Maps of survey route through the Great Sandy Desert






Klaus Leppert - extracts from letters home (translated from German),

plus two internal minutes

July-August 1963



Port Augusta - Sunday 7th July, 1963


This morning (Sunday) we left Salisbury (13 miles north of Adelaide) and were here at Port Augusta at 3pm…it is not much of a town, even though almost 10,000 people live here. Makes the same impression as Captains Flat (*town outside Canberra).


We're staying here overnight in a well-kept motel and will drive off tomorrow at 8am in the direction of Woomera.


We've had lots of rain since Thursday and it's been miserably cold so far in South Australia.


So far everything's gone well and we've only had one puncture. I might write tomorrow evening from the Rocket Range if we stay there in a hostel, otherwise from Coober Pedy. On Wednesday evening we want to be in Alice Springs and stay there till Saturday because we want to have our vehicles thoroughly looked at again and have to buy various things.


Mt Eba (north of Woomera) - 8th July 1963     


This morning we left Port Augusta at 7.45 and were in Woomera around 11; they kindly let us in. We had lost our brakes and that was fixed straight away there...we wanted to be in Mt Eba the same evening where we had dinner and accommodation booked in the middle of the desert in an air conditioned hotel where the staff of a tracking station are housed. Big steaks for dinner, clean beds with inner spring mattresses and hot showers. Like an oasis. Tomorrow morning we'll keep moving. Around 11 we'll get to Coober Pedy where I want to take a few photos. Despite all the rain we've been really lucky with the roads so far, because we've been driving on the Rocket Range's roads, which are better than Uriarra Road in Canberra (*it was a narrow dusty gravel road in ‘63). Tomorrow we'll have to drive a bit slower as we'll be back on public roads.


Because it's rained a huge amount this year, and especially in the last few weeks (for this area) everything is really green and doesn't look like desert at all.


Alice Springs - 10th July, 1963


Today around 6pm we arrived in Alice Springs after a 900 mile drive from Adelaide.  The road (dirt) was not too bad and we were able to average 35 miles an hour. The first night we spent in Port Augusta, the next at Mt Eba near Woomera, then a night in the open near Willbourne Hills (*Welbourn Hill west of Oodnadatta on the Stuart Highway) and today we drove the last 310 miles through the loveliest country. Fantastic mountains, rocks and trees and those colours! Alice Springs looks quite reasonable, better than I expected, clean and green...we're staying in the Alice Springs Hotel. Tonight it should be below zero again, according to the locals


We want to have our vehicles serviced here and buy another £100 worth of equipment that we need. Up to now we have only needed £30 for petrol and grease and oil changes. Tomorrow morning I'll go straight to the post office.


Alice Springs – 11th July, 1963


This morning we went straight to the post office and I found your letter of the 2nd July sent on from Melbourne and one from 7th July, last Sunday. I was very happy to hear from you. No matter how nice it is in Alice Springs one feels alone in a town on one’s own. It's considerably easier to be alone in a camp where there's no civilisation than in a town with families and children.


Today we spent a lot of time getting our vehicles in order, nothing broken, just checking and screwing everything tight, oil change, grease, etc.


West of Alice Springs - No date


This evening Heinz Schulz and I are camping alone near a trig station that we're going to take a light up to, tomorrow morning. After that we'll drive another 50 miles and will be together with Jerry Cruikshanks and Eddie Dowden for four days, doing observations together on a mountain.


We, that is Heinz and I, are sitting by the fire under a clear sky, writing by electric light and listening to the Village Glee Club (*an ABC radio programme, broadcast from 1942 to 1971, which we listened to as a family for many years.)


Tomorrow we may meet the vehicle of the road work party, which goes every week to get mail.


We are already in the desert but it looks really lovely here. Many desert oaks and ghost gums with snow white bark and everywhere spinifex grass. Looks like something out of a fairy tale. The ground is sandy but you can drive on it.


Mt Leisler – 20th July, 1963 (2100hrs)


Yesterday we finished our first station and today we are on the way back from Sir Frederick's Range, staying overnight at the foot of Mt Leisler. Jerry Cruikshanks & Eddie Dowden are 40 miles away to retrieve a signal lamp from Bonython Hill, which I had put up on Monday. Heinz Schulze and I and our vehicle are 30 metres away from the so-called Tietkens Tree, in which Captain Tietkens chiselled his initials and the date in May 1889. He was on an exploration journey at the time. Mt Leisler climbs 1000 feet high about ¼ mile away.


We have the radio on and are listening to lots of German records from Adelaide. The last few days we have seen about 5 or 6 aboriginal fires. Apparently there's a small group of aborigines who by burning off the spinifex grass expect new shoots in the next year and thereby attract kangaroos which like to eat spinifex shoots. We have seen our first bird today since Monday (a falcon), otherwise the land, which doesn't look at all like a desert, is lifeless. Red sand, with spinifex grass, desert oaks, single gum trees and all sorts of bushes and shrubs cover and brighten up the landscape.


It's just as well that Sneeky or Peter (*sons aged 3 and 8) aren't here. They wouldn't feel comfortable here for long, and perhaps even be a bit scared by the deathly silence which surrounds you. Up to now we haven't had a cold night and the days haven't been hot either. Since last Sunday I haven't shaved and have only washed my face and hands. Already feel like a piglet (Peter and Sneeky would love it)! Before I shave off my beard, I'll have a close-up taken of me in my dirtiest clothes, so that the dear grandmothers get a real shock.


Otherwise I'm fine. Besides physical strength you also need a lot of mental strength to deal with the problems and dangers of this country, which the four of us have, thank heavens.


We hope that by Wednesday we'll have passed these letters on to the driver of the vehicle that's going to Giles.



Division of National Mapping

Internal minute



Subject: Petrol and water for Canning Laplace parties


To: Supervising surveyor, Geodetic

From: K. Leppert


On arrival at Camp 1 situated 49 miles west of Sandy Blight Junction Mr. J Cruickshanks found all drums empty except for one drum which contained about 20 gallons of petrol.


The dump was supposed to hold

1x 44 drinking water

1 and one third x 44 washing water

1 and two thirds x 44 petrol

Apparently someone in need drew all supplies except for 20 gals of petrol.


We are naturally very suspicious of finding empty drums at the next dump at 151 miles from Sandy Blight Junction which we will reach by Saturday 27th July.


We may have to send one of our two trucks back to Liebig Bore for water.


I decided against observing at Mt. Leisler. A very strong wind is blowing since Saturday and we had quite a time putting up the observing tent at Mt. Tietkens which is only 100-150 ft high. If we have no serious holdups we should reach Well 35 between 9th and 11th August.


Communication with Woomera has been very good so far.


Mt Tietkens

23rd July, 1963


K. Leppert

Surveyor 3.



Sunday 28th July 1963 - 150 miles east of Canning Stock Route


So far everything has gone well except for minor mishaps. Tomorrow or on Tuesday we'll send one of our trucks to Liebig Bore (320 miles) to get water (3 x 44 gallons). The mail didn't work either, because the road building chappie is still somewhere else and won't be here for a short while. Sometimes it's damned solitary and you need quite a lot of mental energy to digest this country.


On Friday on our way from Mount Webb to here we stopped at a petrol dump and there was a 13-14 year old aboriginal boy running towards us with his dog. He was so happy, like a kid at Christmas, laughing and constantly chattering although we couldn't understand a word. He had a loincloth on and a fire stick under his arm. We gave him something to drink, to eat and a yard of that orange wool material and 3 tins of meat & biscuits and lollies. He just didn't stop laughing and being happy. His family was out hunting and he was following a few miles behind, as he explained to us by gestures. Couldn't speak a word of English, which means he's never been in a native mission. He was quite sad when we drove on and waved at us for a long time.


Sunday 4th august 1963  


It's Sunday again already and we've still not had the chance to send off or receive any mail. We're only 50 miles away from Well 35 on the Canning Stock Route. Have enough water again (200 litres per truck) to get by for 25 days. We even washed ourselves, though not in the tank water but in salt water. It was a good feeling. On Friday I talked by radio with Beadell (the chappie who's making the road). He has the track right through to Callawa Homestead, which we thought was great, but unfortunately he can't help us with our mail, because he's somewhere else already. I've been trying for 2 days to send off a telegram, but without success. This letter will hopefully be brought by a party to Giles, otherwise it won't get mailed before we get to Port Hedland.


So far everything is OK. The trucks have given us little trouble (touch wood) and we are 1-2 days ahead of schedule. The country changes its face every few miles, sometimes it's beautiful with lots of desert oaks (casuarinas) and other trees and bushes, the names of which I don't know, sometimes a rather dull steppe, but always grass and shrubs. The wind gives us the only noises to be heard, every now and then a bird or a cricket, and naturally the flies. The air is glorious, quite dry and fresh. Temperatures fluctuate between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is easy to put up with. Tomorrow I'll have been away from home for 5 weeks and the time has flown. Of course I have acute homesickness for you all and hope that everything is OK.


When we get to Well 35 (this week) we'll do a big clothes wash and grease and change the oil on the vehicles…tonight we're having mushroom soup with bully beef and noodles.



Division of National Mapping

Internal minute



Subject: Supply depots for Canning Laplace parties


To: Supervising surveyor, Geodetic

From: K. Leppert


On Friday 26th July we reached the supply depot at 151 miles west of Sandy Blight Junction. We found one full drum of petrol and two forcefully opened water drums, one of which was empty and the other contained 2-3 gallons of water.


After investigating the water at nearby Jupiter Well we found it too salty for drinking purposes and as we had very little water left and couldn't mix it with Jupiter water decided to send one truck to Liebig for good drinking water.


Messrs Dowden and Schultze left for Liebig Bore on Monday at 1400 hours and returned on Wednesday at 1730 hours. They reported that the abovementioned petrol drum had been opened in the meantime and half its contents spilled. Plenty of aboriginal tracks were about. This seems to prove that aboriginals are responsible for opening our drums and helping themselves to water. I wonder if the native welfare officer of this district could investigate this matter.


In the meantime I have been in radio contact with Mr. L. Beadell who found our petrol and water depots between Well 35 and Callawa untouched. He has completed the track right through to Callawa Homestead and his party is grading once more on the way back to Well 35.


K. Leppert




Friday 16th August 1963 - NMF 185 (330 miles from Callawa)


I hope everything is going well with you in Canberra; I can hardly complain and as I've already written, we've had very little trouble. We're still right on schedule and hope to arrive in Port Hedland on the 5th-10th September and from there it'll be another 14 days till we get back to Canberra. I've been away for almost 7 weeks and the time has gone quite fast.


This morning we left a stoneage castle with lots of caves and unexpected openings, where we spent 3 nights doing observations, and have been sitting since 1 pm on this hill, which we finally got to the top of after 4 attempts to run up it with the truck. The sun is shining without a break (except at night, obviously) and the temperatures are thanks to a constant breeze, around 80°F. At night it's between 50 and 70. So that's pretty easy to take.


I need someone to tell me again that this is a desert. Everything is green all around and the most delightful flowers and shrubs grow here beside quite strange trees. Little obvious animal life. No roos, emus or other big animals, only birds, lizards, ants and dingoes. The land looks quite a lot better than the area around Maffra near Cooma, and quite a lot prettier than many parts of the Monaro.


We haven't seen any aboriginals for the last 250 miles, not even footprints. At the end of next week we'll come to another well and will do the washing like we did at Well 35 last week. It was really funny how we all, one after the other, sat in the canvas bathtub and scrubbed ourselves and washed our clothes.


It's possible that this letter will be taken to Port Hedland by a party of geologists from WAPET (WA Petroleum) that we might meet, and may get to you 2 weeks before my next letter.


From the radio (that is on constantly) we know that you are having lousy weather. I hope you have enough to keep the heater going.


Saturday 24th August 1963 - NMF 174 (150 miles east of Callawa)


Hopefully the telegram came on time and made Mum's heart a bit lighter. We encountered the WAPET party quite unexpectedly. In the meantime we are only 150 miles from Callawa and have only another 6 stations to observe. We expect to be in Callawa on Tuesday the 3rd Sept at the earliest. We are gradually getting on each other’s nerves. That's not to be avoided when you are together constantly for six weeks and mostly only two of you. Even a honeymoon couple would suffer in those conditions. But everything is bearable. That's one of the jobs a party leader has, to mediate and cheer people up.


Since we left Alice Springs we haven't had a single day without sun, and are running around mostly half-naked between 10 and 3pm. We're naturally nice and brown. But half of the brownness will wash off again. Two days ago we entered the region of the giant anthills, 8 to 10 feet high, like Eskimo igloos. The area is still fascinating for us. Lucky that we have the road, otherwise we'd be another 12 weeks behind.


Monday 26th August 1963


Yesterday (Sunday) we met the owner of Callawa station, who was on a weekend trip along the new track, to have a look at the country. He'll come past our trig station again today on the way back to pick up our letters. We haven't got any mail yet and probably won't get any before Port Hedland.


We've had a peaceful and hot Sunday (90⁰F). Dad has scrubbed himself again from top to bottom and shaved. That's OK now we don't have to scrimp on the water. The tension has also eased a bit because we know we aren't alone any more, but between the WAPET party and Callawa. The decisions to be made don't need to be thought over and weighed so much.


I've just finished a piece of homework (reduction of the night observations) and will then fill up my tuckerbox again and then it'll already be time to set up the instrument for the evening.


I'll celebrate my birthday with the boys in Port Hedland. On the radio that's on almost all day we're hearing about the bad weather in Australia. We seem to be the only patch of sunshine. I think up to now we've only had two days where we saw a couple of clouds.


We need another good 8 nights to finish the job. On Tuesday 3/9 at the earliest we could be finished.


Tuesday 3rd September 1963 - Port Hedland


At ten to 5 today we arrived in Port Hedland and just got our mail (bags full). The trip to here went well and we had no major breakdown.


Civilisation is not quite as we imagined it in the seven weeks away but still it's good enough.


Many thanks for your dear letters. Your last one is from 9th or 10th August. You'll have also received my second telegram in the meantime I hope (should have been there on the 22nd.) We had a lot of trouble getting through with the radios. Lost contact with Woomera at the start of August and from then on we could only speak twice with the Flying Doctor Service in Alice Springs, otherwise it was always unsuccessful. The atmospheric disturbances were too strong to receive our relatively weak signals. We could hear everything.


Wednesday 4th September 1963


The trip was very very beautiful, I wouldn't have wanted to miss it. We'll probably head off on Saturday for Perth, and be there on Tuesday. On Thursday in Kalgoorlie. This morning at 9am I sent you a telegram and asked you for £25 which you should send me (by telegram or whatever means) by the 11th September to c/o P.O Kalgoorlie. I actually still have £38 but with two more jobs in Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta I could run a bit low, especially as I want to bring something home.


This Port Hedland is just another outback town! But the Indian Ocean is beautiful and blue and the sun shines all day and the seagulls and all sorts of other birds that I don't know play chasings with each other.


Here at the harbour (the hotel is only 20 metres from the water) it's a bit cooler, 100 metres further behind a small hill it's already too hot for me and its winter!


Thursday 12th September 1963


We left Port Hedland on Saturday and were near Onslow that night. Sunday night in Geraldton, Monday in Geraldton, Tuesday and Wednesday in Perth which we left today. It's not warm any more. Had a lot of rain in Perth. Here in Kalgoorlie it's dry but cold.



Klaus Leppert – Grocery List before leaving Adelaide