The French Line was carved by bulldozers up and over a thousand or more sand dunes of the Simpson Desert in Australia's desolate centre from 1st July 1963.
It began as CGG's 'Line B' near Dalhousie Springs in South Australia and ended at Poeppels Corner, the tri-State border with Queensland and the Northern Territory.
This account recalls some of the brushes with nature's birdlife faced by those men who turned their backs on citylife that they might find mineral wealth in the desert and indicates their attempts at taming the pets might have been motivated more by the urge to feel at home in such lonely and forbidding surroundings.
The eagle fledgeling had toppled out of his desert nest, one fashioned from an upside-down tree and as is the way of adult eagles, the parents abandoned him. John Thompson, CGG shooter on the 1963 seismic exploration of the Simpson, took it upon himself to raise the bird. While other crew members tended baby corellas, galahs, budgies or owls and kept them, foul-nests and all, in their living quarters, Thommo had as his pet the growing menace of a real, live eagle that wouldn't live inside or take living lying down.
Never straying and never in fear of the comings and goings about the campsite of forty-five crewmen and their vehicles, the bird grew to young adulthood and under Thommo's careful guidance, adjusted itself fairly well to camplife. And it had a keen sense of fun, which it liked to demonstrate by dive-bombing the head and hair of anyone it found out in the open, who might typically be squatting at ablutions and therefore quite vulnerable to a surprise aerial attack.
Cockatoos on the Lookout for Thommo's Eagle?
Thommo took to travelling with his eagle while working and on camp moves and then boldly, further afield.
On a Channel Country commercial flight he convinced the hostess that the bird in his overnight bag was really a 'Territory chicken' and thus was allowed to continue the flight.
Easy Victim of a Paratrooper
Pet birds wandered through the camp but our only eagle was shot by an ignorant camp caretaker while all others were on leave during the winter of '64. At least all the signs pointed toward the culprit being the newly-hired refugee from France's tragedy at the notorious Dien Bien Phu siege of Vietnam, a little roly-poly paratrooper. Whether he shot the friendly bird is not known for sure. Although hotly denied by the supposed perpetrator on our return, the doubt continues to this day for Thommo.
A Young Boobook is Captured on the Eyre Creek
The French Line was carved by bulldozer over three months from July 1st 1963. It began as CGG's second mission in South Australia following the initial April, May and June exploration of 'Line A' above Hamilton Creek.
'Line B' pushed along Spring Creek west of Dalhousie Springs in South Australia and ended as 'Line M' at Dickerrie on Eyre Creek in south west Queensland in mid-September of that year, having reached the mid-point of Poeppels Corner on 12th August. It was in this first thrust between Dalhousie and Poeppels that the men began taking an interest in and caring for the birds they captured so easily.
Corella and Galah Pets Became Nuisances
The men took the corellas and galahs from the low-level nests that lay everywhere, for there had been fair autumn rains on the western edge of the desert to promote breeding and although the sands had long since parched out there was plenty of dried herbage to encourage birds to enter and feed in the Simpson proper.
By the time the CGG party broke through to Dickerrie Waterhole (close by Charles Sturt's furthest north point) spring rains had brought life to the delta of the Channel Country - the area bounded by the moody Mulligan, the Georgina, Eyre Creek and the Diamantina Rivers.
Birdlife Teeming Around the Waterholes
They were rivers in name only, for a short while. Often they carried somewhere else's water when they did flow and the local rains were said to be from rainstorms that got lost. For the most part the rivers were dry creek beds a man could easily step over. This 1964 summer season was different. The birdlife was teeming in the conditions, pelicans skimmed, brolgas danced and kites hovered over the waterways.
It wasn't going to last but the birds were going to enjoy every frolicking minute!
They were always first on the scene when the white water came down and the creek gutters and wheel-ruts started to fill - and birds were last to leave.