Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
The Wright Partners
Flying Surveyor Team of the Simpson
Couple First to Survey the SA/NT Border in 1962
Mining companies had delved into the desert from both sides for some years before Reg Sprigg finally cracked Madigan's "interesting nut". Reg's professor of geology had famously challenged 'no motor vehicle would ever conquer the Simpson Desert' and although seismic survey parties vigorously attacked the fringes, no one had driven right across until Reg and his family made their move in September 1962. His mineral exploration firm Geosurveys Australia had been active in surveying mining opportunities in the Great Artesian Basin since formation in 1954 and it was Reg's continuing interest in the Basin that eventually influenced SANTOS to look more closely at developing the prospect.
Chief among the eager searchers conducting sorties into the desert dunes were the oilmen and Reg encountered the criss-cross patterns of their seismic shotlines at its edges as he came through. His own crews had been engaged in preparatory work too, on the ground and in the air. A significant astro-fixing brief was carried out by the Geosurveys' flying duo of Graham and Trisha Wright along the SA/NT border for the Department of National Mapping in early 1962.
Government Seismic Crew Meet Up With Graham Wright
In a basic 'touch n'go-type' operation, the Wrights hip-hopped over the dunes and across the claypans in their Cessna, landing and sighting and fixing their findings daily before taking off again in their border survey that began on the western edge of the Simpson Desert and ended at Poeppels Corner. They camped out evenings rolled up cosily together in a swag; it was their habit to shelter beneath the wing of the aircraft.
The Wrights were able to sustain themselves simply but comfortably while away from their Adelaide home due to the supreme mobility afforded them in travelling the vast distances by air. They could literally keep themselves fed out of cans for the few days at a time they were away. A convivial and likeable couple, they easily made friends with outback workers and locals wherever they went. In this instance pictured above, Graham has come across a Department of Mines camp on the edge of the Simpson.
Graham Takes a Peek at the Simpson Desert
The two Wrights flew for fun. Being true adventurers, they were prepared to break new ground. According to Madigan, the NT/SA border between Charlotte Waters and Poeppels Corner had never been surveyed or traversed and that remained the case until the coming of Trisha and Graham Wright. They were journeymen flyers, working for Geosurveys, then Dick Cavill's South Australian Air Taxis charter service (SAATAS) which contracted with Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) Party S6507 to support the field team constructing the French Line and following that stint in the Simpson, the Wrights went back to work with Reg Sprigg's Geosurveys once more. The indefatigable Graham found time to fly out of Coober Pedy two days a week for Warwick Goldsworthy's Opal Air.
Trisha was the first female to tread the sands of the central Simpson immediately preceding Griselda Sprigg and her daughter Margaret when they came through as a family unit and while the honour of being the first females to cross belongs solely to them, Trisha's feat is also more than noteworthy.
Trisha Wright Spraypaints a Survey Plaque
With her husband warming up the Cessna to go aloft and take an aerial photo of the permanent marker they had cemented in moments earlier, Trisha Wright presents as a vulnerable figure, alone on the ground but for Graham in the aircraft cabin, on a gibber plain in the centre of an uninhabited Australian desert - a region entirely devoid of any chance of through traffic and where no hopes could be held for rescue or repatriation in the event of a mishap with the plane.
To illustrate the enormity of the risks accepted by the Wrights, there were few permanently occupied pastoral properties within cooee in any direction almost exclusively where they travelled in the Simpson. The closer they got to one of the remote cattle stations, the further they got from the last sighted property. Pilots flew in and around the Simpson in the knowledge that radio contact with the outside world was impossible once on the ground, so coming down in any circumstances, forced or otherwise, placed them at peril. Aircraft operated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) were not suitable for desert landings although all of the RFDS pilots would have given it a good bash on getting down to them if called upon.
Cementing in a Permanent Marker
As Administration Manager, I was also First Aid attendant and radio operator for the CGG party and so I had a lot to do with aircraft attached to the camp. Not only were the Wright Partners the original border surveyors of the Simpson but Graham and his aircraft was also CGG's physical link with the outside world for much of the time during our sojourn in the Simpson building the French Line. My SSB HF radio kept me in touch with the RFDS bases at Alice Springs and Charleville and the medical help available down the line could talk me through most minor emergencies yet the doctors couldn't make housecalls. There was nothing quite so comforting as having a Cessna standing by on a claypan a couple of miles out of camp.
There were plenty of anxious moments for me though as a zambuck responsible for the well-being of more than forty five workmen and me with only a St Johns Ambulance First Aid Certificate and an RFDS chest to back me up on the ground. I managed to keep all of them in one piece myself with but one aircraft evacuation needed in all of the time of the desert conquest. I was pretty lucky. This happened only when the doctor on the radio paled at the prospect of my setting a broken finger for shooter John Blaney-Murphy and ordered Graham Wright to fly him out.
Before the road was through on another occasion Tankred Mueller and I got burns victim Joe Gawlik safely in by LandRover to the Birdsville AIM Hospital from our camp west of the Eyre Creek. All other incidents were treated inhouse and I got away with it, remarkably, in an environment where tons of explosives were shot every day and in a camp where guns and grog somehow co-existed. Oh. I neglected to say I was the bar manager as well.
Preparing the Astro-fix Marker
Geologists and farmers were invariably hot on the heels of the explorers in any new territory, so history tells us. Whether it was in darkest Africa, outback Australia or in the jungles of New Guinea and even places as stark and remote as Antarctica, the familiar pattern was evident. Surveyors followed geologists and farmers and developers called surveyors in as surely as night follows day - enterprise on the march needed to measure out the patch with some precision and pretty quickly too to ward off any disputes that might arise.
CGG as oil explorers employed surveyors to map the course the road would take to Poeppels Corner and the surveyors' simple coloured plastic strips marked the way for the bulldozers in contrast to the smartly turned out astro-fix markers set in place by the Wrights the year before. Trisha Wright was keen to comment on the quality of the equipment used by the team.
"Graham was wont to use a Wild Tz theodolite and I used a John Harrison chronometer. All beautiful instruments."
Dash For Africa Ends in Tragic Loss
Several years after these experiences Graham sought opportunities overseas. He ventured alone to the African continent and in Kenya, based himself in Mombasa and did a lot of bush flying from there. And so it came about that he was engaged by the Adelaide Country and Western singer Tina Lawton to fly her and crew around to venues, she being on her way back from a holiday in Scotland. It was late December, 1968. Trisha yearned to join her husband and it was arranged that she and their young son Jason join him on tour. She booked passage by ship and with Jason in tow, together they set sail for Africa.
While his family were enroute, Graham and his companions took time off for a sightseeing trip over Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet but, southeast of Nairobi they came upon Mount Longonot. Tragically, instead of continuing on and landing at Lake Baringo, the adventurous group flew inside the Longonot Crater and hit a downdraft, crashing down in the internal walls, tumbling beyond the ready reach of on-the-spot rescuers. Wreckage of the aircraft and remains of the occupants were later recovered. It was Christmas Eve. At sea, Trisha got a telegram with the dreadful news.
||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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