Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
Birdsville Track Mailmen
The Men Behind the Wheel
Wally and Fred Carting Building Materials
When the Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) oilmen emerged from the Simpson Desert along the road they built in 1963, the French Line, they too were making limited use of the Birdsville Track to bring up heavy motor spares and explosives from Adelaide and so maintain their oil exploration campaign on the Birdsville side of the desert. Time was of the essence in the oil business over cost, so if an International AB160 transfer case or a LandRover engine was needed to keep on schedule it was preferred that the load be crammed into a Cessna for speedy delivery into the desert, else the contractors got the job.
Before the 1964 summer was over though, logistics demanded most road-deliverable supplies for CGG come in by semi-trailer from Brisbane. Fortunately, the drilling crews that swarmed in afterwards following the strike at Gidgealpa and the stepping up of the oil-search activity throughout the Great Artesian Basin gave solid business to the Birdsville Track carrying contractors that lasted for a decade, effectively starting the "Birdsville Boom" that continues today.
Materials Arrive to Rebuild the Birdsville AIM Hospital
The rebuild began with the shipment by heavy transport of the building materials. Marree was as far as the conventional carriers could go and it was left to Fred Teague and Montie Scobie to cart the fragile and bulky loads up the Birdsville Track this time. Fred was well-equipped to handle the rigours of the 'Track the second time around. He had often completed the course two or three times per week as the mail contractor himself and on one memorable fully-laden trip to Birdsville he took only 18 hours on the up and a mere 12 hours for the empty return to Marree.
Bogged on the Birdsville Track
Fred recounted that David, a customer of his on the mailrun, told him how he would often venture many, many miles between the sandhills of the Simpson in search of "cleanskins" - unbranded cattle that the lucky finder could claim and brand for his own - and on occasions in a stiff southerly blow, he'd reported that the windswept western sides of some of the dunes revealed the remains of diprotodons that had perished long ago. Then a northerly blow would cover it all up again for perhaps years. I have long suspected these are the circumstances in which more evidence of explorer Leichhardt's demise will be similarly uncovered.
I have a record of Ted Colson on his way back from Birdsville in 1936 calling in on Harold George, reputed as being the genial owner and host at Alton Downs, then situated on the Mulligan and yet another reference from an 1885 pastoral map showing a DN George as the proprietor of the next most southern lease from Alton, a lease which following common practice, may have been handed down by DN George to offspring David George and renamed Muckajumpa - favoured stopoff for Fred Teague in the 1930's, but this is conjecture on my part.
Blitzwagons Bogged Even Better Before Birdsville
The dusty, dry channels have the habit of turning themselves into fifty-mile wide inland seas almost overnight and paradoxically when the waters subside, lush green herbage sprouts and reoccupies the channels. This virgin growth has the effect of attracting plagues of rabbits and rats and other pests to decimate it and once again turn the channels into a dust zone. Throughout this brutal cycle and in spite of it, the indefatigable Birdsville Track mailmen would determinedly steer their course - rain, hail or shine.
Well-known Mail Contractor Tom Kruse
"Life became a little easier and we didn't do nearly as much digging out of the sandhills as we had to do with the older trucks."By far the most celebrated South Australian outback character of the past fifty years, Tom Kruse starred in the Shell-backed film "Back o' Beyond" and more recently returned to the 'Track to feature in the documentary "Last Mail for Birdsville" shown on national television and produced by Blitzophile Keith Webb of Melbourne's Image Control, who has another doco in the pipeline based on CGG's use of Blitzwagons in their French Line exploration.
Tom Kruse's Badger Featured on 'Back o' Beyond'
"I just didn't see the point of a mail service that appears to battle through from one desert to another."Up to the time regular air services began Tom Kruse, with his exclusive mail contract, carted all the Channel Country mail up the 'Track but thereafter opportunities for consistent cartage of mail and other goods also began to fizzle out. Although the coming of the oil rig workers who followed CGG's exploratory work in the desert brought life into the district once again towards a peak of activity that has barely abated to this day, the end of the mail contract and the revival of Birdsville's fortunes was signalled simultaneously by the completion of the French Line in 1963.
Madigan Gets Off to a Good Start
Mail to and from Birdsville for the CGG exploring party was invariably carried by TAA's Channel Country fortnightly service and private operators from the east commenced bringing in heavier loads by semi-trailer, taking further business away from contractors such as Tom. He faced stiff competition from the local publican, Ernie Portch, who seized his chance and began carrying his own grog orders from SA Brewers up the 'Track from Adelaide to his pub.
Sudden Channel Country Mail Service Collapse
According to the mayor of Roma, Mr Bruce Garvie :
"We're in a desperate situation. It's another case of the bush suffering at the hands of economic reform."Kym Fort, the proprietor of the Birdsville Hotel, supported the mayor, claiming the collapse had stopped all mail and cut off vital supplies to his town. Flight West flew to 34 destinations in its fleet of 16 aircraft. The company chairman, Sir Dennis Buchanan, blamed the low Australian dollar, high fuel prices, competition and plummeting fare yields. Whatever the cause, several other airlines servicing the Australian outback generally have shut up shop since or merged, perhaps dropped uneconomical routes - so a trend is emerging, turning full circle - back to road transport. Might we go further back in time and eventually have to depend on camel trains? Not likely. We are almost out of Afghan drivers.
||Try the "with Malice a'Forecourt?" link and read what they did|
|Alive in the
||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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