Words: Mike Ryan and Nissan Australia
Photos: Nissan Australia
For their third instalment of the ‘Patrol Legends’ series celebrating Nissan Patrol owners and icons from all over Australia, Nissan chose a man who you could say attained legend status 60 years ago when he was just a boy and took part in an epic road trip through the Red Centre. A love of the outback ignited on that trip is used today to educate others on Australia’s amazing flora, fauna and scenery.
In the north-eastern reaches of South Australia, eight hours’ drive from Adelaide, and at least four hours from anything that could be described as a bustling town, lies the wilderness sanctuary of Arkaroola. Even by Australian standards, this 610-square-kilometre former sheep station is remote, but that’s exactly how Arkaroola’s current custodian, Doug Sprigg, likes it.
Doug says he couldn’t see himself living anywhere else, which is a good thing, because the Sprigg family have been on this unique site since Doug’s father, Reg, acquired it from the South Australian government more than 50 years ago.
“There is nowhere quite like this,” Doug says. “Arkaroola is a 144,000-acre property, and it has an amazing diversity of geology, animals and plants in these arid lands.”
If you’re wondering how owning an outback property entitles you to Patrol Legend status, it doesn’t. Doug’s induction has nothing to do with Arkaroola at all, actually, but is connected to this part of Australia and comes via something that he did as a passenger – literally.
A Long Road Trip
Doug’s father, Reg Sprigg, was a geologist who co-founded the now well-known company Santos Ltd in 1954 to find oil, natural gas and other resources in remote parts of Australia. He later launched his own company, Geosurveys of Australia P/L.
An experienced geologist, Reg had led expeditions that discovered not only mineral resources, but natural wonders, too, including submarine canyons off the coast of Kangaroo Island and fossils in SA’s north that date back hundreds of millions of years.
In September of 1962, Reg decided to take his wife, Griselda, and children, 9-year-old Margaret and 7-year-old Doug, on one of his surveying expeditions for Geosurveys of Australia P/L in South Australia’s far north, travelling from west to east in search of oil and gas reserves that might be hidden beneath the seemingly endless sand dunes of the Simpson Desert.
To tackle a route that had no roads, only endless scrub and sand dunes, Reg’s vehicle of choice was a G60 Nissan Patrol, which happened to be one of the first units to arrive in Australia, as it had only been introduced here in 1961, following the earliest Toyota LandCrusiers that had been introduced only a few years earlier.
With the rear of the Patrol loaded with two large drums (one for petrol, the other for water), camping gear, food and all the other provisions required for the trip, the Sprigg family were forced to fill the front bench seat.
Setting off from Andado Station, near Mt. Daer in the Northern Territory, the family emerged from the sand dunes at Birdsville in Queensland eleven days later; a monumental feat in itself and one that also happened to be the first ever motorised crossing of the Simpson Desert.
“There were other vehicles out there at that time, taking different routes, like the French Line. But the Nissan was the only one that made it across to the other side without any issues.” Doug explained.
The young Doug had his view of the Simpson somewhat compromised, though, as he was too small to see over the windscreen, but did get a view through the G60’s front fascia air vents!
“I have such fond memories of that G60 - it was such robust and reliable vehicle,” Doug added.
“The modern ones are just brilliant, too. They’re just as robust, but a whole lot more comfortable. We have an in-house mechanic here at Arkaroola, and we often joke he’d starve if there were only Nissans to work on — because nothing ever goes wrong.”
A Love of the Outback
That cross-desert adventure ignited a love of Australia’s Red Centre that still burns in Doug today and fuels his passion for Arkaroola.
After acquiring the site in 1968, the Sprigg family moved to Arkaroola and had the property gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary and historic reserve. Since then, the Arkaroola Education and Research Foundation has been supporting students pursuing careers in botany, geology and paleontology.
Arkaroola also welcomes tourists who come in droves to explore the deep gorges and towering mountains that cover much of the property, part of the stunning Flinders Ranges that stretches for 430km and includes the famous Wilpena Pound.
Some hardy folk explore the region by foot, others in a 4x4, but a unique perspective on Arkaroola is delivered by air in one of the sanctuary’s planes, often piloted by Doug himself.
Beyond its amazing and diverse landscape, Arkaroola is also home to an abundance of wildlife, including the rare yellow-footed rock wallaby, the metre-long Stimson's Python and the mighty wedge-tail eagle.
Its status as a wildlife sanctuary ensures Arkaroola will remain untouched and available for all to explore for years to come. We can thank the commitment of the Sprigg family for that; a commitment that Patrol Legend Doug isn’t planning on giving up any time soon.
If you’re travelling to this part of Australia, set aside some time to visit Arkaroola. Turn up in a Patrol and you’re sure to get an extra warm welcome!