Griselda Sprigg

Griselda was born on December 12th 1921 in Paisley, Scotland. She was second daughter of dentist Robert Findlay Paterson. Perhaps she was destined to travel, as the area where she was born is now part of Glasgow Airport.

Griselda attended Glasgow High School for Girls ( “not a brilliant career”), following in the wake of her more academically inclined older sister.

Starting in July 1938, Griselda trained as a nurse at the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in Paisley and later at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow. After getting her General Certificate, she went on to study radiography at the royal Infirmary and the Western Infirmary (both in Glasgow). She received both a Diagnostic Degree and another in Deep X-ray Therapy. Joint degrees are no longer awarded and she was one of the last people to receive both.

Griselda applied for an overseas posting during the war but was not selected because she did not hold a Triple Certificate in Nursing. Instead she went to work for the two first plastic surgeons in Britain, Sir Harold Gilles and DR (later Sir) Archie McIndoe. They worked mainly with Battle of Britain pilots. The practice was located at Ballochmyle (“in the Robbie Burns country”), due to the widespread bombing of other areas. After the war, Griselda returned to general X-ray work and the training of radiography in Paisley. Eventually she went to Edinburgh Royal Hospital for a fellowship where she claims she “got lost every single day of the six week course – it was enormous!”

In 1948 Griselda met Reg Sprigg when they were both staying in the same hotel on the Isle of Arran – she with her mother and he with a group of Geophysicists on tour after a conference. A group of four nursing sisters bet Griselda a week’s pay that she couldn’t get a date with “the Australian” at the other end of the table by the next day. Griselda won the bet and a lifetime partner!

Reg sent Griselda a first class ticket for passage on the Strathmore and she sailed to Australia in 1950, arriving in Adelaide after a month at sea. Reg and Griselda were married on February 3rd 1951 (“one of the hottest bloody days of the whole year”). Almost immediately they moved to Radium Hill, 145 kilometres SW of Broken Hill, where they lived in a caravan for three and a half years. Radium Hill is now a ghost town. Their two children were born during this time, Margaret in 1952 and Douglas in 1954.

The family first moved from Radium Hill to Adelaide where they bought a house, which was their main home for sixteen and a half years. During this time, Reg travelled extensively for Geosurveys Australia, coming home “to get his laundry done”. Together they undertook short desert exploration treks with the children in preparation for the pioneering motorised desert crossings of the 1960’s. Later they built a house in Somerton, which they called “Arkaroola”. The house still retains the name although it has changed hands several times.

In 1967, Reg and Griselda bought the pastoral lease of Arkaroola (“which contained 7000 bloody sheep on the land that can only hold 3000”). They received the title on January 18th 1968 and started building access roads on the 19th! With Reg, Griselda pioneered a new land-use model for the Arkaroola pastoral lease. The property was de-stocked in 1970 and since that time has been managed as a controlled tourism and nature conservation business. Frustrated by kilometres of red tape in the 70’s and 80’s, Griselda had a “bullshit” rubber stamp custom made, which she all but wore out when filing government correspondence.

In 2001, with ghost writer Rob Maclean, Griselda published her memoir DUNE is a four letter word (Desert crossing and dusty memories). Griselda survived Reg by eight and a half years and passed away in Adelaide on March 20th 2003. Their vision endures at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.