Across the sands of time
Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first motorised crossing of the Simpson Desert in a G60 Nissan Patrol
MELBOURNE, Australia (September 12, 2022) – Nissan is today celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first motorised crossing of Australia’s vast Simpson Desert, with the legendary feat achieved by the Sprigg family in their G60 Nissan Patrol in 1962.
Today, Doug Sprigg is approaching 70, but he was just seven years old when he, his sister Marg, and his parents Reg and Griselda, all squeezed into the front seat of their G60 and set off from Andado Station in the Northern Territory for a two-week journey across the seemingly endless sands of the Simpson.
The adventure would eventually end at Birdsville in Queensland, earning the Sprigg family — and the G60 Nissan Patrol — a permanent place in Australia’s record books. The family completed the journey on September 11, 1962.
The size and scale of the endeavour can’t be overstated. The Simpson Desert is the largest parallel sand dune desert in the world, stretching more than 170,000 square kilometres and touching the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.
With no real tracks or maps to follow, the family averaged just 5km/h on their journey. Worse still, the saltbush crops that dot the desert presented more than just a driving obstacle — in the searing heat of the desert, they were a real fire danger any time the G60 would get momentarily beached on a sand dune. And when a 200-litre drum of petrol is included in your cargo, fire risks can be a scary thing.
Thankfully, there was plenty of breathtaking scenery to take their minds off the challenging task at hand — and young Doug even had a unique place to view it from.
"In 1962 my dad took my sister, mum and I across the Simpson Desert, and that would become the first motorised crossing of the desert,” he says.
“I have such fond memories of that G60. It was such a robust and reliable vehicle. I was even shorter then than I am now, and Nissan had even provided me a way of seeing forward — through the air vents below the windscreen.
“With four of us sitting across the front seat, a 200-litre drum of fuel in the back, and a 200-litre drum of water, the vehicle was pretty heavily loaded, so I got to see the scenery through the air vents, but the big sand dunes coming up I could see through the windshield.”
By day, the family would track across the desert, and each night the family would camp beneath the stars. Doug says his mum, Griselda, made sure the family was well supplied and ready for anything.
“Mum was the one that did a lot of the preparations. They were an amazing team. Without mum, dad wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful,” Doug says.
“And the vehicle was magnificent. Every other vehicle had significant problems, with gearboxes in particular, or with differentials, but the Nissan never had any issues. And it was punished — Dad believed that vehicles had to work for their living.”
Doug is now the second-generation owner of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary — hidden deep in South Australia’s red-dirt outback, some eight-hours drive from Adelaide — after his father, famed Australian scientist Reg Sprig, fell in love with the property.
"Dad used his 4WDs to go and explore different parts of the country and one of the places he came to in 1937, as a geology student, was Arkaroola. He fell in love with it, and later he went to the state government and tried to convince them to buy it as a National Park,” Doug says.
“Parks wasn’t interested, so eventually he bought it in 1968, and it’s been about the same ever since. There is nowhere quite like this — a 144,000-acre property, and it has an amazing diversity of geology, animals and plants in these arid lands.”
Nissan caught up with Doug — already a verified Patrol Legend — at Arkaroola with a perfectly restored G60 Patrol to celebrate the anniversary of that momentous crossing. It was a reunion of man and machine that unlocked plenty of powerful memories.
"Driving this vehicle now, 60 years later, it’s just incredible,” Doug says.
“Dad was amazing in his diversity of knowledge, and I didn’t realise just how much I relied on him until he died. And suddenly, this amazing resource was gone.
“But jumping in this Nissan brings those memories back, it’s been amazing."
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