Red Centre Holiday: living was easy in the Simpson Desert

Nothing is more emblematic of living during our Simpson Desert crossing than gathering around the camp fire at night. In memory we did it a half a dozen times. Actually it was only three out of our four nights as a group in the desert, plus once on the way over at Jervois Station and at Cooper’s Creek on the way home. The only decent photo I have of a fire is from Cooper’s Creek:


You’ll notice that Len and I have a beer in hand. We threw in two six-packs at Alice Springs. Margot doesn’t drink much and we finished the last at Cooper’s Creek. We had wine every night in the desert, and on the last night a bottle of Glenfiddich appeared from inside the spare tyre to go with Marion’s shearers’ surprise cooked in the camp oven.

The Glenfiddich was actually a present from Len to Margot, for a significant birthday that is in fact years away. Let’s say it was typical of Len, who claims he’s a minimalist!

We fared well in the desert! On the previous night we’d had a damper prepared by Margot and cooked by Len in the coals.

Speaking of fires, here’s Betty, Eoin and Len on the last morning with the rekindled fire. Sunrise would have been about 7.25 am Central time. Our camera records the photo as being taken at 6.39 am.


In case you are wondering, you are not allowed to collect wood in the desert, so we took our own. Len bought 13.5 kg of wood in Alice Springs for $23.50.

Cropped out of that photo we see Irene and Ian’s elevated sleeping facility:


Patsy and Don would also sleep well in crocodile country in this magnificent slide-on camper:


This is what it looks like with the sleeping facilities up:


I understand the slide-on weighs about a tonne, necessitating appropriate strengthening of the chassis and suspension.

Margot and I were snug in our tent, seen here at Mt Dare:


Len is seen here erecting his swag, which he could roll out just about anywhere. Simple! Here’s his swag on the second night in the desert:


Our tent was not so simple with 18 pegs to be hammered in and extracted every time.

Betty and Eoin, and Marion and Darral had tents, seen here, which require only four pegs. Those tents did not have a centre pole, so a double mattress became possible:


That image has been cropped out of a larger scene, our camp at the end of the second day, pretty much the middle of the desert, and where our engine refused to run the following morning. Here’s a wider view:


Here’s the same scene from a different angle:


The next photo shows Betty and Eoin packing up at Purni Bore, a smooth operation:


By contrast, in the next, taken one minute later, Margot and I are scrambling and frazzled:


That’s the lead to recharge the camp light batteries from the cigarette lighter in Margot’s hands, not a chord to strangle me! We always had to go flat chat to deconstruct the camp and pack up in the morning. Irene obviously had time to run around taking the photos!

Apart from the tent we had a throne room for you know what!



This image from Cooper’s Creek shows the throne and the hole:


In the desert the digging was easy. It took me over half an hour to chisel through the clay at Cooper’s Creek to the required depth of 25 to 50cm. The desert park guide book said that toilet paper should be burnt. We never worked out a practical or hygienic way of implementing that instruction!

Our little toilet tent is called a privacy ensuite in the trade. Betty and Eoin had one too, plus a second one, designed to be used as a two-litre shower. They offered the facility to the rest of us, but no-one bothered. No doubt in warmer weather we would have.

Also from Cooper’s Creek, here is our kitchen laid out neatly:


Luckily it didn’t rain!

Note the ice box which we used to keep our perishable food supplies cold through the desert. We started with four bags of ice in Alice Springs (three of block ice and one of party ice) and still had a small amount of ice left nine days later when we arrived back in Emerald. Our meat was vacuum packed in meal-sized lots to avoid mess and spoilage. This service is available from all good butchers. Other items likely to be damaged by water were placed in water-tight plastic containers.

This enabled Len to keep us well fed the whole time:


All the vehicles were packed to the limit. Here’s a look at Betty and Eoin’s vehicle with tailgate down:


The internal shelf structure allowed the food to be accessible without disturbing the rest. The 12 volt car refrigerator on the left is mounted on a slide, so it can be pulled out.

By contrast ours was more of a jumble, as shown here when we were boiling the billy on the tailgate:


Here’s the billy on the small burner, cropped out of the larger photo:


Boiling the billy was a really bad idea. We had trouble with that small burner in the wind and it took too long. Here I’m showing Margot where I burnt my finger on the hot handle:


You’ll notice that we are quite rugged up with jumpers and cardigans although the shot was taken mid-afternoon. Margot and I mostly wore thermals at night, when the temperature dropped towards zero. Then every morning it was a matter of peeling off and putting on the layers required for the day.

All the vehicles had no back seats except our twin cab. We really only had room for two and a half. Poor Margot was crammed into this space:


I did offer a number of times to take a turn, but Margot insisted that I was too big.

Apart from that, living in the desert was easy!

Note: This post is the third in a series on our Red Centre holiday.

3 thoughts on “Red Centre Holiday: living was easy in the Simpson Desert”

  1. You captured the spirit of the adventure perfectly Brian – the 5 star, 4 star and 2 star accommodation.The compensation was wonderful gourmet tucker from ‘Len’s kitchen’ though and heaps of warm and enduring memories!

  2. Thanks, Margot. I think our accommodation was about 2 and a half stars. The self-inflating mattresses were comfortable, but hard to squeeze all the air out of in the morning with cold hands!

    As you know our lighting in the tent was a bit ordinary also!

  3. Please note, the Glenfiddich on the last night in the desert actually went with Marion’s shearers surprise, cooked in a camp oven. We had damper on the second last night.

    I’ve corrected the post accordingly.

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