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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.

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