Reg Sprigg

Reg was born at Stansbury, York Peninsula, South Australia on March 1 1919.

He graduated B.Sc in Geology and Zoology at Adelaide University in 1940 followed by B.Sc(Hons) and M.Sc. in Geology in 1941. In 1971 he was awarded D.Sc(honouris Causa) by A.N/U (Canberra) and, again by Flinders University (Adelaide) in April 1990 for his early pioneering work in Oceanography.

He enlisted in the Royal Engineers in 1940, was transferred to Munitions Department from 1941-42, then to the CSIRO Soils Division from 1942-43.

In 1946 he discovered the world’s oldest (620 mya) ‘Edicarian’ fossil animals and, in 1947, the first submarine canyons in the Southern Hemisphere, south of Kangaroo Island.

Click here to view an historic film clip of Reg Sprigg interviewed by Bill Peach at Arkaroola.

In 1944 Reg was seconded to the South Australian Geological Survey to reactivate the Radium Hill Uranium Mining field and to regionally map the Mt Painter Uranium field. Later he established the State Geological Mapping Division and undertook a wide range of mineral, hydrological, petroleum and engineering surveys.

He married Griselda Paterson in 1951. They have two children – Margaret (born 1952) and Douglas (born 1954).

In 1954 he set up his own consulting and contracting geological and geophysical companies, Geosurvey of Australia P/L, and its subsidiaries Geoseismic P/L, Geophoto Laboratories P/L, SA Oceanographic Services P/L and Specimen Minerals Ltd which supply scientific equipment and specimens (biological, mineral and geological) as well as publishing the Australian Amateur Mineralogist and the Australian (Petroleum) Scouting Service.

In 1954 he took a leading part in setting up SANTOS Ltd and subsequently spear-headed oil exploration widely across Australia. He was instrumental in discovering and developing the oil deposits in the Cooper Basin and the Moomba Gas Fields. Geosurveys operated also in search for Uranium, Nickel and other minerals and in geological and geophysical exploration under contract. He also assisted in directly setting up Alliance Oil Development NL, Beach Petroleum NL, and Tasman Petroleum Ltd (NZ).

Geosurveys was the first Australian contractor in regional and submarine gravity studies and also land and marine seismic studies. He was Technical Director of Beach Petroleum NL, a Director of Tasman Petroleum NL, Nickel Mines of Australia Ltd and South West Mining (a subsidiary of International Nickel Company).

Geosurveys built its own Oceanographic Research Vessel, M.V. SAORI, and the country’s first deep-sea Diving Chamber – the black and white object located behind Ningana – which saved many lives during the building of Port Stanvac. Along with diving team mates, Reg Sprigg shares the offshore SCUBA diving depth record for southern Australia at 90 metres.

While still in his teens, he became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Society of SA. He later became Foundation Chairman of the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association (1959-65). Councillor until 1982, and then became Emeritus Chairman and Life Member. He was also a Fellow of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the Geological Society of America, Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Geological Society of Australia and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences. He was awarded the Tate Verco and Weeks Gold Medal for achievement.

In 1939 as a student of Prof Douglas Mawson (later to be Sir Douglas of Antarctic fame) he first visited the Arkaroola sheep station (created only 2 years earlier from unwanted virgin mountain country) in the northern Flinders Ranges with five other final year geology students. To Mawson Arkaroola was the World’s greatest open-air museum of geological history. Mawson was first attracted there by an unusual sample of radioactive Torbernite (copper uranium phosphate) sent to him by the government prospector/pastoralist WB Greenwood. On his first visit to Arkaroola in 1910 he fell in love with the wild mountain country with its diverse minerals and rock types and decided it was perfect for annual student field trips. Mawson asked Sprigg to do what he could to find a means to protect Arkaroola in the long term.

In 1967 when Arkaroola pastoral lease was for sale Reg tried to convince the SA Govt to purchase the property and declare it a National Park. But they felt it to remote, and finally said if he felt so strongly about it he should purchase it himself which he a Griselda did in February 1968.   Reg who was still deeply involved in the petroleum industry decided it best to open Arkaroola to tourists and use moneys from tourism to fund environmental projects. As it turned out the Government had been correct and it was a long way for visitors to come, and they came very slowly; so most of the funding for buildings, tracks, other infrastructure and conservation came from Griselda and Reg – but that is a common story for a labour of love.

Tourists were to be housed in the Arkaroola Village and Camp ground on 555 ha of land which made Freehold with the assistance of the then Governor of SA, Sir Mark Oliphant who first visited Arkaroola with Reg during WWII at the uranium workings at Mt Painter. Sir Mark became a regular visitor in later years. The rest of the 61,000ha property which had been a sheep station for a scant 30 years was cleared of stock, vermin control commenced, and continues today. Access zones were set up to protect areas with differing levels of conservation value. As a result, 47 years on the native flora (including a number of endemics) and fauna is in brilliant health and the majority of the property remains weed free. Many species, including endemics, which were under threat from stock pressures have recovered and thrive.

In 2012 the SA State Government legislated the Arkaroola Protection Act to preserve this unique wild arid mountain range environment for posterity as per the desire of geologists, Douglas Mawson, Reg Sprigg and physicist, Mark Oliphant. The geological landscape laid bare is a 3D window to rock structures and features normally buried deep below the cover. Many features and minerals unknown elsewhere.   The far-sighted efforts of Reg Sprigg, the conservationist, are plain to see, and the Arkaroola Research and Education Foundation and his family continue his dream of educating students, industry and the general public about geology and ecology, while continuing the long term environmental protection and monitoring.

The three access zones are the Mawson Plateau Wilderness Zone (no tracks/no vehicle access), the Ridgetop – Limited Access Zone (one main track only with locked gates; used only by Arkaroola vehicles, or approved vehicles provided they have been cleaned for weed seeds prior to entry), and the Multi-use Zone, available to all visitors, but with key entry to certain 4WD areas for safety reasons. From 1968, visitors have had free access on foot to all of the property, provided Arkaroola’s policies were adhered to including; no fires outside of the designated caravan/camping area, ditto for dogs with wild dogs baited for outside of this area, no swimming in waterholes (which are saline with a thin layer of less dense fresh water from rain on top – mixing precludes animals drinking). As a fall-back the Arkaroola swimming pool is available to all visitors.

In 1983 Reg was vested an officer of the Order of Australia. In June 1988 he was awarded the Freedom of the city of London in recognition of his work in petroleum exploration and environmental conservation. In March 1989 he was appointed a Vice-Patron of the Alumni Association of Adelaide University and in April 1990 at Flinders University.

He published over 200 scientific and technical papers and four books; Arkaroola-Mt Painter in the Flinders Ranges;Arkaroola-Mt Painter – The last Billion Years; Geology is Fun and A Geologist Strikes Out.

Reg Sprigg died in December 1994 and his ashes are scattered on the property.