Table of contents

       
The French Line      

In 1965 French Petroleum were given the contract to conduct a seisemic survey across Australia's Simpson Desert. Why is this story on this site? French Petroleum had access to the most suitable vehicles for the task and, along with a number of brand new trucks such as International AB 160s and R190s and Series 2A Land-Rovers, there was a number of ex WW2 CMP vehicles used to convey the living quarters for the men across 440km of claypans and some 1200 sandhills.

In 1998, on the 35th anniversary, the Land-Rover Club of Victoria held a "Vintage Land-Rover Safari" with 5 veterans of the expedition back across the desert. I was fortunate enough to accompany them on their nostalgic trip and filmed a documentary about their track which was to become known as The French Line.

The photographs on these pages came mostly from the men who travelled on that survey.

     
   
One of the International R190s mounting a drilling rig. The French Line ran arrow straight across the desert. It was two bulldozer widths wide and although this track has been in use as the main 4X4 track across the Simpson it has turned into a twisting, winding track as the desert winds quickly blew in the sand and vehicles pick their way around the clumps of gidgee-bush and spinnifex.    
   
A shot taken by John LaHerrere, a French geophysicist known as the father of the French Line. A Campsite, showing the Inter AB 160s and some of the living quarters carried by the CMPs. The trucks were all Chevrolet C60L models.    
   
Whilst the trucks normally moved under their own power, difficult sections such as claypans often demanded the use of one of the bulldozers to pull the heavily laden trucks across. The C60Ls were used as prime movers, and with some of the trailers weighing up to 17 tons, this was a big ask from a 3-ton vehicle. A Douglas C47 landing at Birdsville, which marked the Eastern end of the oil survey.