Crossing the Simpson 50 years later

Riley Riley

A bunch of Jeeps has just completed a crossing of the Simpson Desert in the tracks of a 50-year-old expedition.

In April, 1969 three Jeeps completed the first and most difficult east-west crossing of the desert led by adventurer Ian McDonald.

The rest of the team cosisted of naturalists Lance Cockburn and Malcolm Wilson, filmmaker John Eggleston, cartographer Gordon Gant and mechanic Bob Whinham.

The 1969 crossing is chronicled in a doco called Tjanpi: Land of Spinifex.

At 176 sq km the Simpson Desert is the largest parallel sand dune desert in the world.

With more than 1100 dunes, crossing the desert from east to west is the most challenging, as the eastern dune faces are generally steeper because of the prevailing winds.

These north-south oriented dunes are static, held in position by vegetation and vary in height from 3 metres to 30 metres on the eastern side — with the largest Nappanerica or Big Red 40 metres in height.

Last week an expedition led by American Off Road Hall of Fame inductee, Chris Collard, repeated the 1969 feat, this time with five of the latest Jeep Wranglers.

The Simpson Desert drive was just one leg of the month-long Jeep BFGoodrich East-West expedition.

Collard led the five vehicles from Birdsville to an abandoned oil well known as Beachcomber.

From there, the group set a course due west to the geographic centre of the desert and then to Old Andado Station.

For the expedition, the Jeep JL Overland was stock apart from the fitting of a long-range fuel cell, suspension lift kit, steel Mopar bumper, and Warn winch.

Collard, who has driven 4x4s across all seven continents said the new Wrangler is one of the most capable vehicles ever produced.

“It is comfortable, powerful, economical, and did the entire 900km crossing without so much as a loose valve stem cap,” he said.

Ian McDonald, who drove a Jeep CJ Overland during the original expedition, joined the team in Cape Byron along with mate and filmmaker John Eggleston.

The octogenarians shared tales of the `69 trip and compared their vintage vehicles to the modern Jeep.

“There is no comparison to what we drove . . . these new Jeeps are just amazing,” he said.

From Alice Springs the expedition followed McDonald’s tracks to Uluru, the Olgas, and through the vast expanses of Western Australia and on to the west coast.

By the time the team reached Steep Point, the western-most point of the continent, it had passed through every state and covered more than 6000km.

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