Feet across Australia: forty years on from a four-month trek

It’s not uncommon to reflect with awe on the energy, exuberance and adventurous spirit of our youthful exploits, but rare indeed to savour the memories of a four-month walk from Spencer Gulf to the Gulf of Carpentaria with a small band of friends when you were 21 years old.

On September 5 this year, Annabel Douglas-Hill will travel from her home on Kangaroo Island to Willow Springs homestead in the Flinders Ranges to meet these four friends and celebrate the 40th anniversary of their 1973 expedition. This distinguished them as the first European Australians to follow in the footsteps of Australia’s explorers, Burke and Wills. 

It was on this desert walk, and in the Birdsville pub, that Ms Douglas-Hill celebrated her 21st birthday. For the past 10 years, American River and Stun’sail Boom have been home to her and her partner Doug Gray. 

She first met brothers, Bill and Bob Mossel when they were all members of an Adelaide bush walking club. After WWII the Mossel family migrated to Australia from Holland. The brothers grew up with their father’s narrative about war thwarting his ambition to walk around the world and this fuelled their dream to cross Australia. 

The Mossel brothers were joined on the desert walk by Ms Douglas-Hill and two other women, Sharka Dolak, a 19-year-old from Czechoslovakia and Sue Thompson, 24.

“My strongest memory now is of the distance we walked” Ms Douglas-Hill says and then proceeds to offer amazing anecdotes about dangerous encounters; outback characters including Afghan Aborigines; meals supplemented with bush tucker; and environments made more treacherous by 1973’s monumental rain and floods.

“The Birdsville Track was a swamp that year. Bill Mossell, who was a cine cameraman, carried all his film gear, his brother carried our tents and the women carried some of our food supplies. Food had also been buried along the route prior to us setting off but some of it got washed away by the floods.

“Reg and Griselda Spriggs heard about us carrying all our gear in back packs and when we reached Arkaroola they presented us with a camel named Sally who came along on most of our journey” Ms Douglas-Hill said.

The documentary of the Coast to Coast walk, which was filmed and directed by Bill Mossell and  supplemented by interviews with television crews along the route, was screened on 1970s national TV.

At the end of this expedition which raised funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Ms Douglas-Hill returned to life as a student. 

She completed a Masters Degree in Wetlands Restoration at the University of New England, knowledge which has informed her work to restore Lake Kitty on a 2000 hectare property, Stun’sail Boom River Station, which her family have owned for 65 years, as well as at adjoining wetlands, Karatta and Grassdale Lagoons.

Annabel Douglas-Hill

Annabel Douglas-Hill

Annabel Douglas-Hill (2nd from right) and friends with Sally, their pack camel.

Annabel Douglas-Hill (2nd from right) and friends with Sally, their pack camel.

The Advertiser, October 20, 1973.

The Advertiser, October 20, 1973.

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