Sun Printing in the Great Sandy Desert

For about 4 years I worked in mineral exploration as a geological draughts-person.

Working on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert

I was contracting to a company in Perth, Western Australia, who saw the light in sending someone out into the field with the reconnaissance team, who could plot the grids and interpolate the data as it came to hand.

Most projects ran for 3 months, where the accommodation was a tent, with its annex – my office.

My fondest memories are from a job that had us camping on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in WA not far, metaphorically speaking, from Wolfe Creek meteorite crater.

We had a weekly chartered airplane come in with supplies to last for the following week – and for its return trip I would put copies of the latest geological plans on board to head office (3,000km /2000 miles away in Perth to the south west) so they could see what work we had covered.

Sun Printing Plans

To do this, I utilized a sun-printing method to produce prints, that could be rolled up in a tube to be freighted out – No fancy electric printing machines out there!

To create a sun-print, I’d lay the draughting film, with my pen and ink drawing of the project to date, over a light sensitive paper in a darkened tent –

This entailed pulling down all the flaps of the thick khaki canvas, when it was already 40 degrees outside. As I’m sure you can imagine, with no ventilation or free flowing air, the 40 degrees on the outside rose quickly on the inside!

Working as fast as possible, I’d strap the plan to a ply-board backing, tightening it with rope at the back to create an arching position (a bit like drawing a bow) to ensure a good close contact was made between the plan and the ‘printing’ paper.

Once in position, it was up with the canvas khaki flap, and out into the blinding light.
With sweat rippling down my body I’d stand facing the glaring sun with the board held aloft for a timed 2 minutes.

Back into the steaming black of the darkened tent, with all flaps firmly down I’d wipe a solution over the now exposed paper in order to ‘develop’ the image.


Mineral exploration crew at the end of a project that included sun printing plans

Here’s a photo of me, on the left, with Jim, Phil, Verne, Noel and John.

This was at the end of the project as we are about to pull out and hit the road home.

Have you ever had to develop a creative solution to address a situation?


10 thoughts on “Sun Printing in the Great Sandy Desert

    • To wake up in the morning and have the Australian desert outside your front door (tent flap), and the expansive whistling spinifex for an office (tent annexe) view for months at a time was a joy…

      I loved my time working in the outback – and the Great Sandy Desert was a favourite 😉

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    • I don’t think it matters whether stories are new or old as long as they’re relevant to the focus of the blog and so are in line with what readers have come to expect –
      Journey Jottings is all about travelling Australia and recording travel memories so I think this story fits with my focus 🙂
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the tale.

  3. What a great shot – perfectly embodies the pioneering spirit of those times. I wonder if my hubby brushed shoulders with any of those geologists at any time in the ’80’s. I’d love to hear more of your stories … yes I too remember having to be creative. We lived in a small caravan in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho off and on for a year, and my ‘office’ was the awning. But I needed transport, so I was in the process of swapping the camp porta-loo for a palomino pony one day before Dave put a stop to it!

    • I’m with you – I’d rather have had the palomino pony to a porta-loo LOL

      This was a great time in our lives!
      Despite the geologist in charge initially not being too keen on having a female in the mix I must have been not that awful as we were invited back for not only a second 3 month stint out in this stunning and remote location – We were also invited to go on other adventures in the Pilbara, and old gold mining towns up in the Gulf 🙂

  4. Hi Linda,

    Love the photo. A wild bunch you were, looking very rugged and sassy. Your story illustrates the good old days when innovation happened every day. You had to make due with what you had on hand.
    In the 70s, Conrad and his crew of fellow research scientists loaded a van with instruments and climbed Pike’s Peak, (Colorado, U.S.) in order to conduct altitude sickness research. Because the extreme altitude of 10,000 ft, one of the instruments wouldn’t function, and Conrad had to practically remake the thing, using whatever he could find.
    The process you went through to make your sun prints — and Conrad’s plight — wouldn’t happen today, I don’t think.
    Love your story — It deepens my respect for you!
    Josie recently posted..5 Distilled Travel Tidbits From Around the World: July 2015My Profile

    • When you’re in a remote location you have only yourself to rely on!
      But as the world gets smaller, through better communication channels, I agree that self-reliance is becoming less of a priority to our existence, which I’m not entirely sure is healthy in the long run 😉

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