ALIVE IN THE DEAD HEART

How to Survive More Than Three Months in Australia's Simpson Desert - Bring Your Living Quarters With You.    Forty-five intrepid seismic workers lived and worked along the length of the French Line as they extended their road, from mobile homes drawn from one campsite to the next by ex-Army Blitzwagons.

The Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) oil search party hired the Brisbane-based catering firm Oilfield Caterers to feed and house the men while the team worked Australia's One True Desert.   Roche Bros, the bulldozer contractors, operated a 'fly camp' out in Siberia to accommodate their crew, usually 25km in advance of the main party.


PARTY CHIEF
BERNARD FINZI

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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Mobile Homes of the Simpson

Caravanning in the Desert

Bring Your Own Accommodation


On the left, CGGs boss in the Simpson Bernard Finzi, strides past a heap of jacks on a claypan he has selected as the site for the next camp along the French Line in 1963.

The adjustable jacks have been unloaded from a supply truck and will shortly be used to support the flooring of the demountable caravans in which the field workers are accommodated.    Above, one of the five Chev Blitzes that Oilfield Caterers supplied has been positioned and the flooring can be seen firmly locked in against the trailer.

Manoevering the Flooring Onto its Jacks


Each caravan had a solid central core.    The floor on each side was winched gingerly to rest on the jacks positioned beneath.    Steel wire cabling at either end helped ease the heavy flooring into place.

Sides, ends and roof slabs were fashioned from light-gauge aluminium panelling, which bore rubber flaps at the edges so that the joins might overlap and provide some seasonal protection from the alternate blasts of heat, cold and dust due to be directed at the inhabitants throughout their time in the desert.    Temperature variations ranged from near-freezing some winter nights to 50°C in the summer-time heat.

Now to Lift up the Roof


A side of the living quarters is unfolded to allow the roofing section to be raised so that they might be joined to form a self-contained room of the dormitory trailer.    There was also an office caravan and a kitchen caravan plus the workshop trailer which carried the Lister generator and all the mechanics welding and oxy equipment.

There was a single supply tent that the kitchen staff slept in to be near the beer.    These four caravans and a tent thus formed the 'desert village' of the main CGG camp.   The dozer drivers and their mechanics lived in "Siberia", the remote fly camp, as did the surveyors.   The men shared a cook or twenty in their periods away from the main camp - being very brutal on any camp cook who dared clean up the last of the beer while the wild and thirsty dozer drivers were out on their twelve-hour shifts, pushing through the 'Line.

Joining up the Side to Meet the Roof


The dormitory was designed to accommodate 28 men.   Eight double-bunk beds were erected in this wing of the caravan, eight on the other side and twelve in the core.   Air conditioner use was rationed.    Each of three caravans - the kitchen, the dormitory and the office were fitted with air-conditioning units powered by the generator, yet only two out of the six could be used at the one time due to the inadequacy of the generator.    Evaporative coolers were tried to no great satisfaction.  Neither was cooling the mobile caravans too important in the winter months along the French Line.

While the desert heat is dry when things warm up and the humidity experienced is mostly negligible, it is easy to sustain oneself comfortably out in the open in the summer so long as there is a zephyr of a breeze and a waterbag at hand.    Yet used indoors later in the campaign (or mission, as the French insisted on calling each tour of duty), the coolers turned the caravan living space into private sauna rooms, when CGG worked the Channel Country on the edge of the Simpson from the Spring of 1963.   The evaporative units hurriedly brought in at employee-demand weren't popular and were soon dumped when the men realised their mistake.

Only the Ends to go!


The kitchen trailer waits for its ends to be attached.   A Portagas bottle is bolted to the core of the caravan by the steps.    This core contained the cooking and cold storage facilities for the camp.   Refrigeration of a sort was achieved with brine fridges which held the leftover beef cuts remaindered from the steer bodies.

Understandably, a menu including fresh fruit or vegetables was out of the question.   The camp diet for each ten day supply-cycle rotated around a staple body of beef that managed to make a 200 mile round trip swathed in coolibah leaves, occasionally some bacon and some tinned chicken, packaged bread and dripping and dried herbage with powdered milk, canned vegies and fruit conserve, with plenty of tea, Golden Circle tinned juice and ersatz coffee thrown in.

Voila! Ready to Move in


Two settings were scheduled for all meals except Monday to Saturday lunches, which latter were attended only by the in-camp personnel of office-staff and mechanics.   One side was reserved for dining (this side); the other side was for the showers and laundry.   To maintain enough water for the showers, one of the water trucks was permanently moored to the side of the kitchen so that the cooks and bathers and launderers might be kept refreshed.

Waste Not, Want Not


Tom Penny was the oldest man in camp and positively the wisest.   He didn't boast he worked every station property in outback South Australia because it was written all over him. In a rare photo of Tom he surveys the usual watery sump left by the kitchen and showers after ten days on the same claypan.

The old Blitzes got to rest for a fortnight before they were called on to haul their heavy loads over the dunes once more to another campsite, 25km further along the French Line.    Fresh air, when it was needed, was coaxed into the caravans by raising the aluminium flaps on the side.   These 'windows' had quite efficient gauze screens, protecting the occupants from incessant flies and moths.   However, serious other bugs and scorpions managed to negotiate the rubber seals at the caravan edges to get at the inhabitants inside.

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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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