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WITH 250,000km on the odo, it was ini­tially thought the Land Rover De­fender’s 300Tdi 2.5-litre di­rect in­jec­tion turbo-diesel donk was in rel­a­tively good shape, and that the only me­chan­i­cal is­sues were a leak­ing gear­box seal and a few mi­nor brake is­sues. But when the ve­hi­cle was shipped from Perth to Mel­bourne for a fi­nal check-over, it was dis­cov­ered the en­gine was ter­mi­nally ill.

ARB’S res­i­dent Landy ex­pert Stephen Lawn was asked to source, re­build and fit a new 300Tdi, which he achieved in record time – the list of re­pairs runs deep.

Prior to this last-minute fix, the De­fender was given a ma­jor tidy-up, in­clud­ing new foot wells, some panel beat­ing and new paint. It was then ac­ces­sorised from the ARB ware­house. The De­fender wears a Com­mer­cial Bar up front with a Warn XDC 9.5 winch run­ning syn­thetic rope.

Ex­tra light­ing is cour­tesy a pair of IPF 900XL HID driv­ing lights and up­graded IPF head­lights. Tasked with car­ry­ing nine of the swags re­quired on the trip is an ARB roof rack.

An OME sus­pen­sion kit with long travel springs and match­ing shocks gives a lift of around 30mm, as well as greater load-car­ry­ing abil­ity. An ARB air locker at the rear pro­vides ad­di­tional trac­tion.

Re­caro seats add com­fort, while other in­te­rior mods in­clude a GME TX4500S UHF ra­dio and Redarc gauges.

The De­fender’s orig­i­nal Sun­raysia rims were re­tained but fit­ted with LT235/85R16 Cooper Dis­cov­erer A/T3 tyres. While these were cer­tainly the least ag­gres­sive of all the tyres fit­ted to the ARB Off Road Icons, they proved great per­form­ers in the desert and of­fered sur­pris­ingly good trac­tion in muddy con­di­tions.


THE Supp Regs were out­lined on the first morn­ing as we munched on egg and ba­con rolls atop Alice Springs’ AN­ZAC Look­out. Sam Bo­den ran through the route, which would see us travel from Alice Springs to Cham­bers Pil­lar and then on to Mt Dare, before travers­ing the Simp­son Desert via Dal­housie Springs, the French Line, the Rig Road, Knolls Track, back on to the French Line, Poep­pel Cor­ner, the QAA Line, and on to Birdsville. The plan was to then head to Cordillo Downs, Coongie Lakes, In­nam­incka, Burke’s Grave, the Burke and Wills Dig Tree, Cameron Cor­ner, Ti­booburra, Mil­parinka, Pack­sad­dle, Sil­ver­ton, Eldee Sta­tion and then on to Bro­ken Hill, where the trip would of­fi­cially con­clude some two weeks af­ter it be­gan… weather per­mit­ting.

The sky was grey with omi­nous-look­ing clouds as we de­parted Alice Springs, and the weather fore­cast wasn’t great; a series of cold fronts were push­ing their way across Cen­tral Aus­tralia from the south­west and they were sup­pos­edly go­ing to bring plenty of rain. How­ever, the skies be­gan to clear as we headed out of Alice Springs on Old South Road and hit the gravel for the first time.

As the crew be­gan to fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the ve­hi­cles, there was plenty of ra­dio chat­ter. The oc­cu­pants of the FJ40 were al­ready wish­ing they’d packed earplugs, with the win­dows rat­tling fu­ri­ously in their doors and the loose tail­gate adding to the ca­coph­ony. The am­bi­ence in­side the De­fender was much calmer – although by to­day’s NVH stan­dards it was still ap­palling, with rat­tles, squeaks and groans em­a­nat­ing from just about ev­ery part of the ve­hi­cle, ex­cept for that new 300Tdi en­gine which sounded fan­tas­tic and was blessed with co­pi­ous amounts of low-rpm grunt.

The GQ Patrol and the LN106 Hilux were pos­i­tively serene by com­par­i­son – with win­dows up and air con­di­tion­ers on, noise lev­els in­side these two Icons weren’t that far off mod­ern-ve­hi­cle stan­dards.

We stopped off at Ewaninga Rock Carv­ings on the way south where there is the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s high­est con­cen­tra­tion of pet­ro­glyphs. An in­for­ma­tion sign here in­cludes a quote from a lo­cal re­gard­ing the

‘Rain Dream­ing’, which states: “Big storm through here, big mobs of thun­der and light­ning and all that…” Con­sid­er­ing the weather fore­cast, I thought maybe this could be a sign of things to come.

By the time we ar­rived at Cham­bers Pil­lar the sky had once again started to fill with clouds. There was still an hour or more of light as we rolled out our swags for the first time and set about un­load­ing the fire­wood we’d col­lected ear­lier in the day. As we got the fire go­ing,vicky cooked up our first meal, while Pa­trick cracked open a bot­tle of sin­gle malt whisky to cel­e­brate the start of a new ad­ven­ture. Of course, this was all washed down with the oblig­a­tory ra­tion of beers and then, af­ter din­ner, a few of us took the op­por­tu­nity for a night-time walk around Cham­bers Pil­lar, just as it started to rain.

The sky was cloudy again the next morn­ing, but the rain had stopped – in fact, there had only been a light sprin­kle overnight – and the clouds be­gan to van­ish as we ate brekky. Af­ter a stint in the De­fender the pre­vi­ous day, I opted to go for a run in the GQ Patrol this morn­ing; I had been itch­ing to reac­quaint my­self with the Patrol af­ter hav­ing driven it in stan­dard form more than a year ear­lier. Now, with its af­ter­mar­ket turbo and new Old Man Emu sus­pen­sion, it was a far cry from the tired old beast it once was. It pos­i­tively hauled!

We headed back out to Mary­vale and then on to the Ghan Her­itage Road, which be­came more and more cor­ru­gated as we headed south; in fact it was start­ing to feel a lit­tle un­com­fort­able in the Patrol, so it must’ve been pos­i­tively di­a­bol­i­cal (and deaf­en­ing) in the rat­tly old FJ.

We had reached the Finke River by lunchtime, where we pulled up to re­group the con­voy and have a bite to eat. I jumped into the LN106 Hilux af­ter lunch and was amazed by the lack of squeaks and rat­tles de­spite the rel­a­tively poor con­di­tion of the road, in­clud­ing the fi­nal sec­tion of whoops on the Finke Desert Race track into Finke. Toy­ota’s build qual­ity in the mid-1990s was sec­ond-to-none, and this Hilux was built in the mid­dle of that pe­riod. It was also very well-pre­pared for this trip by Roger Vick­ery’s ARB Queens­land team.

We pushed on to­wards Mt Dare think­ing that the fi­nal muddy sec­tion just before the pub might be a bit tricky. Ear­lier in the day we’d chat­ted to some peo­ple who’d just left Mt Dare and they said it was a strug­gle, and the mud cov­er­ing their ve­hi­cles seemed to con­firm this. Nev­er­the­less, we made it through the wet sec­tion eas­ily enough and were soon chin-wag­ging at the bar with ho­tel pro­pri­etors Gra­ham and Sandra Scott. They told us to ex­pect some more rain overnight and or­gan­ised for a shel­tered area to be cleared where we could roll out our swags.

Af­ter an­other light overnight driz­zle, it was quite a chal­lenge try­ing to walk around a muddy and slip­pery Mt Dare in the morn­ing. How­ever, by the time we’d had break­fast, re­fu­elled the ve­hi­cles, and packed and loaded our gear, the sun was out and the ground had started to dry.


WITH only a rel­a­tively short drive to Dal­housie Springs we could af­ford a leisurely start, and it was 10.30am by the time we de­parted Mt Dare. We stopped off for a look around Bloods Creek Ru­ins, where a fel­low by the name of Gillen stopped in 1901, de­scrib­ing the pub here as “a mis­er­able lit­tle store eat­ing house and grog shanty kept by a man named Har­vey; found half a dozen men there in­clud­ing the pro­pri­etor all more or less drunk – prin­ci­pally more.”

Af­ter the set­tle­ment was aban­doned, Bloods Creek was leased to Ed­mund (Ted) Col­son in 1931, the first Euro­pean to cross the Simp­son Desert. He was ac­com­pa­nied by Eringa Peter (Peter Ains) of the An­takurinya tribe, and in 1936 the pair com­pleted the 885km round trip from Bloods Creek to Birdsville and back in just 35 days. He was ap­par­ently prompted to cross the desert by an ‘ex­cep­tion­ally wet sea­son’, which sounded very sim­i­lar to the con­di­tions we were now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 80 years later.

We were soon con­fronted by our first deep-wa­ter cross­ing. The petrol-pow­ered FJ40 didn’t like it at all, and as soon as wa­ter splashed up into its en­gine bay the fire went out. Af­ter tow­ing the FJ out of the drink with the Patrol, we dried the dis­trib­u­tor, coil and leads and soon had the en­gine purring again. The other ve­hi­cles all made it through okay, but the deep wa­ter cer­tainly tested the De­fender’s door seals, which failed en­tirely to keep wa­ter out of the cabin.

Af­ter a few more wet and muddy sec­tions we ar­rived at Dal­housie Springs in the mid-af­ter­noon to find we had the place to our­selves. Not an­other vis­i­tor in sight… nada. Af­ter rolling out our swags we did what ev­ery­one does when they first ar­rive at Dal­housie Springs: we went for a dip in the warm wa­ters of the mound springs, heated to a very pleas­ant 34-38°C by the an­cient wa­ters ris­ing from the Great Arte­sian Basin.

We floated around for a cou­ple of hours, dis­cussing the ad­ven­ture so far, how we thought the ve­hi­cles were per­form­ing, what the weather might do, how for­tu­nate we were to be here, and what Vicky might be pre­par­ing for din­ner. Yep, we were hav­ing a hell of a great time so far. The menu that night far ex­ceeded any­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions: fresh oys­ters for en­trée and a se­lec­tion of kan­ga­roo, lamb, beef and emu for the main course. Scrump­tious.

Know­ing we were about to spend the next three days in the desert, the fol­low­ing morn­ing a few of us took the op­por­tu­nity to in­dulge in a fi­nal swim in the mound springs. We were fed, packed and ready to roll by 9am and were soon on the move.

We’d only driven around 30km along Spring Creek Track when the con­voy was

De­fender’s door seals were badly in­ad­e­quate for wa­ter cross­ings.

FJ40 was dubbed ‘Peppa Pig’, as it loved muddy pud­dles. Proof you don’t need a new 4x4 for an out­back ad­ven­ture. Our fear­less leader Sam Bo­den, ARB’S mar­ket­ing man­ager.

Tur­bocharged GQ made light work of the Simp­son Desert.

No ground clear­ance dra­mas with a liveaxle Hilux.

One ad­van­tage of a dieselpow­ered 4x4...

Pa­trick Cruy­wa­gen en­joy­ing the warm wa­ter at Dal­housie Springs.

Work­ing to­gether to pull a stalled FJ40 out of the drink.

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