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THE SPELL OF THE WILDERNESS

RITA DUNSTAN

The great red sand-dunes of the Simpson Desert have changed   the lives of the Sprigg family, of Adelaide. After exploring the desert, they felt shut in by city life, so they bought 250 square miles of wild country in the north Flinders Ranges and built a tourist resort.

THE SPRIGG FAMILY, above, left, examine film of Arkaroola. From left. Margaret (18), Griselda, Reg, Douglas (16). Above, right, Griselda with model Barry Cochran, when an advertising company went to Arkaroola on location.

AUSTRALIA

AS the four-wheel-drive vehicle

bounced along in the Simpson Desert, Griselda Sprigg said, "I must be mad. Bumping along these sand dunes is purgatory."

Her remark brought no arguments from the other occupants of the driver's cabin. They were her husband, noted geologist Reg Sprigg, and their two children, Mar- garet, then 12, and Douglas, 10.

They were all quite used to outback travel, the children having been at it since infancy, and Reg Sprigg for much of his adult life. Griselda was used to it, too, but just at that moment she was tired and uncomfortably aware that they were 200 miles from any human habitation.

Wherever she looked she saw nothing but great, red sand-dunes, lying like giant ripples in a sea of sand. Stretching for thousands of miles, they followed each

other in uneven lines.

The Sprigg family, who were making their fourth journey into the red centre, could later claim to be the first white people ever to cross the Simpson Desert through the geological centre, but at the time Griselda had no such ambitions.

Writing of the crossing in a book not yet published or titled, Griselda blames weari- ness for her impatience. She really loved the desert and still does.

"We had been driving for ten hours at two to 15 miles an hour, and this can be rough, going over the sand-dunes," she says.

What on earth were they all doing out there in that great waste, cut off from any form of civilisation or human help?

They were making for a spot shown on their maps as T.19, to erect an iden- tifying cairn inscribed with their names, ages, and the date of the occasion, which was Friday, September 4, 1964.

T.19 lay near a low, conical mound called Geosurveys Hill. This had been named some years before when Reg Sprigg and his pilot companion, Colin Semmler, had spotted it from a plane. They na ir ed it after the exploration firm of which Reg is managing director.

At the time of Griselda's outburst the

party was on the lookout for Geosurveys Hill, their destination for that day.

The trip into the desert was part of a gravity survey over oil exploration leases, and a necessary journey for Reg -but why take all the family?

Griselda outlines the reasons in her book, the manuscript of which kept me reading far into the night, trying to follow just where this intrepid foursome went.

Intrepid is the word. No other white

woman and her children have been where

these people have been.

They have been through experiences most people might be pleased to forget, but the other day when I asked Margaret, now 18, if she still hankered after the desert she replied emphatically. "Yes, I would love to go back."

In her book, Griselda says the desert holds her in its spell. She has traversed all the Australian deserts with her family, but has made the Simpson Desert the theme

of her book.

The Simpson is known as one of the world's most formidable deserts. Its huge sand-dunes cover more than 60,000 square miles and vary from 50 to at least 100ft. high-and some are 100 miles long.

The corridors between them can be fairly narrow or up to a .mile wide. The dunes are pure white at the eastern borders

and brick-red in the centre.

Griselda refers to the "magnificent life- lessness" of the area, where only spinifex

and lizards thrive. She writes also ot the

peace and purity of the desert air, (he cleanliness of the bright red sand, and a feeling of being part of eternity itself.

She tells how a vehicle has to be taken with great care across the dry, soft sur-

faces and down the sides of the dunes, where avalanches of sand are a hazard.

"We have many photographs of ourselves and the truck in the course of our trips," she says. "But we've never got one of it coming down the side of a dune. You could not get ahead in time even to start focusing; also, the avalanche danger is too great."

It is astounding that any woman should willingly brave all the rigors of this forbid- ding desert, especially one brought up in Scotland as Griselda was, with its completely different climate and vegetation.

Griselda, formerly a sister-radiographer and radiotherapist, came to Australia in 1950 to marry in Adelaide.

Reg never expected she would want to make any of the rough trips he made in the course of his w'ork. But she did want to. and was able to convince him of her sincerity after much talk.

However, she did not want to break up the family, so decided that the children should go along, too. Margaret was then three years, and Douglas 14 months old.

"Douglas had a commando upbringing,''

Where no white woman had been

GEOSURVEYS HILL (below) was the centre point of the Sprigg family's 1964 crossing of the Simpson Desert, lt was named by Reg Sprigg, who is a geologist and managing director of a geological exploration company. Griselda and the children have been on many survey trips with him.

ARKAROOLA VILLAGE, a modern tourist resort created by the Sprigg family in a ring of ancient mountains, which geologists say are at least 1650 million years old. The Spriggs built a motel, swimming-pool, an animal sanctuary, and roads on the 250-square-mile former pastoral property.

says Griselda. ''He became so used to sleep- ing on hard ground that he would not sleep on a mattress at home, but would roll up in his eiderdown and sleep on the floor."

At 16, Douglas applied for his A-class driver's licence and got it. He can handle almost any motor vehicle after driving trucks and bulldozers at the family's tourist property, Arkaroola, in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Griselda saw a challenge in each one of her many journeys into the outback and the strangely corrugated, unknown Simpson. But when it was all over, and the family facing up to city life, she felt frustrated.

She enjoys life in the big smoke, but after her outback travels cast around for some- thing more exciting.

She found the perfect answer in Arkaroola Station, an awesome wonderland in the north Flinders Ranges of South Australia.

The family bought the property early in 1968, in the hope of halting vandalism, preserving the native plants and animals, and turning the place into a tourist attrac- tion. (It had previously been a 250-square mile pastoral property and an important uranium exploration field.)

The Spriggs immediately began remodel- ling existing buildings to make Arkaroola Village, which was opened to tourists in October, 1968.

Reg Sprigg, Griselda, and Dennis Walter,

a mineralogist and old friend, formed the governing board, and it was suggested that Griselda take over promotion of Arkaroola.

That meant living there part of the time, which, for Griselda, was a very pleasant prospect.

Arkaroola terrain has nothing in common with the desert land except antiquity. Part of it is said to be 1650 million years old, and it contains some of Australia's most magnificent, arid mountain country.

Great rocky peaks like ancient monuments rise magnificently out of wooded creek beds; still, deep waterholes reflect the sky. and perhaps a kangaroo about to drink.

The rolling name of Arkaroola was inspired by the Aboriginal legend of Arkaroo, a giant snake who slithered down from the mountains to Lake Frome, lying

east of the northern Flinders.

Very thirsty, he gorged himself on the salty water. Then, bloated and heavy, he made his way back into the rocky ranges, carving the Arkaroola Creek as he went.

Back home in the hills, he lay suffering from a bad stomach-ache, causing giant "tummy rumbles."

You can still hear these rumbles today. A During a visit to Arkaroola last winter I   wakened one night to hear distant roaring.

Geologists believe the rumbles are mild   seismic shocks, while laymen sometimes   declare they are the sound of big rocks  

falling in the deep gorges of the Gammon   Range, the wildest and least known part  

of the northern Flinders.

There is probably another book in Arkaroola, if Griselda can ever take the

time to write it.

Arkaroola Village is a complex of modern   buildings with motel, recreation-room,   swimming-pool, store, restaurant, and head-   quarters. The Spriggs run it with a manager  

and a staff of about 30.

Rising in front of it is Griselda Hill,  

named for Griselda after she assured her

husband she could climb to the top before   breakfast, which she did.  

A short walk from the village is a pleasant   animal sanctuary, housing young kangaroos, wombats, emus, and wallabies.

Most of the land around the village is well-wooded, and colorful parrots, galahs, cockatoos are plentiful. While visiting

Arkaroola I had a daily talk with a treeful of almost tame parrots.

While I was there an advertising firm, with five models and a photographer, came to take pictures of summer clothes against the pleasant, sunny backgrounds.

Some of the locations chosen were at

the top of mountains thousands of feet high. Being nothing if not a shuddering coward when it comes to heights, I watched Griselda with envy as she sat casually chatting as we drove up winding, precipitous roads in an open four-wheel-drive vehicle.

One day I spent a miserable few hours atop one peak, wondering if we'd ever get down again.

We got down all right. The two Arkaroola drivers, Dale Paramountain (appropriate name for these parts) and Brian Norris, know the serpentine roads as well as they know the path to the front door.

These two take tourists for daily trips through the valleys and the scenic hilltops.

A few camels-they were once numerous

around Arkaroola - have been introduced

again for those who want a high ride on

the flat areas.

Another recent boost to Arkaroola is an airstrip with a new bi-weekly air service.

They say of Arkaroola that if you're not interested in gemstones, rocks, and minerals when you go there you will be when you leave. It is a geologist's paradise.

Mountains a geologist's paradise  

SMALL SAND-DUNE (below) near the western edge of the Simpson Desert is a vivid red outcrop, typical of the red dunes of the desert's centre. Some of the dunes are 100 miles long. They are up to 100ft. high and cover more than 60,000 square miles, forming an irregular parallel pattern.

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