The seismic survey workers of Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) Party S6507 became low on water and fuel in the middle of their Simpson Desert survey.   This account outlines their six-day dash for the Eyre Creek supply dump.   Their seismic survey Line B across the Simpson Desert was carved two bulldozer-blades wide from Alka Seltzer Bore at the end of Spring Creek on the western side of the desert proper, to Poeppels Corner at the tri-State junction, a distance of 200km.

They have reached the point of no return.   Cut off in the rear by flooding and denied replenishments of fuel and food and water, with the bulldozers not yet through to the Dickerrie supply dump, the party was in crisis.   They must break camp and reach safety on the Eyre Creek, fast.



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The Long Haul

Ninety Mile Dash For Eyre Creek

CGG Convoy on Saltlake

French Petroleum's plan called for the Simpson seismic work to be done on the 100km section between Camp 5 and Camp 9 on the run up to Poeppels Corner (pronounced Popples).   The bulldozing team managed to stay roughly two weeks in front of the advancing oil workers, who positioned their campsites about 20km apart, only moving on when they completed the target program around them.

Line B extended 19km past Camp 9, just short of the Erabena turnoff.   The end of Line B is seen on maps as the 'bump' where the French Line takes a beeline for the 80km run to Poeppels.

Last Night Out on Lake Poeppel

Both the construction and the seismic work was on schedule when suddenly the Finke came up a banker and the CGG supply trucks could not get through to the Pedirka railhead.   At the same time it was found that the water trucks, which had to that stage been pulling water from Oasis Bore, were now at their practical limit and couldn't be relied upon any more for ready water.    Large amounts of water were needed in the drilling process.   The party would have to get water from the Eyre Creek, but the road wasn't through yet.   On the eve of the next big jump (140km) the CGG workers had only the water, fuel and food they could carry with them from Camp 9, without the possibility of ready replenishment.

Blitzwagons Rolling at Sunset

Water for cooking and washing up was denied altogether and although the semi-trailers and trucks were on the road from dawn to late evening everyday for the six days of 'The Long Haul', the men rationed themselves to a Milo pint-sized tin of water a day each for ablutions so they had some water left to drink and where and when they could, they dined out on canned food.    The kitchen was closed that week.

Caravans sat overnight in the spots where they stopped.    They were not setup, that is, the accommodation was not erected - a task that could have been done in an hour or so, for the tired-out drivers and passengers preferred to crash either on top of the caravans or underneath them, or on the loads of the trucks.   It just wasn't worth it, they felt, to setup the trailers.

Those sleeping in the 'Rovers were expected to lay with their feet out the windows and this was enforced when on the road.    Only the drivers were allowed to have their smelly feet inside the cabin, such was the level of hygienic privation suffered by the men on the slog to Eyre Creek.

Simpson Desert Traffic Jam

Five days were needed to reach Poeppels Corner.    The convoy historically was able to average 20km any long day in the toughest of terrains in the Simpson, limited only by the slowest vehicle.    An Inter AB160 or a Lannie was quite capable of climbing the sixty sandhills between each CGG campsite in an hour, not counting mishaps.    On the other hand, the Blitzes towing the living quarters, which could weigh in at up to 17 old tons, struggled at the steepest of the dunes at times and called for assistance from the bulldozer drivers.

Prudently, a 'dozer dropped back to stay with the convoy while the other two pushed forward to open the path to Dickerrie waterhole.    Five mechanics accompanied the squad of Blitzes, nursing them on, often drawing up alongside in their Lannies to urge a Blitz driver on.   When a tow was in order, the mechanics called in the Caterpillar D7.   Sometimes an AB160 could nudge a Blitz and caravan over a pesky dune and sometimes a healthy Blitz could return the favour, but at the end of the day, it was the dozer drivers to whom they all would turn for a lift.

Caterpillar D7 Helping Out

At first the mechanics experimented with chains then steel wire rope to organise the towing of the heaviest of the vehicles over the biggest of the Simpson's sand dunes.    They found that just about any method could be used to skull-drag wheels over a hill.   The problem was what to do with the load once it was released over the crest.   Cat D7s habitually travelled down the slope at the same speed they used to reach the top and everyone had to get used to that.

The solution turned out to be to employ 20 feet long high-tensile three-inch drillpipes.    First, one pipe was tried by flattening each end and drilling pinholes through the flats.    These went L-shaped as soon as the load made itself felt over the top (and they couldn't EVER be straightened for re-use).   The mechanics then welded two drillpipes together and repeated the exercise.    Still, two pipes often bent with the load.    Finally, their tenacity scored when they welded three drillpipes together.    That did the trick.    These drillpipe kits were carried in the mechanics' Lannies from that moment on and they could be called in and connected quickly when the need arose.

One day further past Poeppel and the convoy was home.    CGG didn't take the QAA Line used today, instead made their own Line N some 25km east of Poeppel then 25km NNW between the sand hills.

Home at Last!

One hundred and forty kms along on the track and these men are the early ones into camp.    Drillers, juggies and shooters worked everyday on their eight-hour jobs but on The Long Haul they must be prepared to wait for the stragglers bringing the bedrooms.    Soon after this photo was taken the field-workers began dismantling and unpacking trailers (see the chairs on top of the kitchen caravan).

Two or three hours later the Allis Chalmers HD11 'dozer hove into sight and in the after dark light some six or seven miles out on the flat, it came into view with a flaming-red, transparent block in which the redhot moving parts were clearly discernible - a memory that has stayed with the veterans who saw the phenomenon that night.

Bending the Rules in all Probability

Unknown to the drivers of the heavier accommodation vehicles, while they were on the road an airlift of some magnitude was being performed.   Graham Wright had begun ferrying jerricans of water, petrol and diesel in the cabin of his Cessna - exposing himself even more to danger by putting down on claypans close to vehicles and the men who had need of his stock.    There was plenty of water and fuel at Dickerrie and Graham was the sole means of delivery on the Long Haul.

He flew sorties up to twenty flights a day to keep the CGG juggernaut rolling.   Fuel can't be carried in an aircraft cabin today.    So many things are regulated these days it is hard to imagine how CGG got by in the days with no rules.


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