Many earnest claims have been made regarding actual crossings of the Simpson Desert.  Crossing is interpreted in these pages as being an act of   'passing from side to side'.  Charles Sturt himself failed to qualify as a ridgy-didge crosser, when he exclaimed :
"Those alone will really know the country who shall follow me into it."
Sturt and his party turned back short of the Simpson at Kaliduwarry on the Eyre Creek.  Ludwig Leichhardt was also a passionate explorer of the Australian outback and like most of his contemporaries, was extremely sensitive about following in the footsteps of pioneers such as Sturt, preferring to be seen to break new ground for himself.



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Simpson Desert Crossings

... and Those Who Nearly Made it

Only as a last resort, would an explorer cross another's path.  This sense of professional jealousy is what drove Ludwig Leichhardt to start out due west from Cogoon in Queensland on his last push into Central Australia in 1848, so that he would emerge on course above Charles Sturt's most northerly attainment on the Eyre Creek while merely crossing  Gregory's  rivers.  Almost certainly Leichhardt and his party entered the Simpson Desert but also failed to cross to the other side.

Others who dipped out on crossing according to the definition of passing from side to side include Ernest Giles.  Some scribes have him entering the desert from the western side however he ventured no further northwest in South Australia than Oodnadatta and consequently didn't poke his nose into the Simpson at all.

Pastoral and Other Crossings

George Debney of Annandale Station is purported to have made two solo crossings both ways on horseback between 1875 and 1880.   Curiously, one of these crossings was said to have been on  'Overland Telegraph Line'  business.  There was a lot of activity on the other side of the desert in that period which might have attracted an intrepid horseman such as Debney to use the Simpson for a shortcut to the job - a bit like we'd use the bottom paddock.

South Australian Government Surveyor-General  Augustus Poeppel entered the desert in 1879 to plot the tri-State corner.   He chained from Birdsville along the QLD/SA border and due to a most unfortunate professional error of declination, planted his survey peg fifteen chains (274 metres) short of the mark.    Checking his work upon his return to Adelaide, Poeppel became aware of his mistake and eventually was able to enlist the discreet services of his new assistant,  Larry Wells, who dutifully plonked the corner post in the appropriate spot some four years later in 1883 and kept quiet about his boss'  blue.

Stretching Credulity at Poeppels Corner

Once out of his apprenticeship at the department, Wells went on to survey the NT/QLD border right to the Gulf of Carpentaria in an unparalleled unbroken 3-year expedition.   The extraordinary excuse put about by Poeppel that his personal tape had stretched has been perpetuated to this day in official government publications, quoted by respected tour guides and is often highlighted on maps specific to the Simpson Desert, as this view published by Reg Sprigg shows.    It is ludicrous to expect that of all the Australian explorers, it was only Poeppel who suffered from a brummy tape.   He was the government surveyor in charge at the time and likely to have access to more superior resources than his staff.  Like the old adage warns us, the tradesman shouldn't blame his tools.

David Lindsay  drove camels from native waterhole to native waterhole in his celebrated though meandering journey across with a small party in 1886, from Dalhousie.   His was hardly a 'direct' crossing but he racked up a score, nonetheless.

In 1936, Edmund Albert Colson  of Bloods Creek was accompanied by a station hand and they rode a small team of camels east to Birdsville and back.   Unlike Poeppel, Colson plotted his path by compass but made a similar error of declination as had the original surveyor, so he actually overshot the corner post altogether, for it was now in its rightful position at the true tri-State corner.    Colson was aware Wells had shifted the box post, however it was his dead reckoning that let him down.    He was gratified to find Poeppel's peg on his return journey.

Three years later  Cecil T Madigan  became the first geologist of many hundreds to enter the desert when he took with him a camel team sponsored by Adelaide philanthropist Allen Simpson, who ultimately gave his name to the region.  Convinced there was "nothing to warrant any further attempts by prospectors or pastoralists" to follow in his tracks, Madigan's blunt opinion had the Simpson Desert as

"one place where the motor vehicle will never penetrate."

Explorers' Corner, off Birdsville Airstrip

It was a shame this view was shared by the oil companies and 4WD distributors for many years and may persist to this day, for  Reg C Sprigg,  a former student of Madigan (and  Sir Douglas Mawson)  at Adelaide University found his calls for vehicle sponsorship ignored by the corporates.  Disillusioned at the lack of interest, Reg never again gave motor industry advertisers the chance to cash in on his accomplishments although he was pestered routinely in later years.  It was more the shame, for if any historic film footage had been captured of Reg's original crossing, it would have made compulsive general viewing today and pleased a lot of advertisers.

Reg Sprigg at Home at Arkaroola

Undaunted, he planned for forward fuel dumps at critical locations, bought his own second hand 4WD and set out in September 1962 with his wife Griselda and their two small children Margaret and Douglas on board.    As his map shows, his course was East 90° from the Northern Territory Mt Daer, so even Reg didn't crack Madigan's nut exactly as challenged, when he emerged in Queensland.

However, on behalf of his firm Geosurveys Australia he performed a gravity survey on the way across that took the attention of   PM Menzies   which led directly to the coming of the oilmen and the construction of the French Line.



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Try the  "with Malice a'Forecourt?"  link and read what they did


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