The Sprigg family was the first party to cross the Simpson Desert in vehicles. Fifity years later two members return to re-live their adventure.
Story By Michael Browning
Marg Sprigg was a 10-year-old, obsessed with bugs and lizards, and her little brother Doug was seven when they ‘drove’ into Australian history in September 1962. Travelling with their parents, the noted geologist and resource explorer Reg Sprigg and his resourceful and supportive wife Griselda in a short wheelbase Nissan Patrol G60, they became the first ‘motorists’ to cross the remote Simpson Desert, with its 1000-plus parallel north-south dunes.
Remarkably, this occurred 28 years after the first non-Indigenous person had crossed this challenging landscape. Although Charles Sturt became the first European to see the desert when he first visited the region in 1844, it took another 52 years before Captain Ted Colson, in 1936, accompanied only by an Aboriginal man named Peter Ains and five camels, became the first to actually traverse it.
Then in 1939, after making earlier aerial surveys, during which he named it the ‘Simpson Desert’, geologist Cecil Madigan completed a further, more detailed 25-day ground crossing at the head of a party of nine, which included a biologist, a botanist, a photographer and a radio operator, plus 19 camels.
The Spriggs’ west-east vehicle crossing of 1962 followed a similar path between latitudes 25 and 26 and was an equally remarkable trip. Along the way Reg conducted oil-seeking gravity surveys for Beach Petroleum and his trail-blazing, trans-Simpson route intersected at pre-planned points with colleagues travelling along north-south dune corridors.
Sandwiched between their parents on the front seat of the Patrol for security as it bucked and bounced across hummocky spinifex mounds and dunes, it was an indelible experience that shaped the younger Spriggs’ lives.
With their parents now deceased and 2012 marking the 50th anniversary of that first crossing, their interest in re-tracing that pioneering journey was easily roused. What was planned was hardly the arduous journey they experienced in 1962, but there were some important parallels.
The route, for example, was similar. Back then the Spriggs began their journey from Andado homestead in the vicinity of Mt Dare, just north of the Northern Territory/South Australian border. Today it’s Aboriginal land, so they left from Mt Dare Hotel in far northern South Australia, 70km south of the original departure point.
This story excerpt is from Issue #85
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012