Dune is a Four Letter Word by Griselda Sprigg with Rod Maclean - Wakefield Press (www.wakefieldpress.com.au) ISBN 13:-978 1 86254 540 3, First published 2001, reprinted 2001, 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012 (twice) - 255 pages with 8 pages of colour photos and many black and white photos - cost AU$27.50 plus delivery
Griselda Paterson was born in Paisley, Scotland, on 12 December 1921. During World War II she was a nurse and then radiographer. After the war, in August 1947, she was on holiday on the Isle of Arran (west of Glasgow) when she encountered a group of people who she at first thought were some sort of religious sect. Amongst them were a couple of Australians, one of whom was Reg Sprigg. It turned out that they were not in a religious sect, but geologists in the UK for a conference.
Reg Sprigg was from South Australia and had trained under the famed Antarctic explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson. Reg and Griselda fell in love and in late 1950 she sailed to Australia to join Reg. They were married on 3 February 1951, with Sir Douglas as a guest.
This book is essentially an autobiography of not only Griselda, but Reg as well. Back then Reg was then working for the SA Mines Department. His work took him all over the state and he was often away for long periods of time. At the time his main work was related to looking for uranium. Soon after returning from their honeymoon, Reg was sent to Radium Hill, Australia's first uranium mine. This is out near the NSW border on the road to Broken Hill.
Griselda decided to accompany Reg and be the "chief cook and bottle washer". This was her first experience of the Australian outback that would come to dominate the rest of her life. After a few years out here, they moved back to Adelaide where their first child, Margaret was born in 1952. Reg was away a lot for work, sometimes at Woomera where he witnessed atomic bomb tests.
In early 1954, Reg decided to resign from the government job and started a business called Geosurveys of Australia Pty Ltd. This was the first geological consulting company in Australia. One of this first customers was Santos and Reg advised them to acquire oil exploration leases over areas on the Queensland border. This later became the Moomba oil fields. He did work looking for metals on Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
In late 1954 their second child was born, Douglas (named after Sir Douglas Mawson). After this Griselda and the children often went bush with Reg. in 1956 they travelled into the Gibson Desert via Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas (Katatjuta).
During this trip they ran into Len Beadell. Keen four wheel drive enthusiasts will know of Len's feats, building roads for the Woomera Rocket Range tests. These roads still exist, surveyed by him and graded by crews that followed his tracks. The Gunbarrell Highway, Anne Beadell Highway and more.
By now you have probably worked out the reason for me to read this book and write about it. Yes, the Spriggs were probably the first four wheel drive adventure family in Australia, if not the world. After the Central Australia trip they did one to Hawkers Gate on the NSW/SA border, then onto Tibooburra and then Innamincka. From here they travelled to Birdsville in Queensland and then to Bedourie. All this was in a Land Rover. After running repairs back in Birdsville, they headed off down the Birdsville Track. They had vehicle problems and got stuck in a creek when a wheel fell off.
They had expected that the legendary Tom Kruse would pass them during the night but this did not happen. A swagman came along and said he would help repair the Land Rover. The only help he gave was to make comments and to eat a lot of their food!
As well as concentrating on Reg's expanding work, mostly searching for oil, the book has details of many of the family's adventures. The most famous of these (which unfortunately is really not well known) was the first crossing of the Simpson Desert by motor vehicle. In 1962 Geosurveys was contracted to undertake a survey of the Simpson Desert.
The company by now had a lot of employees and they were starting the work from the western side near Andado Station. Readers who have crossed the Simpson Desert have probably passed through this on the way to or from Alice Springs. I am not sure if this is what is now called Old Andado, but at the time it was owned by Mac and Molly Clark (Mac later died in a plane crash and I met Molly at Old Andado in 2003).
The Simpson Desert is about 165,000 square kilometres of sand dunes. The dunes run north-south and stretch from near Dalhousie Springs in South Australia to just west of Birdsville in Queensland and also cover the south-eastern corner of the Northern Territory. The desert had been crossed before in the 1800s and most recently in 1939 Dr Cecil Madigan (with eight others) crossed it from west to east using camels.
In mid-1962 Reg and Griselda (and kids) headed out from Alice Springs in a Toyota Land Cruiser and headed out to Numery Station on the Hale River. From here they followed the river to the south-east. This attempt failed when Marg fell ill, it rained and she had to be flown to Alice Springs to the hospital.
September 1962 saw another attempt start. This time they started from Andado Station and the plan was to go south to Mount Dare Station and then follow the Northern Territory/South Australia border east to Birdsville. This time they were using a short wheel base Nissan Patrol. The Patrol had a 44 gallon (200 litre) drum in the rear to carry extra fuel. They headed off and soon were crossing the first of the more than one thousand sand dunes that lay between them and Birdsville.
The first day they crossed 108 sand dunes and set up camp for the night. The next morning Reg gave the kids a box of matches each with the direction to start a large fire if anything happened to Griselda and him. As they crossed the desert, they had plans to meet up with some of the Geosurveys employees who were working out here. They had come along the dune corridors from the north and had only crossed a few dunes to get to their locations.
The Patrol's radiator boiled a lot, so it was very slow going as they stopped for it to cool. At the end of the first day they came across some wheel tracks and the next morning met up with the first of the employees. During the trip, the kids were collecting animals for the South Australian Museum. This kept them occupied for most of their stops.
A few days later they arrived at a claypan that Reg had named P84. Here the company's plane was to meet them. The pilot had flown in fuel, water and other supplies for the crews as well as them. Already the near new Patrol was suffering, the fuel pump was playing up and bolts were working loose. They finally arrived and after refuelling, headed off again east. That evening they came across another set of wheel tracks and just before sunset they meet up with the next crew (and the plane).
The next day they continued over the dunes and at sunset found more tracks. They followed these to the south along a corridor and found another worker and his son and one more vehicle caught up with them later in the evening. There were now four vehicles in the convoy, the Patrol, two Land Cruisers and an International Scout. The next morning the cars were serviced and they headed off individually, finally catching up about midday. They made 26 miles (41 kilometres).
The next day they had to cross the first of the salt pans but this was achieved without problems. They arrived later at Lake Thomas and proceeded to use the four vehicles to flatten the salt and mud base of the lake into an airstrip for their plane. The following day they arrived at Poeppel Corner (where SA, Queensland and the Northern Territory meet). Here they erected a trig station to mark the corner. The following day they had serious problems when the Scout lost its front differential and then the front axle broke. They had nothing to repair this, so they abandoned the vehicle to the desert. During the night some of the crew decide to go back and get the Scout. They eventually arrived back the next morning.
Late that evening some of the vehicles arrived in Birdsville. Reg did not as he was out looking for one of the vehicles which appeared to have missed the track to Birdsville from the cattle station to the north-west. Early the next morning, Reg arrived back with the missing crew. Reg, Griselda, Marg and Doug were the first people to cross the Simpson Desert in a motor vehicle. It had taken them 13 days to cross the desert. Meeting them at Birdsville was Russell Madigan, Cecil Madigan's son.
Later that day they erected a cairn to the memory of Cecil Madigan on the airstrip. The adventure was over, something that was not to be repeated till 1966 when the Leyland Brothers crossed the Simpson Desert. They believed that they were the first to do it as they had no knowledge of the Sprigg's crossing four years earlier.
The book contains more adventures, crossing the Simpson south to north in 1964 and multiple crossing via different directions in 1967. Later, the Spriggs purchased the Arkaroola Station in the Flinders Ranges in SA and set up a hotel.
This is an excellent book, I recommend it to anyone interested in the Australian outback, four wheel driving and just plain old adventure. It is essential reading for anyone planning to travel the outback, especially the Simpson Desert. It will show you how easy we have it with our much more modern and reliable vehicles.