FROM THE ARCHIVES

John Blaney-Murphy was one of the Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) seismic survey crew in 1963 who achieved the first heavy vehicular crossing of the Simpson Desert.   He remembers it as a highlight of his life - "for the good times and the bad times, for the good workmates and the bludgers," he says - and for the splendour of the desert itself.

John began with CGG in Western Australia the year before, on their first contract in the country;  it was for a six month seismic survey at Fitzroy Crossing in the far north of WA.    As a young city bloke, John had not been further from Perth than Kalgoorlie.    Little did he know what was ahead for him in conquering the Simpson.


SIGNWRITER JOHN
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Cashbook and Claypan
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Yabba Dabba Bloody Doo!

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John Blaney-Murphy was originally hired by the CGG seismic survey party S6507 as a field assistant, which is a fancy name for a 'juggie'. (Juggie is short for jug hustler - jugs being the sobriquet for geophones and a jug hustler being one of the team of blokes who plant and pick up geophones all day. Ed)   A juggie's claim to fame is to walk for miles and miles placing a string of geophones along a surveyed line.   The geophones register the shock wave of an explosion and convey the information to a recording vehicle.    It was a tedious and unfulfilling task and when offered the opportunity to train as a shooter (explosives) he grabbed at the chance.

"It was a dangerous job but one I enjoyed immensely and I was lucky to have had two fine tutors at CGG," said John,"one was a chap called Steve Simco who had worked with seismic companies for many years and the other was Claude Gauthier.    Claude was the technician who operated the recording vehicle.   He was straight out of France, knew very little English, but was prepared to give a skinny young city slicker a go."

CGG Group Around Reg Spriggs' Drum


Claude and John became good friends and enjoyed a few beers together.    "I would like to think that I helped Claude with his English."    John continued,

"I can remember once when we told him how to chat up Australian women.    He never forgave us for that lesson.   I would like to share another beer or Pernod with Claude one day.   He was a good bloke."
After his apprenticeship at Fitzroy Crossing, John was off to South Australia.    Along with Pip Dunkley, Keith Johnson and a couple of other West Aussies they arrived in Adelaide and began the long trek to Oodnadatta, the start of the Simpson adventure and ultimately the 'French Line.'  And that's where 'Yabba Dabba Bloody Doo' comes in.
"To help keep morale up I left posters with messages on at shot points or other suitable spots," John said.

The Swinging Sign


"On top of the highest sand dune encountered, I strung a swinging sign over the track which read 'Is Your Trip Really Necessary?'    Just what the boys needed to see after struggling to attain the peak of a dune," he concluded.

John and his offsider Joe Eime suspended this cardboard sign high above their truck, with the aid of ropes they had run between the shoulders of the sandhill.   No mean effort, although viewers typically had to be front-on and up close to John's signs to read the messages, due to the rough and scratchy materials he had to write with.

"After a couple of months in the desert around Oodna Pip Dunkley and myself were the only West Australians left in the crew so to keep the flag flying one of my signs read 'East is East, but West is Best'."    John copped some flak over that one.

"My signs were trivial items," he said, "but I think they helped relieve some of the problems of working and living in a desert."

Close-up of John's Poeppels Corner Sign


One treasured photo from the Simpson that John has is of a group of his contemporaries at Poeppels Corner (where the borders of NT, SA and QLD meet).    "A board from a detonator box had our names, CGG, the date and signed off Y.D. Doo," said John. (Y.D. Doo referred to John's nom de plume of Yabba Dabba Doo - Ed).

"Unfortunately the sign along with the drum and marker signifying the location were stolen or vandalised by someone who followed in our tracks.   Reg Sprigg (a well known and respected geologist), who along with his family became the first to achieve a motorised crossing of the Simpson from west to east, had placed the marker there."

Quin's Party Spot the Drum in the Wake of CGG


Kevin Murphy, not related to John, held down the role of administrative assistant to the Party Chief.    In effect, this meant he did the office paper shuffling, radio schedules and first aid work for the group of 45 seismic survey workers in the team.    Kevin said on this subject,

"Reg Sprigg harboured the thought for years that CGG had knocked off his drum, for when he came by again a year later it was gone.   Fortunately, I was able to show Reg this photo Rene Quin's party had taken of the drum still in place when they came up from Adelaide to see us after we'd broken through to Eyre Creek.   We were long gone and it was still at Poeppels Corner sporting John's detonator box-sign, so Reg knew CGG were in the clear."

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