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Nissan back in the Desert
Patrol G60 to re-enact historic crossing of the Simpson for 50th anniversary
28 Sep 2011
WHILE off-roaders are preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic first crossing of the Simpson Desert by vehicle, Nissan Australia is planning a re-enactment of the event featuring two of the original participants.
The re-enactment will take place in September 2012 and Nissan Australia will not only closely follow the original route but use an essentially identical Nissan Patrol G60 to that used on the first crossing.
It will be crewed by Doug and Margaret Sprigg, who were only seven and 10 years old respectively when they joined their parents in a short-wheelbase G60 Patrol for the pioneering trip from Andado Station to Birdsville in 1962 – four years before Nissan Australia was even created.
The actual Nissan Patrol used by the Sprigg family to cross the feared desert disappeared many years ago, but Nissan Australia is staging a country-wide search to locate it in time for the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
A documentary film will be made of the re-enactment and Nissan Patrol owners from around Australia are being invited to celebrate its conclusion in Birdsville, where a cairn – a man-made pile of stones – will be erected to mark the occasion.
The Sprigg family – headed by the then 43 year-old Reginald and his wife Griselda – led a small retinue of other four-wheel drive vehicles in the 12-day crossing of the 176,500 square-kilometre desert and its 1000 parallel sand dunes.
Dr Sprigg was a well-known geologist and explorer who also discovered oil and gas fields in the Cooper Basin, founded SANTOS, Geosurveys Australia and Beach Petroleum, was the foundation chairman of the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association and in 1946 discovered the world’s oldest animal fossils.
The successful desert crossing was one of a number of pioneering achievements by the South Australian-born Dr Sprigg, who died in 1994.
In 1967 he established one of Australia’s first eco-tourism resorts, Arkaroola Wildlife Sanctuary in the Flinders Ranges 600 kilometres north of Adelaide, and this legacy of his life’s passion is now run by his children, Margaret and Doug.
Dr Sprigg chose the Nissan Patrol G60 for the Simpson crossing based on its strength and suitability for the harsh desert terrain, even before the establishment of Nissan Australia in 1966.
Based on the first short-wheelbase Nissan Patrol developed in 1951 for military use, his Patrol featured a 4.0-litre overhead-valve straight-six petrol engine, a three-speed dual-range transmission, live axles and leaf springs.
Although explorers including Charles Sturt penetrated the forbidding desert as early as 1844, the first documented full crossing of the Simpson Desert by a white man was by Ted Colson, who with an Aboriginal companion and five camels took 36 days to complete the journey in 1936 – just 26 years before the Spriggs in their Patrol.
Geologist Cecil Madigan then led the first major expedition across the desert in 1939. He named it after Alfred Allen Simpson, the president of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (of which Reg Sprigg was a founding member while still in his teens).
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