For renowned adventurer Denis Bartell, the joy of travelling through the Simpson Desert one more time is the stuff dreams are made of.

Story Mark Muller  Photos Mark Muller and Chris Carruthers

Denis Bartell props his foot on the shovel’s blade and leans in. At 88 years of age, the strength of body and spirit that saw him chalk up a string of impressive firsts in a lifetime of exploration and adventure are still evident. 

This modest hole taking shape in the red sand of the Simpson Desert will soon secure the base of a special plaque that commemorates one of Deniss most remarkable feats – the solo crossing on foot of continental Australia. It was in 1985 that he walked from Burketown on the Gulf of Carpentaria, Qld, to Adelaide on the Gulf of St Vincent, SA. That journey sought to raise funds and awareness for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), and it is through RFDS connections that this current trip came to life. 

Denis has crossed the Simpson more than 70 times – by car, on foot, via camel; sometimes with company, often alone. The desert, he says, is a part of him: “It’s my desert of dreams.” 

Watching on, and soon taking turns with the digging, is Brendan Eblen. For Brendan – strong, calm and jovial – it is a poignant moment. He is an experienced bushman and remote-area guide, a life member of the RFDS’s Central Operations section who gave more than 40 years of combined board and auxiliary service, is the 20-year owner of Wedgetail Tours, a master painter, life member of the William Creek Gymkhana Club, and established and guided the highly regarded Canning Stock Route tour for Outback Spirit. It was Brendan’s idea to arrange the plaque for Denis – indeed it is thanks to Brendan that Denis is actually on the trip.

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021