READING Dean Mellor’s account of the ARB OffRoad Icons trip through the Simpson Desert brought a smile to my face as I recalled how my first trip across there followed a similar story.
I was travelling with my old mate John Denman (see JD’S Clarence River feature on page 110) in a stock Td5 Discovery and I expressed my desire to cross the mighty desert. It was just the two of us travelling alone, but with JD’S many years of experience, I reckoned I was in good hands.
The sun was shining as we headed east from the highway, stopping for a refuel at Mt Dare and camping at Dalhousie Springs with the obligatory swim in the warm artesian waters. Similar conditions blessed us as we continued on into the desert along the French Line and I remember thinking “how bloody great is this?”
For our next camp we pulled off the main drag toward the Approdinna Attora Knolls (The Knolls Track) and found a nice clearing to roll out the swags. After another fine meal of meat and potatoes cooked over a gidgee fire, we sat back admiring the starry sky and noticed a lightning storm back to the west. “Looks like rain,” I said. “Just a passing storm,” JD replied in his bushman’s drawl. “You won’t get any rain out here this time of year.”
I was willing to take John’s word for it, who was I to argue, but as the storm grew closer I pulled a small tent out of the car rather than rely on just the swag. I was glad I did because at around 3.00am it started bucketing down, and it was about 5.00am when I heard John rustling on my tent to wake me from my dry sleep.
“C’mon Matt, we better get outta here. My swag’s swimming in three inches of water.”
We packed up quickly and got back on the French Line. The rain was unrelenting and many of the salt pans were filling with water. We slipped and slewed across a couple of them, but the bigger ones were impassable. If we got stuck in one of them we would have had no way of getting out. So we had to drive around the salt lakes, adding many kilometres of off-track detours to our route. It was slow-going and some of the time JD was walking ahead of the Disco to pick a line through the scrub so we wouldn’t stake the road tyres. The Eyre Creek crossing was flooded, necessitating a long detour to the north before we could cross it and head back on track.
It was night time and still pelting down when John suggested we must be getting close to Big Red and, as if on cue, a lightning strike lit up the huge sand hill ahead of us. It looked like a special effect in a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. After 14 hours of driving through tough conditions, I was in no mood to challenge the dune and, instead, happily took the easy crossing to the south.
We arrived wet and weary in Birdsville and checked in to a cabin in the caravan park. It was an adventure I’ll always remember, and I reckon those fellas on the Icons trip will always recall their time in the wet Australian desert.