It was the trip that made the Leyland Brothers household names. The year was 1966 and brothers Mike and Mal teamed up with two mates to became the first people to cross the continent from its most western point, Steep Point in WA to its most eastern, Byron Bay NSW.
They filmed the history-making journey and turned it into a celebrated documentary, “Wheels Across a Wilderness”. The young brothers (Mal was just 21) and their wives toured the country showing the movie in cinemas. It became one of the highest grossing Australian films of the 1960s.
“Indigenous people never penetrated the desert, it was considered taboo as there was no surface water. For that reason there was no evidence of Aboriginal activity in the heart of the desert, which is where we broke down.”
“There were 1105 sand ridges to cross, some up to 200 feet high. By the time we reached the middle we’d broken all of the five differentials we’d brought with us and then we had to winch our vehicles up the side of the massive dunes.
Without modern aids like satellite phones and navigation, the Leylands had a two-way radio to call for help and Mal navigated their way by the stars and by dead reckoning and using a hand-held compass.
“We faced death, but I didn’t really fear it. I entered the desert as an immature youth with a lot to learn and came out as an adult.”
“Set yourself a challenge and do it. I’ve never heard of anyone who’d gone to their grave saying they wished they’d had more money, but I’ve heard plenty of people say I wish I’d done more with the time I had.”
For the full feature, see Issue 21 of ROAM