"It’s one of those few experiences where you can say we leave only footprints and then we’re gone.”
So says Andrew Harper, the founder of Australian Desert Expeditions, about his publicly offered journeys into our country’s inland expanses.
The footprints in reference belong not only to humans on the journey, but also to pack camels. These camels replace the likes of 4WDs for these trips, which are completely self-sufficient and unsupported by vehicles.
The purpose of it all? Science. And that purpose doesn’t just apply to the ecologists and scientists on the journey. Anyone can go, and the focus on the land applies to everyone along for the experience, Andrew says.
“We’re looking at the plants, the animals, the invertebrates that live there,” he says.
“The Simpson Desert is very much a boom and bust landscape, so at the moment, for instance with the floods, we’ll be looking at the response of the desert to the flood pulse, and that includes the migratory birds that follow the flood system down.
“Working with the camel team, that in itself is an unusual thing for any bushwalkers to experience. We teach people about how that works and of course we ask for their assistance, because all of our trips are very much participation-based. People get stuck into it and lend a hand to the cameleers, to get the show on the road.”
Andrew started venturing into the vast, uninhabited, red, dusty plains of our country’s interior back in 1995.
For him, passionate about research as he is, there is something incredible about simply being out there, away from it all – a joyous detachment that he says is a common experience to everyone along for the journey.
“We’re out there in the wilderness, where there’s no other people,” he says.
“We don’t run into anyone. We’re completely in areas where no one ever walks. There’s no people, there’s no roads, there’s no engines, there’s no lights.
“It’s very much a pure bushwalking experience. Certainly, you’re getting as far away from things as it’s possible to do in Australia – both geographically and mentally.”