FROM THE SIMPSON
Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
French Line Circa 1979
Early Activity Along the Popular Path
Seismic exploration of the Great Artesian Basin from the western fringe to its geographical centre had never before been attempted. CGG Party S6507 emerged from the Simpson after carving their "Line B" now known as the French Line, at about the same time as the drilling rig moved to spud in at Purni. CGG got on with the job in the Channel Country, continuing the habit of poking their noses where no drillers had poked before. The working map (inset) clearly shows the camp sites along the Eyre Creek used by the explorers in early 1964.
Once the oil search frenzy stirred by CGG and client French Petroleum abated, many years were to pass before recreational drivers would venture into the dunes. Claims I make in these pages while promoting the adventure associated with Australia's "One True Desert" and "Last Great Adventure Trail" as promised on the front page of this collection for the Simpson Desert French Line can rarely be substantiated from other sources so I am glad of the opportunity when it comes along. Accordingly, I am pleased to show some photos taken by Rob David back in August 1979. Apart from Col Haywood's peg photo of 1962 seen on my "Myths" page (and a real classic), Dean Drayton's photos of late '63 and Reg Sprigg's pix of 1964, Rob's work are the earliest photographic examples I have seen of the 'Line. Should anyone have some earlier shots, let me know and I'll run them.
An Overgrown French Line
The revisit is the hardline test for the teller of tall tales from yesteryear. Give me a pic everytime and the chance to write an accompanying explanation.
Rob David's 1979 photo (left) shows clearly the wheel-tracks questioned by Professor Madigan as being unlikely to ever occur through the Simpson, because he said it wouldn't take vehicular traffic.
Over the Bonnet, 1979
Those travellers who do the Simpson Desert crossing in time for the springtime Birdsville Races find it hard to relate our scenes to those they have just experienced. While the desert stays the same (and our pics CAN look like yesterday's shots) its the very road, the path, the French Line itself and the images of the semi-trailers we drove that provoke the disbelief. It couldn't happen, could it? "I mean", says Bert to Mabel, "No one could drive a blitzwagon over THOSE sand hills! It must have been somewhere else up north perhaps, not where we have just been."
It is through sentiments such as these that the myths of the Leyland Bros and other supposed conquerors and early European users of the Simpson's sands persist. Be prepared - you are on to one of the myth-persisters if they quote "MID-SIXTIES" (and it can be found thus said in official South Australian Govt publications about the origins of the French Line). Its a dead giveaway for the just-in-casers. They don't like to fall in all the way with the Leylands (the fair-dinkum 1966 conquerors) but they sure as almighty won't subscribe to 'July 1st, 1963' as the beginning date, just in case.
Campsites Along the French Line
Visitors to the French Line Site can be excused if the front page map (CGG Party S6507s Line 'B') turns up an obvious error. Yes, the French Line shown in my map runs past Poeppels Corner whereas topical road maps show the 'Line running a parallel course directly NNW of the 'Corner before turning eastward for the Eyre Creek.
However, the path shown in the header page is the genuine French Line and it follows the Queensland border 25km before ducking NNW between the dunes.
The reality is: the QAA Line used today from Poeppels (always be reminded - Poeppels is POPPLES not PEPPLES) was cut by CGG Party S6509 the following year, 1964.
New Campsite Coming Up
While Party S6507 was east on the Hamilton, S6509 had already been knocked out of their western-side campaign along the Birdsville Track when the Diamantina swelled the Cooper, as it is wont to do. They went from bogged to thirsty a year later. It was they who destroyed the native mikiri (well) at Kilpatha in a fruitless search for water, a mischievous deed attributed to our party by Mark Shepherd in his book "The Simpson Desert".
Each of the green "teepees" on the map represents a camp site. The first one on Spring Creek is CGG Camp #4 midway between Dalhousie and the Finke River. Earlier campsites not shown were #1, #2 and #3 - all on the Hamilton and located north of the creek and parallel to CGGs Line 'A', which was the first oil prospect - a mission begun in late March 1963 ending mid-June at Camp #5 on Alka Seltzer Bore.
Alka Seltzer Camp by Moonlight
Camps #5 and #6 (Purni) were south of the 'Line and Camp #7 (perhaps four dunes past the Rig Road turnoff), Camp #8 (about two swales short of Colson Corner) and Camp #9 (halfway to the Erabena Track) were situated on swales between dunes north of the 'Line.
Camp #10, 25km into Queensland, was sited upon a claypan running parallel to the dunes. Subsequent camps marked a return to civilisation as they left the desert and worked closer to the population centres of Birdsville, Bedourie and Boulia.
CGG Oldies Get Back, Courtesy LROCV
It was the Land Rover Owners Club of Victoria (LROCV) who were responsible for the reunion trip of the CGG half dozen who made it across in 1998. Coincidentally, this happens to be Rob David's club.
We survivors of the French Line Construction Team from 1963 didn't get to meet Rob on this auspicious occasion, but all those who follow us across the Simpson Desert along the French Line in future can pause at the commemorative plaque placed opposite the Birdsville Pub by the Club and ponder what it was like to live for three months in Australia's One True Desert, having just traversed it in perhaps three days. Thanks, LROCV.
By 1979 the CGG oilmen from the desert times who kept in touch, had retired to the cities. One became a prison officer, two went into the computer trade and a couple went into business together - one such likely venture for Geophex handlers being demolitions. Some were known to have gone, or simply returned to homes overseas for perhaps greener and in one or two cases, snow-white pastures. One stayed in country just as red, living in Alice Springs, though most others couldn't get far enough away.
A third of their number are still around, a third of the complement have carked it and a third are unaccounted for, which is a fair cross-section on 45 people from nearly 40 years ago.
Paths Across the Simpson Desert
Rob David's photo from 1979 indicates graphically how the French Line had fallen into misuse and was in danger of reclamation by its host, the waterless Simpson Desert - the pinnacle of Australia's lonely, uninhabited desolation.
Since 1963, access and egress has been promised for all manner of visitors, professional and recreational, by the simple expediency of a 440km by 15m slice through the desert wrought by a bunch of intrepid oilworkers from CGG Party S6507. It requires continuous use by 4WDriving enthusiasts to keep it open and passable. Keep at it, friends.
||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|