Viewed from space, or more likely from Google Earth, Lake Eyre looks like a vast white stain on the surface of Mars, and almost as inaccessible and inhospitable. It is the world's largest dry lake, its expanse of mostly steely salt surrounded by sand and endless dry red South Australian Outback dirt. It is a wonder of the natural world and has a unique, bleak beauty. No roads lead to it; just a couple of tracks that often become indistinguishable from the flat red earth. The risk of getting stuck in deep sand in temperatures that can reach 65 degrees, the speed with which the sun on that utterly featureless salt will disorientate you, and the almost complete absence of anything to support life mean very few people ever venture here. The Arabana people refer to it as 'the place of death', and tell of a demon that devours those who come near it: a superstition with a practical purpose. As one of the first European explorers to see Lake Eyre said, it is 'dry and terrible in its death-like stillness, and in the vast expanse of its unbroken sterility'. Staring at the satellite images of it from the safety of my home in green rural England, it was hard to imagine anywhere more alien and distant.

So why make a 4000km round-trip from Melbourne to a place nobody wants to go? Because 50 years ago this year, Donald Campbell did. He had already set a series of water speed records and wanted to match his father Sir Malcolm by taking the land speed record too. So he built the Bluebird-Proteus CN7, one of the most extraordinary shapes ever to roll on four wheels, and brought it here.