Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
Bulldozing a Desert
The Roche Bros Highway
The initial thrust to prove the worth of oil prospects was traditionally entrusted to the seismic survey crews, who would probe the strata underfoot and report back to the leaseholders when favourable formations were met. It was then that the heavy drilling rigs would be called to spud in the chosen well-site. So it was in early 1963 that the CGG seismic survey party S6507 were charged with opening up the Simpson Desert to the oilmen and women of the country by prying out the innermost of the desert's long-held secrets.
Mechanic and Dozer Driver
Roche Bros had the contract to build the road for CGG. They started out to build a path up to 15m or over two D7 dozer blades wide on the crests and narrowing to as little as 5m on the swales, but over 400km long. That they broke through and did the job in three months is a remarkable feat of endurance under extreme privation. That road is now known as the French Line and as those visitors who have driven along it in recent times will testify, the dozers are welcome back, for the runups to the crests on both sides now resemble patches of moguls you'd expect to find on the snowfields, only more potentially damaging in the extreme.
Could It Take So Long?
These were the days without rules, when a machine would backblade and chop out windrows and make giant ramps to get the trucks over and back every day. Similarly, there was no respite for the drivers from the cloying dust rising from the dozer tracks. On a still day they had nothing but a handerchief wrapped around the jaws in a vain effort to keep the dust out of nose and mouth.
When a camp move was on, which was about every two weeks on the average, it involved packing and picking up the camp living quarters and coaxing and/or dragging the wagons 25km or so over the dunes to the next appointed spot. It wasn't unusual but nonetheless noteworthy to see a driver who had 'walked' his steed back for these regular coaxing duties suddenly appear out of the cloud of dust enveloping his machine. While the dozer walked on, he'd leave the controls and the machine to itself so he could come out for a breath of fresh air.
Heading up the Convoy
The Caterpillar D7 has four of the Blitzwagon semitrailers hitched up and under tow, a sure sign that the breakdowns on the day's run had left no room on the schedule for further delay. The Blitzes were mostly given their head on the smaller dunes, gobbling them up in their stride even with up to 17 tons on the back and invariably let loose on the flats or swales as well. However, if one of the prime movers were to become next to immobile following a failed run at a dune, drop a spring, throw a pot or lose a fuel line to spinifex, the mechanics would hook them all up together and bring 'em in steady, even if at only 3mph!
Bulldozer on the Crest
Dune depths up to 12m were gouged from the tops of the larger hills by the dozer blades and huge runups constructed from the waste in an effort to lower the angle of ascent. Shoulders of up to 30m wide either side of the cutting were wrought from the hilltops to lessen cave-ins. Today, practically all that can be seen of the French Line is the view point-to-point from one of these shoulders to the crest of another as in the swales the 'Line has lost its surveyed straightness in deference to the meanderings of countless 4WDrivers who have followed in our path.
The Roche Bros Fly-camp
Anyone aware that the surveyor for CGG, Roy Elkins, walked, chaining, all the way across in the manner of Charles Sturt could be tempted to say, so what? but while he often took turns with his offsider and drove the Dodge weapon-carrier to or from the fly-camp base he shared with the dozer men, he worked and walked his way across and was never heard to complain. Roy had a wooden leg and unlike those who have the luxury of his road such as it is now, Roy missed out - for the road he was directing was always behind him. Roy was often left to trudge between the raw spinifex and gidgee clumps to make his way.
Scoop Greets a Blitz
A fifth caravan served as the distant fly-camp where the dozer men ate, drank, fought and slept. Usually they fought the unfortunate cook who had been assigned to feed them. They never seemed to keep a cook past two weeks, due in the main to the death-wish that led each succeeding cook to polish off the beer stocks while the occupants were out all day on the 'Line. The beleaguered fly-camp cooks would snatch it in fear of their lives and take a quick ride on the next supply truck out. So, the dozer drivers would have to fight among themselves for a fortnight until the next truck came in with a replacement cook.
The Roche Bros All-purpose Scoopmobile
||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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