Join the blister sisters …and their bro

The Simpson Desert is the world’s largest sand dune desert and a group of adventurous Novocastrians were the first to cross it on foot for charity.

Straddling the state borders of South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, the Simpson Desert’s imposing sand dunes have been shaped into long, red waves by the westerly winds rolling from Birdsville in outback Queensland towards Alice Springs. The seemingly inhabitable land had been home to the Arrente and Wangkamadla peoples, the Wangkngurru, Arabana, Jeljendi and others for millennia, but it was the last of the Australian deserts to be explored by Europeans. The first crossing in a motor vehicle didn’t happen until 1962.

Thousands cross the Simpson in a 4WD vehicle or on a motorbike every year, but only 180 people are recorded to have made their way across the 1100 sand dunes on foot. And nobody had hiked across the entire Simpson for charity. Enter Donna George, community relations coordinator at Newcastle based women’s shelter Jenny’s Place, and an experienced hand at organising and participating in charity walks.

“I had done eight charity walks over the years and we were looking for something a little different for our next project. At that point, Emma who had come along on one of our prior walks raised the idea of hiking across the Simpson Desert,” she shares.

“I didn’t take it too seriously at first, but she kept badgering me until I finally started looking into it. I researched what it would take to do it. And right off the bat, there were quite a few people who felt strongly about this challenge and who wanted to participate.

“We were going to raise funds and awareness for women and children escaping from domestic violence so it made sense to do something tough, something that would push us way beyond our comfort zone. The big difference of course was that we knew our pain would end after about 20 days, a luxury that these women don’t have.”

Because of the length of the journey, and the time it takes to get there and back, participants had to be able to take a full month off work. With the commitment in money and time quite significant, it was a dedicated group of nine hikers, eight self-proclaimed blister sisters and their blister bro who flew into Alice Springs in August 2022, to make their way to Dalhousie Springs and embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

Along the 440 kilometres of their West to East crossing, they braved sand dunes, a category 1 cyclone and two straight days of downpour. They managed to cover 20 to 25 kilometres every day, with temperatures alternating between scorching heat during the day and sub-zero temperatures at night.

“During the cyclone we lost a couple of tents and during the two solid days of rain some of us had to move into share tents with fellow trekkers or sleep in the cars of the support team because their tents had been flooded. It wasn’t planned that way, but it served as a vivid reminder that some women and children are forced to sleep in their cars for weeks or months. So really, we couldn’t complain if it was a mere 48 hours for us.”

Their three-car support team was led by Camel Paddy, a local guide who has crossed the desert more than 30 times and has been working with camels his entire life. The team would forge ahead about 14 kilometres every morning to set up lunch at a suitable spot along the track, then another five to 10 kilometres to set up for dinner and for the night.

Read more about the Blister Sisters in the Autumn Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of Jenny’s Place