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Driving the Madigan Line

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Approaching Madigans Camp, Driving the Madigan Line Hema Maps(Image: Driving the Madigan Line, approaching Madigan's Camp 11.)


TRAVEL PLANNER

This area is remote and you need to be well equipped and experienced at desert travel. Any recovery from out here is time-consuming and very expensive.

While the route was easy to follow on our trip, dry windy conditions may cover the tracks, making good navigation essential. 

Into the heart of the desert, crossing the dunes and driving the Madigan Line Hema Maps(Image: Into the heart of the desert, crossing the dunes along the Madigan Line.)


PERMITS REQUIRED

You require a permit from the Central Lands Council (CLC) to travel the Madigan Line. It is easy to get and free. Go to: www.clc.org.au/articles/info/application-for-an-entry-permit.

If you have any queries, Ph: (08) 8951 6211.

Heading east on the Madigan Line from the Hay River demands permission from Adria Downs Station and the Qld NP&WS to cross the Simpson Desert (Munga-Thirri) NP.

If you head south on the Hay River Track to the public access routes across the desert you require a Desert Parks Pass from NP SA; See: www.environment.sa.gov.au/parks/entry-fees/parks-passes/desert-parks-pass.

For info on Outback Qld parks go to: www.parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/

The wide desert expanse
(Image: The wide desert expanse.) 

Floodwaters touched this area and left a thin veil of green(Image: Floodwaters touched this area and left a thin veil of green.)


DISTANCE AND FUEL

It's about 720km from Mt Dare to Birdsville via this route.

Fuel usage can be heavy depending on conditions. Both Patrols on our trip and the Hilux consumed 130–140 litres of diesel. We each carried 200 litres; you'd be advised to carry similar. Petrol vehicles would need more. 


Moonie in front of the iconic Birdsville pub
(Image: Moonie in front of the iconic Birdsville pub.)

Our trip following Cecil Madigan's 1939 expedition started in Birdsville. From Big Red, the famous dune on the eastern edge of the desert, we pushed west along the well-travelled QAA Line. After 18km of dunes we swung north on a lesser used track that parallels the Eyre Creek. 


On top of the big red dunes
(Image: On top of the big red dunes.)

Old Andado sits on the edge of the desert
(Image: Old Andado sits on the edge of the desert.)

The grounds around the homestead are worth exploring - please leave everything as you find it.(Image: The grounds around the homestead are worth exploring - please leave everything as you find it.)

When Madigan and his men first crossed the desert, they filled in one of the last great blanks on the map of Australia. From Bore No1 north of the Old Andado homestead on the desert’s western margin, Madigan's men loaded their string of 19 camels and headed first north towards the junction of the Hale and Todd Rivers before striking east across the desert. 

Normally the dry bed of the Hale River makes a good camp(Image: Normally the dry bed of the Hale River makes a good camp.)

Denis Bartell drove the Madigan Line in 1979, when the northern Simpson was completely untracked. The going was a lot tougher than today and took a hard-pushed seven days to cross the desert. Now it’s an easy five-day run. 

Eyre Creek is a magic sight when water flows along it, driving the Madigan Line(Image: Eyre Creek is a magical sight when water flows along it, crossing the creek was a dream.)

Eyre Creek is a magic sight when it has water, driving the Madigan Line(Image: Eyre Creek is a magical sight when it has water, look at all the greenery surrounding the creek, left behind by the receding flood.)


After crossing Eyre creek we wandered north and then west to camp at the base of a dune among a sea of green. The next morning we pushed north along the western margin of the greenery left behind by the receding flood.


We couldn't resist camping here, green on one side, stark barren desert on the other.
(Image: We couldn't resist camping here, green on one side, stark barren desert on the other.)
 
Once away from the flood-out area in these outer channels of the Warburton River, it was dusty and dry.(Image: Once away from the flood-out area in these outer channels of the Warburton River, it was dusty and dry.)


We turned north-west, leaving behind an oasis as we crossed the dry dusty flood country of the further reaches and channels of the Mulligan River. For a time, our route followed the remains of the old Rabbit Proof Fence, which today marks the boundary of the Munga-Thirri NP.


The route follows the old Rabbit Proof Fence for some way, driving the Madigan Line
(Image: The route follows the old Rabbit Proof Fence for some way.)

The next day as we continued westward, the dunes got closer together and the going slowed as we approached the Hay River, Camp 16 and the gum tree Madigan blazed there – the blaze now just a scar.

The blaze by Madigan is nearly closed over(Image: The gum tree blaze by Madigan is nearly closed over.)

We turned north and followed the track along the creek bed to Camp 15, but before turning westward. We were trying to get to Madigan’s Claypan but were stymied by the country and settled for a camp at Madigan’s Camp 12.

Driving along the Hay River
(Image: Driving along the Hay River.)

Mid-morning the next day we got to Camp 11. That evening we pulled up at Camp 7, after knocking over just 90km for the whole day. 

Madigans Camp 11(Image: Arriving at Madigan's Camp 11.)


Pushing on we met with the Colson Track near Madigan’s Camp 5, and turned south before striking westward again towards Madigan’s Camp 2. 

Colson Track is an easy run(Image: Colson Track is an easy run.)

The track winds northward towards The Twins, two distinctive conical hills that sit side by side. 

East from the Twins the desert begins(Image: East from the Twins the desert begins.)

We passed what is marked on most maps as Camp 1A, and east of Madigan's Camp 1. Back when the camps were found and marked by David Owen and his crew, the station owner didn't want people going to Camp 1, hence 1A.


Entering the Mac Clak Reserve
(Image: Entering the Mac Clak Reserve.)

We dodged around North Bore and stopped briefly at the Mac Clark Acacia Peuce Conservation Reserve, established to protect one of the three groves of Waddy Trees left in the world.

These Waddy trees are tough the Mac Clark Acacia Peuce Conservation Reserve (Image: These Waddy trees are tough at the Mac Clark Acacia Peuce Conservation Reserve.) 

Our crossing of the Simpson Desert via the Madigan Line was over, but the memories will remain for a long, long time. Make sure you go and collect some soon during a crossing following Madigan’s route across the desert. Like us, you won’t be disappointed!


A fitting end to a trip across the Madigan Line
(Image: A fitting end to a trip across the Madigan Line.)

This story was adapted from an article written by Ron Moon, published in Camper Magazine issue 153. 

6 comments

  • JOHN KELLEY: May 07, 2021

    I followed roughly the Madigan line in 1985 in an unmodified SWB Nissan and three other vehicles (Land Cruisers). We had no GPS and we went by compass bearing and I plotted our rough position each evening with a sextant and artificial horizon. There is a lot more to this story.

  • Gwyn Morgan: March 05, 2021

    Enjoyed to article and images immensely. Do you know if anyone has done this trek towing a camper trailer or off-road van?

  • ARNOLD SCHOEMAKER: March 05, 2021

    Love the Madigan. On our East – West crossing in 2017 we only saw 2 vehicles. 2019 we drove a double crossing without refuelling, Birdsville to Birdsville. The French Line heading West was busy and rough. 2 days at Dalhousie Springs before heading off through Mt Dare for morning tea, Old Andado station for lunch, camping at the Twins. Passed to vehicles before hearing UHF chatter.
    With Camp 18 under water, we had to double back 4.5k and head south, crossing Eyre Creek just south of Annandale Ruins. Came close to catching the chatter, an other convoy (Ron Moon and crew???) at this crossing. These guys headed south from the crossing wanting to make Birdsville in the dark. We camped at the ruins. Birdsville, I had 11L of usable fuel left in the tanks. Burning 23L/100. 2L/100 more than previous crossing. I blame it on the new more aggress MT tyres. Planning another crossing this year for crossing #7. I’ve been bitten by the desert.

  • Jim: March 05, 2021

    I have driven the Madigan 3 times. First time in 1996, back then no mapping GPS. Drove a land rover discovery, broke a spring but kept going. Track was invisible then as hardly anyone had driven. Then in 2007, driving a Nissan patrol. Then 2 years ago in a Pajero which did it the easiest. Track is well defined now and pretty easy. But be warned it is VERY REMOTE and you need to be very well prepared with plenty of fuel.

  • Kevin Dawson: October 14, 2020

    Hi just read your notes on the madigan trip, you spoke about fuel usage we have a 200 series and are wondering how much fuel we would require.
    Has anyone done this in a 200 and could advise?
    Kevin

  • Yarn Sheppard: October 13, 2020

    Hi,
    I was crossing from West to East leading a Great Divide Tours Trip and had arranged to meet Ron along the track. We swapped information about what lay ahead, and just as well we did, as the information he provided about the track ahead was invaluable. The way I had gone in previous years south from Camp 20 was totally flooded, Ron gave us all the directions needed.
    I’ll be back out there next year, but don’t tell anyone!
    Cheers
    Yarn – Great Divide Tours

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