers weighing up to 17 tons as pictured here on the move to a new campsite.   It was Reg Sprigg, the founder of Geosurveys Australia who first drove across the Simpson the year before in 1962 - showing the way east.

Reg was also instrumental in the formation of the Australian prospector SANTOS and introduced his protege to the Texan wildcatter Delhi - the partnership that led to the farmout to French Petroleum.

In his attack on the Simpson's dunes, Reg started out from the Northern Territory Mt Daer (11km north of the border) and headed due east, sticking to a route first paralleling the NT/SA and then the QLD/SA borders all the way to Birdsville.   But for a brief incursion down to the Knolls in South Australia where he and his family met up with their travelling companions from Geosurveys who had also converged by arrangement from the north, his was a unique path and one not often replicated since.

The Milling Throng at Big Red


It has been a source of wonderment for the CGG veterans once they learned that their 'two bulldozer-blades wide' access road had become the chosen path for thousands of scientists, students, researchers and recreational 4WDrivers entering or crossing every year.    Some days on Big Red, like this scene from 1998, it gets a bit like Pitt or Collins Street.

Without discounting Reg Sprigg's 1962 feat, it is clear that the first motor crossing of the desert along the popular route from Dalhousie to Birdsville was performed by the oilworkers of CGG Party S6507 with their LandRovers, supply trucks and Blitzwagon semi-trailers some ten months after Reg.    This later effort with heavy, articulated vehicles was quite a comeuppance to Madigan's challenge that 'no motorised vehicle will ever penetrate this desert'.

Mining Bureaucrats Good at Storing Data


Oil discovered in the Simpson was waxy and congealed, of poor quality and therefore of no commercial value.   Although those first results were disappointing, the enduring legacy of CGGs invasion of the 'One True Desert' will always be the terrabytes of priceless seismic data left behind and stored in the mineral resource databases of the nation.

A significant legacy was the French Line itself.    It has proven to be a boost for the town of Birdsville, opening up the Channel Country to tourism like nothing else has done.   The BMR holds the data gleaned from all similar seismic exercises over the years.

Birdsville's Three Explorer Cairns


CGG veterans returned to the Simpson in 1998 on the 35th Anniversary of the original crossing, courtesy of the Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria (LROCV).  At the conclusion of the historic Vintage Rover Desert Safari, the LROCV erected a cairn with a plaque attached in tribute to the men of CGG.

Standing opposite the Birdsville Pub, sandwiched between the cairns of Madigan and Colson, the tiny monument was dedicated by the Rev Dr Dean Drayton, the original geophysicist on the French Line.    Have a look for yourself when you get to Birdsville.    It is the little cairn in the middle when you face west across from the pub.

French Line - Sealed One Day?


It is unlikely the cantankerous Simpson Desert prevailing winds would blow in one direction long enough to allow tar-sealing of the French Line, but in this fanciful illustration, an old CGG Blitz stands memorial to the exploits of the oilmen.  There is a very real chance that memories of the Blitz vehicles' service with CGG might not be lost after all if a Blitz cabin like this one can be put on permanent display outside John Menzies' Working Museum in Birdsville.


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

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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