Where did this idea come from?

With Bejah, Simpson Desert 1996

 

 Some background information about me and how this journey came about. I live at Deniliquin in the Riverina district of the state of New South Wales. All of my working life has revolved around animals, mostly merino sheep. In 1982 I was an 18 year old jackeroo working on a sheep station called Kelso near Longreach in Central Queensland. Kelso (and the main street of Longreach) is dissected by the Tropic of Capricorn and I sometimes wondered "where it came from, where it went to, and what lay along it's path." I realised that I could drive the route, more or less sticking to highways, minor roads and tracks, but that would not really appeal to me, so I put the idea at the back of my mind and got on with beginning to forge a career in the Stud Merino industry. When I was backpacking in Morocco in 1991, I found myself near the town of Zagora on the edge of the Sahara Desert. I went for a walk and was soon sitting on a rocky outcrop with a marvellous view of the surrounding small valley and distant oasis. As I was looking out across the dusty and rocky landscape, a young boy appeared, shepherding some camels back towards the village. Watching the camels lope seemingly effortlessly over the large flat stones, I decided then & there to learn more about these marvellous animals and knew that one day this is how I would follow the Tropic Of Capricorn. Returning to Australia and studying the maps more closely, I was delighted to see that to really follow the TOC and do the journey justice, I would have to cross three deserts. Perfect I thought! During these legs of the journey I would have to use a compass bearing and my sense of bush direction, as there were no roads or tracks to follow. And that is what made this expedition different to any other before it. Previous trans-continental solo expeditions involving camels had concentrated on "widest point to widest point" and, eventhough those expeditions crossed various deserts, the route taken never went off a road or track.

 

In my view this seems ridiculous as camels are the best cross-country 4WD's you can get, so why follow a road in/across a desert? To me, there is little or no challenge about following a road across a desert and certainly in places like the Simpson Desert, you would spend most of the time dodging the 4WD traffic. I had also seen that some other camel expeditions had ended up turning into massive and vague wanderings around the country, which also didn't appeal to me. One of the first things I decided in the initial planning was to just follow the route with no or few distractions. No mucking about. Importantly, the journey wasn't going to be about re-enacting anything, or following in someone's footsteps. The idea was for the journey to be solo - no support crew and no film crew following behind in a vehicle. So in 1994, I got stuck into the planning. In 1995 I was employed by the legendary Rex Ellis on a 25 day camel expedition cross the Simpson Desert in the Northern Territory. This was a great 'thrown in at the deep-end experience', and I actually enjoyed it so much that I have since ended up buying the Outback Camel Company. From 1995 up until the start of CapX, I crossed the Simpson Desert on three more expeditions plus traversed the southern fringe of the Simpson, north of Lake Eyre. In 1997 I led a 40 day 700 kilometre expedition across the Gibson Desert plus another 43 day 600 kilometre combined trek around the Great Victoria Desert and the Nullarbor. By 1999 I was quite confident that I had enough experience to be let off the rope and go walkabout on a solo trek. Because I was travelling by myself, there was certainly a real element of danger and risk but I considered that my experience with camels combined with my bush skills and pre-departure planning, made those risks acceptable. go to map So at the end of 1997 planning was well under way and by the beginning of 1999, the journey had become a fund raising venture for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and was linked to the Australian school network via the Victorian Education Department. I didn't raise as much money as I had hoped - about $23,000.00 - but nevertheless this small amount did help the RFDS to continue their life-saving work. $2100.00 was also donated to three charities in Deniliquin.