The Madigan Line follows the route taken by Cecil Madigan’s exploratory crossing of the Simpson Desert in 1939. Unlike the southern tracks across the Simpson, which are all in South Australia, Madigan’s crossing was mostly in the Northern Territory. And also, unlike the French Line, WAA Line and Rig Road, there is no formed track for the Madigan Line – only 2 wheel lines just visible in the distance ahead.
Only a handful of 4×4 adventurers travel this way each year.
A convoy under the leadership of Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours assembled at Mt Dare to follow in the footsteps of Cecil Madigan’s expedition. After advice from Mt Dare’s owner, Dave Cox, the group headed north to Old Andado for the beginning of their adventure.
Old Andado is the home of Molly Clark, famous pioneer of the Northern Territory. Molly died in 2012 but the old house remains just as she left it shortly before her death. Caretakers keep it in museum-like conditions for travellers who visit here.
The Madigan Line formally begins at Mac Clark Conservation Reserve, which protects a stand of Acacia peuce, an endangered wattle. These slow-growing trees are very long-lived but only produce seed after rare good rains.
As with the other tracks through the Simpson, the dunes are longer on the western side and steeper on the east, making travel easier from west to east.
Each of Madigan’s campsites are marked with a star picket and small plaque stamped with the campsite number. All campsites are recorded with GPS readings on Hema’s Australia’s Great Desert Tracks: NE Sheet.
The travellers soon found themselves amongst the sand ridges, cresting these early ones was good practice for the many more to come. But at first, the sand then gave way to gibber desert in the area of camp 2, where from a slight rise a pair of bumps was spotted on an otherwise flat horizon.
From a closer view, the bumps turned into Poodnitera or Twin Hills. The travellers scrambled to the top of one of these and found a cairn with 2 plaques placed there in 1962, one by Geosurveys of Australia and the other for Royal Geographical Society of Australasia South Australia branch, to honour Madigan’s expedition.
Camps 3 and 4 are on aboriginal land and not available to travellers, so the convoy headed for camp 5 over mostly flat terrain. This section, perhaps graded for mining purposes, was easy travel. Soon came the Colson Track, also in good condition.
From camp 5 there were sand dunes nearly until Birdsville. At this point the dunes were high, but most were handled comfortably – although every vehicle was caught out at least once somewhere on the trip.
As the track was never formed or ‘dragged’ previous travellers have taken the most convenient path to the top of each dune. This has often meant driving over Spinifex clumps resulting in a track that is often lumpy. Our travellers dealt with this as best they could, but the speed of travel was often limited by the bouncy track.
The campsite chosen that night was a pleasant spot found between Camps 7 and 8. And the next day, Vic celebrated his 60th birthday and there were even greetings from the family at home.
During this day and the next, Vic allowed each of the vehicles the opportunity to lead the convoy. This was an experience enjoyed by all the travellers, as often the only tracks in the sand ahead were those of dingoes, camels or even small mammals and reptiles. Wheel tracks have disappeared blown away over time since last imprint.
There was good vegetation cover through this area and the odd plant flowering, a result of good rains over the summer period. Clumps of gidgee popped up, often conveniently in time for morning smoko. Also handy for shade as the temperature warmed even now in late May.
Our afternoon travel was enlivened that day, when Trevor Wright, on his way between Mt Isa and William Creek, did a flypast in honour of Vic’s birthday. This was the only other human contact seen during the Madigan Line crossing until we reached the QAA Line.
From Madigan’s camp 10 to 11 was only a very short distance. By the time Madigan reached camp 10 he was concerned that there had been no good feed for the camels. But the next day they had only crossed a couple of sandhills when they came upon a well-vegetated claypan that had water in it and so stopped straight away.
Our convoy group moved onto Camp 11 and decided to camp there too. Although there was no water in the claypan this year, there was time to boil the billy and, after 4 days on the road since Mt Dare, all enjoyed a welcome shower.
Next time – the second part of our Madigan Line adventure
Our DVD Madigan Line will be available at the end of July. More information about this 4×4 adventure on DVD soon.