The Great Australian Outback. A phrase that brings expansive thoughts. Red sands. Clear, endless blue, blue skies. The energy of adventure encompassed. Dreamtime dreaming. The endeavour of fear surrendered not denied. The arrogance of ego and modern day social media immortality.
We’ve seen all the travel shows. Read blogs about it until our eyes bled. Bush Mechanics deserves an Oscar and a BAFTA. Our subconscious knows no difference between what’s real and what’s imagined and we were there before we left. The chilled mornings and razor blue air. Night blankets of star-crowded sky. Sand heat that burns through your boots and brands your bones. 400ks of nobody in a day. The van breakdown on the Lasseter Highway an hour from dusk. (Real. Can’t imagine not imagining something like that on an outback trip. Those who don’t have no business being there. Really. None. Your loved ones will thank you for changing your trip to a luxury cruise.)
The outback is not for the faint-hearted or light of wallet. Vehicles have to be reliable, whether it be a 4WD or off-road campervan. Even on-road ones. Satellite communication is a necessity. Fuel is expensive. Other than bush tucker, fresh produce is likely to not be of the quality you’re used to and three times the price. Packaged water ain’t cheap and you want to always be carrying at least 10 litres per person per day. Beer is at least $130 a carton. A good place to go to voluntarily cut down on consumption. A bad place to go if being amid saturated beauty demands an ice-cold coldy like there is no other way to wash red dirt from your mouth when clearly there is.
They know about The Simpsons, but not the desert they were named after. (Joking. No matter how much Kata Tjuta looks like Homer’s eye and mouth. Always the utmost respect for Anangu traditional owners.)
Cecil Madigan named it. He was a South Australian Rhodes Scholar whose achievements make ‘influencer’ the most ridiculous current job in the world. Madigan was an explorer, geologist, meteorologist, aerial surveyor, academic and officer of the British Army. He deferred his scholarship in 1911 to be Mawson’s meteorologist on the 1912 Arctic expedition.
Throughout the 1930’s Madigan completed many aerial surveys of the trackless, vastness of Central Australia. In 1937 he confirmed the Boxhole Crater as meteoric impact. Two years later he led the first major expedition across the desert. Cecil Madigan lectured in geology at Adelaide University for many years and is considered the last of the classic Red Centre explorers.
Famed sculptor Rosemary Madigan, who died in early 2019 aged 92, was his daughter.
Alice Giles AM, celebrated world-leading solo harpist is his granddaughter, and she may very well have been named after Alice Springs. Why not? Madigan named the desert after Alfred Allen Simpson, Homer’s great grandfather. (No – stay with it.) Simpson was an Aussie industrialist, geographer, philanthropist, and president of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.
The Simpson Desert sits mostly in the southeast corner of the Northern Territory overlapping into both Queensland and South Australia because thirsty deserts can be like that.
Sturt noted the desert’s existence in 1845, along with his own Sturt’s Stony Desert, and referred to it as the ‘Arunta Desert’ on a 1926 T. Griffith Taylor chart. Cecil Madigan named it the ‘Simpson Desert’ after an aerial survey in 1929. Might have been while Wall Street crashed. Or while the first Academy Awards was happening. The whole fifteen minutes of it at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, with Douglas Fairbanks Snr presenting all twelve of them.
Maybe, while Cec was flying all over 14,3000sq kilometres of sparsely inhabited desert region, Charles Lindberg was leaving Detroit for Cape Horn, and the first London phone box was being used well before Doctor Who.
The outback is indeed a world of its own. Still, stuff goes on all around, all the time even when you have no idea of any of it when you’re in it.
The Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and Conservation Park has only recently re-opened since the summer of 2008/09 because of the increased risk of vehicles breaking down in extreme temperatures. At the same, all the eastern exit points (being in Queensland) were closed due to flooding.
Its boundaries are the MacDonnell Ranges and Plenty River to the north, Lake Eyre to the south, Diamantina and Mulligan rivers to the east, and the Finke River to the west.
How do you podcast that?
For some there has been and still is, the idea that these adventures will make a man out both you and your wife; no judgment here.
Lemon, Shoes Off and Unapologetically Asian are among the growing wave of podcasts created by Asian-Australians to embrace, and increase demand for Asian-Australian content. 2018 marked 200 years since the first Chinese immigrant arrived in Australia and yet the historical connection between First Nations people and the Chinese has largely gone unrecorded and certainly uncelebrated.
There was a strong communal bond borne of ancient cultures being marginalised by non-treaty-bearing European settlers. Before the 1853 gold rush, Chinese had been indentured as sheep station hands, cooks, labourers and gardeners since the 1940’s.
Podcasts about those lives and the families that lived them would be interesting to find. There are at least a dozen podcasts on the outback: whether they’re laconic locals, travelers dusting their way through, bikers doing the hard yards or simply those in-the-know with a fascination for its geography and history.
The Simpson Desert is Wangkangurru Country, and this sand sea is an erg of the longest parallel dunes in the world. In the west they’re about 3 metres in height, and in the east around 30 metres.
From which direction is easier to make the minimum 4-day crossing, the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. West to east. The way the wind blows and we know that because of the size of the dunes.
There are around 1100 of them to cross. So leave the idea of a trailer behind; ironically where trailers trail. And plan to go between April and October when day temperatures are comfortable and nights are clear. If you decide to take the kids and go sometime during Christmas holidays, you’re a goose who knows far too little to take a trip like this. Extreme heat closes the crossing each year between 1st December and 15th of March.
And don’t think that leaving on 30th November is a good idea either. That’s just a goose being a goose.
About to be cooked.
Long before you even do all that, you have choose the track you’re going to take.
Thought there were maybe two? Try six. And you’ll need a Desert Parks Pass from South Australia Parks & Wildlife.
Bet you didn’t know that.
Have a sand flag. It’s mandatory anyway because common sense isn’t. Sand flags avoid head-ons. Unless you’re still a goose. With a long neck, this time, apparently.
For these diesel-suckin’ dunes, you’ll need to carry enough fuel for between 600 and 800kms, calculated at significantly higher consumption than for the same distance under normal driving conditions.
Add more basic sand dune climbin’ weight with a a minimum of seven litres of water per person per day, (I’d do ten, but that’s me). And food and snacks. Then add an extra week’s supplies because that’s the thinking person thing to do and you’ll eventually eat it anyway.
Unless you really are a goose and just pack some old mealworms in a used plastic bag.
Get used to packing stuff. Learn how to do it expertly. There’s a lot to pack, even before you get to your undies and sunscreen. Treat it like Tetris. There are spare parts. Belts, hoses, fuses and a fuel filter. Engine oil, gearbox oil, brake fluid and coolant. Epoxy ribbon or paste for repairing leaks.
Tools that fit.
Don’t laugh, it happens. And if I have to mention other spares, like tyres, and what you need for good communication, then really, book that cruise and bon voyage.
Podcasting the outback into Asia is only ever going to be via the stories there are to tell. True stories; the stuff of real people, unforgettable experiences and the often hilarious ways they happen.
There is no narrator when there is no story to tell. Iif crossing the Simpson Desert speaks to your soul and taps on your bones, spend time learning how to do it in the best possible way. Safely. Being highly culturally aware. Respectful on every level of this mighty task you’ve chosen to take on. Know the difference between confidence and conceit. Listen. All the time. Learn things you didn’t even know were worth knowing.
Like that a knife can always be sharpened on the unglazed ring on the bottom of a cup.
You didn’t even know that was worth knowing, and it’s stuff like that that changes the way we look at things.
And that is always worth knowing.
Podcasts to Asian listeners about the outback should speak of the Mulgara and Eyrean grasswrens, sand-sliding skinks and the water holding frog, and all that lives life among The Simpson Desert’s cradling of endless spinifex and the nestling of Uluru.