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Of Desert Sands, Camels, and Serpents


A team of adventurers re-create the original 1969 East-West Australia Expedition

Perched high on the crest of a sand ridge, the rising sun cast my elongated shadow to the west, which dissipated like a heat-induced mirage in the thick clumps of spinifex below. Beyond was another sand ridge, then a hundred more until the most distant collided with a waning dawn sky. Three hundred kilometres further lay Old Andado Station, our next objective. I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes, letting the crisp air fill my lungs as I mentally prepared for the day ahead. Opening them, I scanned the horizon for a hint of an existing track; any that did exist had been expunged by the winds of time since the last vehicle crossed this region 50 years ago. In the valley to the east, my crew pulled a billy from the coals, prepared the last cuppa java, and stowed gear. Sliding down the ridge to my Jeep, I pulled a whiskey compass from my pocket, pointed the needle due west, and turned the key. We needed to cover 50 kilometres before sunset and it would be a long day.

The previous year I’d met with Aussie Ben Davidson, publisher of Jeep Action magazine, in Las Vegas. He shared that in 1969, a man by the name of Ian McDonald rounded up a group of friends and three Jeep CJ Overlanders, and set out to not only cross the continent from coast-to-coast, but also attempt a transect of the northern Simpson Desert – one of the country’s most remote and inhospitable regions. He also mentioned that McDonald and the expedition’s filmmaker John Eggleston were still alive and might be interested in one last hurrah.