About the Simpson Desert
The first European explorer to see the Simpson Desert was Charles Sturt who visited the region in the 1840’s. Despite several attempts, nearly 100 years would pass before the Simpson would be crossed in its entirety by a non-indigenous Australian. Ted Colson, a pastoralist and explorer from South Australia, set off with an Aborigine named Eringa Peter from the Antakurinya tribe in May 1936 with the aim of crossing the desert west to east. Using camels to traverse the inhospitable landscape, they reached Birdsville in just over two weeks. After three days of rest, they turned around and made the return journey, covering a total of 600 miles in 36 days.
The Simpson Desert was named by Cecil Madigan, an Australian explorer and geologist from Renmark. Madigan took part in several expeditions in the 1930’s to survey the interior, and in 1939 led a major expedition across the Simpson. He named the desert in honour of Alfred Allen Simpson, the president of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. Interestingly, the Simpson family ran one of the country’s largest metal manufacturing businesses in Adelaide in the late 1800’s. In the 1940’s, the company began making whitegoods including washing machines, which are still sold under the Simpson brand to this day.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, various seismic surveys were carried out across the Simpson Desert in search of oil and gas. To determine the worth of its joint venture with leaseholder Delhi/SANTOS, the French Petroleum Company of Australia (FPCA) appointed another French firm, Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) to perform a seismic survey of the southern Simpson. The track which CGG pushed into the desert, aptly named the ‘French Line’ is still one of the major tracks used to cross the desert and is the most direct route from west to east.
Another of the tracks, the ‘Rig Road’ was also built in the 1960’s. Located to the south of the French Line, the Rig Road was initially built to a standard for laden semi-trailers by sheeting the tops of the dunes with clay. Looking at the track today, it’s hard to imagine a truck and semi-trailer being even remotely capable of traversing the desert landscape.