Denis Bartell celebrates the discovery of a lifetime
Standing a staggering 40-metres high, it’s hard to fathom Big Red was named by a European for the the first time just 40 years ago, by veteran desert navigator, Denis Bartell. He first encountered the giant dune in ’77 when he was attempting to cross the Simpson on foot.
Big Red, also known as Nappanerica, is 70km west of Birdsville, on the eastern edge of the Simpson. As the fourth largest desert in Australia, the Simpson is home to the longest parallel dunes in the world (in addition to Big Red) with some extending for 200km! Geologists estimate there are more than 1100 dunes within her boundary. And what’s more, the dune-fields are still advancing, swallowing eucalypt forests in the Strzelecki Floodplain.
Following his start on foot in ’77, Denis navigated the Simpson by various means relying on his own methods of navigation, providing him with ample opportunity to stop in at Big Red. He attempted another crossing on foot from Alka Seltzer Bore in ’84, but this time, he was able to rely upon several old Aboriginal wells arching southward, which he’d rediscovered in the intervening years. With this vital water source secured, Denis reached Birdsville in 24 days.
Big red calling
Sitting on the rim of Big Red to watch the sunrise and set has become a ritual for the seasoned Simpson-bound veteran, who returned to the site to celebrate the 40-year anniversary since naming Big Red, with fellow adventurer Ron Moon joining him, just a few months before. According to Ron, Denis has seen that the sun set from Big Red more than 70 times!
“A sunset whenever possible from Big Red is something not to be missed for it is then when I can easily re-live, in a most vivid form, my past journeys and scenery from its ever changing landscape,” wrote Denis to Ron.
“I can truly be at one with the spirit of the desert.
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