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Simpson Desert

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Simpson Desert
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Aboriginal Culture and History

The Simpson Desert was inhabited by 7 Aboriginal tribes, who were mainly concentrated around the watercourses on the desert boundaries. During the good seasons, they moved through the desert, digging permanent wells along their route. Evidence of their presence include the Aboriginal wells and stone arrangements throughout the desert region, as well as the names given to the many topographic features.

Some of the wells that were dug are quite extensive, comprising tunnels up to 10 m long, dug at an angle through sand to water-bearing layers. You can still see some of these wells today, although they have long since filled with sand.

The Aboriginal groups living in the area were hunters and gatherers. They also traded extensively with tribes to the north and south. Evidence include the ground-edge axes from quarries in Queensland, as were sandstone grinding stones and ochre from the North Flinders Ranges.


Source: ParksWeb - Department for Environment & Heritage

European History

European settlement combined with the rapid pastoral expansion on the desert fringes during the 1860 to 1900, resulted in the displacement of tribes, either by direct occupation of tribal lands or the attraction of tribe members to pastoral properties. However, the worst impact was the introduction of influenza that decimated the tribes and was to depopulate extensive areas of north and north-eastern South Australia, including the Simpson Desert, at about the time of World War I. A severe drought drove the last desert inhabitants away.

Although the first European to see the Simpson Desert was the explorer Charles Sturt in 1845, the desert was not fully recognised and named until explorer and geologist Cecil Thomas Madigan, in the 1930s named it after Allen Simpson, the sponsor of his expedition. The explorers after Sturt were mainly government surveyors, who named a number of the familiar landmarks in the area.

Among the notable early surveyors was Augustus Poeppel. He was to mark and peg the junction of the borders of the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. The original peg marking 'Poeppel Corner' was removed to Adelaide for preservation, has now been replaced with a replica. Some of the Poeppel's original mile posts and other historic markers can still be seen in the Park.

The first successful crossing of the desert by a European is credited to E. A.Colson who, with an Aboriginal companion P. Ains, and 5 camels, travelled from Mount Etingambra and went westward to Birdsville in 1936. The first motorised crossing was by geologist Reg Sprigg and his family in 1962.

The idea of a Simpson Desert National Park originated with Keith Jarrott of the Queensland National Parks Association in 1966, with the Queensland section established first. South Australia officially proclaimed 6,927 sq kms on 14 December, 1967, following a proposal from Warren Bonython. The Northern Territory park authorities have so far declined to act on the matter.

In 1972 the park in South Australia changed to Simpson Desert Conservation Park, with the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve established in 1988 with the support of the Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the time, Bruce Leaver.

For some great resources see the publications listed on the South Australia ParksWeb site and visit the Simpson Desert - French Line site.

Source: ParksWeb - Department for Environment & Heritage

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