EAST FROM OODNA

Jaroslav Pecanek quickly built an outback empire when he owned every business in Oodnadatta except for the Transcontinental Hotel.   In February of 1963 the first of the French oilmen began reconnoitering the area around Oodnadatta in order to plan the coming winter assault on the Simpson Desert.

Australian Prime Minister Bob Menzies impressed SANTOS, the lessee for the Great Artesian Basin, that the farmout operator should be a French company and chosen by this narrow consensus was French Petroleum (FPCA).   The General Field Services manager appointed to run FPCA was Rene Quin.   In turn he engaged the French seismic operator with whom he had worked in the Sahara, Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) to seek out the better prospects so the decisions on where to drill could be taken.


OODNA STORE'S
JAROSLAV PECANEK

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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The Pecaneks of Oodna

Suppliers to the Simpson

French Petroleum Boss Rene Quin Enters the Fray


Rene Quin lost no time in setting up his HQ in SANTOS' building in Currie St Adelaide.    Chief among Quin's concerns in the region was the coordination of the supply chain and the firm destined to be providore for the oil search was the Oodna general merchants and carriers JE & J Pecanek.

Jaroslav and his wife Jindra Pecanek were the proprietors and he had come to Oodna on doctor's advice three years before.    Seeking a hot, dry climate to suit his sinus trouble, he learned the Oodna general store was for sale and determined to buy it.    His doctor had told him his only hope was to live in the Sahara.

"As a new arrival I didn't have much money but they let me in on a low deposit," he said.
It was to prove a good move.   Pec, as he became widely known, quickly built an outback empire, owning every property and business in Oodnadatta except the Transcontinental Hotel.    Pec also got his good weather - often 45°C in summer.

View of Oodna Pub from 1963


In this photo from 1963 Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) vehicles are parked outside the Transcontinental Hotel.  A large open area of Pec's Oodna Stores was stocked with everything imaginable.   Pec provided for the district's station owners and aboriginal community alike, for oil rig workers and stockmen, public servants passing through as well as railway workers and roadtrain drivers.

Everything from chaff to chillers, dynamite to dresses and even imports of Pernod and Gitanes cigarettes from Paris figured on Pec's consignment lists.    Pec was prepared to have a go at anything.    He supplied the CGG camp way out in the desert caseloads of exotic booze still bearing the Customs stickers and stocked a library of Australiana books for them, choosing the titles himself (or perhaps it was Jindra who made the selections).

Oodna Stores Circa 1980


Among the store's licences were three for selling fuel by retail, wholesale and as well depot petrol sales.    It was bureaucracy gone mad, Pec used to complain.

"I have a wall full of licences.    When I bought the store I only had to have seven licences," he said.   "Now I need twenty-one.    Its crazy."

The Famous Pink Roadhouse


On his last trip back in 2003 Kevin Murphy, the administration manager for CGG who ran the office throughout their campaign (or "Mission", as the French called it) of seismic exploration in the nearby Simpson, was reminded once more of his business dealings with Pec.  Orders from Kevin's desert office were placed by two-way radio and relayed as telegrams by Alice Springs RFDS to Oodna Stores, for CGG to pick up when confirmed - again by telegram.  It was early days for Pec and the realisation was emerging that whatever CGG was doing out there in the Simpson Desert was likely to bring extraordinary traffic in the years to come.   Already, oil drilling teams were circling in expectation.  Thus, CGG was to trigger Pec's expansion into road transport.

Kevin had been hopeful of obtaining copies of these telegrams from the RFDS but was foiled.  The records had been lost in a fire years before in Charleville.  He sought out the owner-in-residence of the Pink Roadhouse Lynnie Plate and updated the display of photos he had left five years before.  Lynnie's establishment was fairly buzzing in July, at the height of the season.   Kevin offered a small portfolio of historical memorabilia from the 1963 construction of the French Line for display in the Oodnadatta Museum.  To date, the commitment is unfulfilled, but at least, the commitment is now public.

Another Look at Oodna Years Later


Imagine the surprise of the CGG reunion tourists of 1998 when they thought about a beer in the Oodna pub after such a long break and found one of their old mates in there doing a stocktake, down for a day or two from Alice Springs.    It was Ross Loader, a juggie from the old days.    John Blaney-Murphy found him.    He actually rubbed shoulders with the bloke who then genially introduced himself and John said,

"I'm coming through with a group of the old fellows who built the French Line.    I nearly fell over when the bloke said 'I did that too' and it turned out to be Ross."

Return of the CGG French Line Veterans


Memories of the Ghan are fast fading in Oodna since they ripped up the tracks on the old Central Australian Railway to Alice Springs.   Jindra and Jaroslav Pecanek are gone and so is Oodna Stores.    A large slice of the community went with the railway line, fettlers and all manner of railway staff moved out when they were no longer needed.    A local aboriginal group succeeded in having the old Oodnadatta Railway station declared as a National Trust site and the Museum is now housed in the forlorn platform buildings.

Old CGG office wallahs Pip Dunkley and Kevin Murphy take a few moments out on their Simpson Desert pilgrimage to stand in the way of the permanent way that once was the path of the Ghan.   Kevin was appreciative of Pip coming across from Perth to join the LROCV reunion crossing because Pip had been the office manager for CGG Party S6509 at Fitzroy Crossing and had especially turned up in the desert to show him the office routines, prior to Kevin taking over for the arduous, historical crossing.

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Cashbook and
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Alive in the
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Bulldozing a Desert Trans National Causeway
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