Madigan the Great

WORDS & IMAGES BY GLENN MARSHALL

The Simpson Desert is becoming a bit of a highway these days, but the Madigan Line affords a mind-blowing and less-travelled alternative.

Hands up if you HAVEN’T crossed the Simpson Desert. The French Line, WAA Line, Rig Road, well, they’re all like outback highways these days with all the traffic they cop. Cut up and literally a pain in the rear at times, caused by incorrect tyre pressures and towing over-loaded camper trailers. If I want to cross the Simpson these days, the track less travelled beckons and this time, it’s the Madigan Line.

This section of the desert was first crossed by Aussie adventurer, Cecil Madigan back in 1939. Once a meteorologist on Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctica expedition in 1911, he was fascinated with the unknown expanse of the unnamed desert. Having covered the area with numerous aerial surveys, he named the Simpson Desert after his benefactor Alfred Allen Simpson.

Cecil decided to head a team of scientists across the trackless desert and conduct a full scientific investigation. He departed Andado Station with eight blokes and 17 camels early June, arriving at the iconic Birdsville Hotel 31 days later. The tracks he left behind were blown away by the desert winds until eventually, tracks were made from camp to camp, by the modern ship of the desert, the 4X4.

TRAVEL Madigan Line

The Vipor XVI is designed to fit every curve and contour of the body, providing the utmost comfort a camping chair can offer. Features include a storage pocket for devices and personal items that can be attached on either armrest, a retractable drink holder, a large rear storage pocket and a zippered pouch in the headrest that will convert into a padded headrest when used to stow the carry bag.

Available in 2 convenient sizes, this lightweight alloy top folding table will resist heat sources and is durable enough for outdoor camping and meal preparation.

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LEAVING ALICE...
My adventure began in Alice Springs. Having been on the road for more than three months, I was itching to get home, the Madigan was my final challenge. After sitting in Alice for three days waiting for my mate Rod to turn up, I was extremely excited when I reached the Old Andado Track just out of Santa Teresa. The 194km to the Mac Clarke turn-off was a great drive, with a few bulldust patches and some mild corrugations but we only crossed paths with a couple of other vehicles, so the going was good.

We camped lightly at the Mac Clarke Conservation Reserve, one of the three remaining places where the prehistoric Acacia Peuce hardwood trees are found. This reserve was named after the owner of Old Andado Station who was passionate about preserving the trees.

Next morning, we started out on our crossing of the Madigan Line. Trying to locate the track with fences and “no entry” signs blocking the route on my Hema HX-1. Eventually, we arrived at the old East Bore and signs pointing us in the right direction, to Madigan’s Camp 1A. From here there’s a track that heads west to Madigan Camp 1, but our maps told us this was a private track, so we didn’t proceed. I would be interested to find out whether access is permitted or not.

Our permit from the Central Land Council requested that we didn’t visit Madigan’s Camp 2 as it’s a women’s sacred site, part of the Corkwood Dreaming story, so we continued to The Twins, past the old Case Tractor. There’s a monument to Madigan and his team on top of the eastern hill.

ABOVE Carrying enough fuel is a necessity when crossing via the Madigan Line as it’s a long way between bowsers // BELOW My setup is just perfect for desert travel

BELOW You can smell the roast from here

“Spinifex dominates dune country, the crests sometimes dotted with Desert Myrtle, the swales laced with wildflowers and small shrubs.”

CARNAGE ON THE DUNES
The sandy country became more wooded as we approached the Hale River floodplain, Coolabahs predominant. The dunes began along here, but they were quite simple and spaced well apart. Camps 3 and 4 are off limits so we made for Camp 5, a short distance up the Colson Track, enjoying a late lunch under the shade of the awning on my rig. The dunes began to grow shortly after, cut up and scalloped by a large group a couple of days ahead of us. They were towing camper trailers without dropping tyre pressures, creating carnage on the western side of the dunes. (Note: Just because you have one, doesn’t mean you need to tow it across the desert).

Closing in on Camp 7, my TPMS alarm went off as one of my tyres lost pressure. It turned out the side wall of a tyre that I’d nicked a few thousand kilometres before, had given way because of the reduced pressure, tyre heat and constant compression crossing the dunes. I added some air to get us to Camp 7 and quickly replaced the tyre before setting up camp. We enjoyed the starlit sky in front of a warming fire and the absolute silence, an amazing day of driving behind us.

BELOW One of the many great campsites on the Madigan Line

DUNE COUNTRY
Spinifex dominates dune country, the crests sometimes dotted with Desert Myrtle, the swales laced with wildflowers and small shrubs. In between Camps 8 and 9 we came across a claypan with a large patch of Gidgee and several great camping spots. We decided to call it a very early day and really enjoy time relaxing in the Simpson Desert.

We calculated averaging just over an hour between Camps. The dunes were becoming taller and more of a challenge, with some taking two or three attempts to get over, the scallops and fine sand killing momentum. Madigan Camps 10 and 11 were very close together and then we lunched at the nearby Madigan Claypan, another popular campsite. We pushed on, with Camp 15 our goal.

There was a complete lack of trees, the spinifex dominating. We tracked across several sections of sand moguls dropping speed to around 10km/h, any faster and it was just too rough. Camp 15 was reached just prior to sunset, a falcon watching closely from his perch in an old gum as we set up camp at the junction with the Hay River Track.

ABOVE An untouched sand dune in the Simpson // BELOW The Hay River Track was a piece of cake compared to the Madigan Line

BELOW We set up under the watchful eye

ABOVE 
The Madigan blaze tree at Camp 16

ABOVE 
It was an amazing view over every dune

BELOW
This was the mangiest dingo I have ever seen

ABOVE 
The big rigs still travel these outback roads

ABOVE 
The old Annandale ruins, I don’t know how anyone could live out here

THE END IN SIGHT…
Following the Hay River, we came across a spindly dingo that appeared to be extremely malnourished. As much as we wanted to, we refrained from feeding it and he rejected the water on offer. We sadly left the poor bugger and continued south to Camp 16 at Madigan’s blaze tree.

Turning east, we re-joined the Madigan and closed in on the NT\QLD border. A couple of camels decided they would slow us down for the next 15km, refusing to get off the track. There was no indication we’d reached Queensland, but along this section, there were more patches of Gidgee and several great camping options. It was obvious that less traffic covers this route.

We camped over the next dune from Camp 19, a nice flat spot, protected from the wind and away from the dusty claypan. Our last night in the desert was enjoyed with a hot shower, a tasty meal and a roasting fire, the solitude, serenity and silence just perfect.

Next morning, we picked up the old vermin proof fence line that led us to the Eyre Creek and Camp 20, startling a mob of kangaroos. Madigan Camps 20-24 are situated on Adria Downs, an accredited organic cattle station. I was lucky enough to gain access permission if both vehicles and travellers adhered to their policy of take only photographs and leave only tracks/footprints and don’t encroach on the cattle.

The Madigan Line then follows Eyre Creek to its completion at the QAA Line. In between, just south of Camp 21 are the Annandale Homestead ruins, once part of S.Kidman and Co from 1896. The cattle we passed on our final few kilometres after Camp 22, looked happy and healthy in their harsh environment, not even concerned with the dust raised by the vehicles.

We soon reached the QAA Line and our thoughts on the stunning drive across the Simpson Desert were suddenly interrupted as the UHF sparked to life. We were now close to civilisation as the hordes of excited 4WD adventurers headed west into the desert. Our final hurdle was Big Red, tackled with a minimum of fuss before some air was returned to our tyres and we headed towards Madigan Camp 25.

Cecil’s final camp was opposite the Birdsville Hotel, some would say the perfect place to camp. As we sated our thirst with a couple of cold ones, I concluded the Madigan Line is by far the BEST track across the mighty expanse that is the Simpson Desert. There is a different WOW over every dune.

ABOVE Rod had to fix his damaged sand flag before we reached the QAA Line // BELOW Big Red was our final hurdle

BELOW The claypans can be treacherous

BELOW Camp 25 was here!

DESTINATION DETAILS
WHERE: Simpson Desert National Park. The Madigan Line runs from north east of Old Andado Station then east across to Adria Downs Station before turning south down to the QAA Line. From there it is east to Birdsville via Big Red.

CAMPING: Most of the Madigan Camps have cleared space for camping. The best spots are wherever there is a stand of Gidgee Trees. Fires are not permitted at Mac Clarke Conservation Reserve. There are no facilities anywhere along the track.

SUPPLIES & FACILITIES: We stocked up and fuelled up at Alice Springs, taking enough fuel to easily reach Birdsville. Santa Teresa Community sell fuel and if you are coming from Mt Dare or Finke, they are your last fuel stops until Birdsville.

TRIP STANDARD: This trip is for experienced desert travellers and is extremely remote. Reduced tyre pressures are required with soft sand sections of almost every dune. You will need to be self-reliant and carry a satellite phone as a minimum. First Aid kit, air-compressor, recovery tracks, long handled shovel and a means to remove air from your tyres are all necessary. The Traditional Owners prefer that you do not collect wood along the track.

PERMITS REQUIRED: You will require a permit from the Central Land Council to traverse the Madigan Line in the Northern Territory.

To request access to Adria Downs, you can email Don & Judy Rayment here. It may take time to receive a reply as it is a working property and I cannot guarantee you will receive permission. You will never know if you don’t ask is my philosophy.

If you are camping on the QAA Line, you’ll need to pay a camping fee.

FUEL USED: 2006 Prado 120 Series with 3.0L TD – Carried 180 litres in standard fuel tanks and 40 litres in jerry cans. I used 164 litres over 857km; 19.14 litres per 100km

2012 Holden Colorado 2.8L TD – Carried 76 litres in standard fuel tank, plus 55 litres in a sub tank plus 80 litres in jerry cans. Rod used 151 litres over 857km; 17.62 litres per 100km

TRAVEL Madigan Line

Madigan the Great

WORDS & IMAGES BY GLENN MARSHALL

The Simpson Desert is becoming a bit of a highway these days, but the Madigan Line affords a mind-blowing and less-travelled alternative.

Hands up if you HAVEN’T crossed the Simpson Desert. The French Line, WAA Line, Rig Road, well, they’re all like outback highways these days with all the traffic they cop. Cut up and literally a pain in the rear at times, caused by incorrect tyre pressures and towing over-loaded camper trailers. If I want to cross the Simpson these days, the track less travelled beckons and this time, it’s the Madigan Line.

This section of the desert was first crossed by Aussie adventurer, Cecil Madigan back in 1939. Once a meteorologist on Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctica expedition in 1911, he was fascinated with the unknown expanse of the unnamed desert. Having covered the area with numerous aerial surveys, he named the Simpson Desert after his benefactor Alfred Allen Simpson.

Cecil decided to head a team of scientists across the trackless desert and conduct a full scientific investigation. He departed Andado Station with eight blokes and 17 camels early June, arriving at the iconic Birdsville Hotel 31 days later. The tracks he left behind were blown away by the desert winds until eventually, tracks were made from camp to camp, by the modern ship of the desert, the 4X4.

Lightweight alloy top folding table, 2 sizes, heat resistant, durable

The Vipor XVI is designed to fit every curve and contour of the body, providing the utmost comfort a camping chair can offer. Features include a storage pocket for devices and personal items that can be attached on either armrest, a retractable drink holder, a large rear storage pocket and a zippered pouch in the headrest that will convert into a padded headrest when used to stow the carry bag.

SCROLL TO CONTINUE
ADVERTISEMENT

BELOW You can smell the roast from here

LEAVING ALICE...
My adventure began in Alice Springs. Having been on the road for more than three months, I was itching to get home, the Madigan was my final challenge. After sitting in Alice for three days waiting for my mate Rod to turn up, I was extremely excited when I reached the Old Andado Track just out of Santa Teresa. The 194km to the Mac Clarke turn-off was a great drive, with a few bulldust patches and some mild corrugations but we only crossed paths with a couple of other vehicles, so the going was good.

We camped lightly at the Mac Clarke Conservation Reserve, one of the three remaining places where the prehistoric Acacia Peuce hardwood trees are found. This reserve was named after the owner of Old Andado Station who was passionate about preserving the trees.

Next morning, we started out on our crossing of the Madigan Line. Trying to locate the track with fences and “no entry” signs blocking the route on my Hema HX-1. Eventually, we arrived at the old East Bore and signs pointing us in the right direction, to Madigan’s Camp 1A. From here there’s a track that heads west to Madigan Camp 1, but our maps told us this was a private track, so we didn’t proceed. I would be interested to find out whether access is permitted or not.

Our permit from the Central Land Council requested that we didn’t visit Madigan’s Camp 2 as it’s a women’s sacred site, part of the Corkwood Dreaming story, so we continued to The Twins, past the old Case Tractor. There’s a monument to Madigan and his team on top of the eastern hill.

ABOVE Carrying enough fuel is a necessity when crossing via the Madigan Line as it’s a long way between bowsers // BELOW My setup is just perfect for desert travel

“Spinifex dominates dune country, the crests sometimes dotted with Desert Myrtle, the swales laced with wildflowers and small shrubs.”

CARNAGE ON THE DUNES
The sandy country became more wooded as we approached the Hale River floodplain, Coolabahs predominant. The dunes began along here, but they were quite simple and spaced well apart. Camps 3 and 4 are off limits so we made for Camp 5, a short distance up the Colson Track, enjoying a late lunch under the shade of the awning on my rig. The dunes began to grow shortly after, cut up and scalloped by a large group a couple of days ahead of us. They were towing camper trailers without dropping tyre pressures, creating carnage on the western side of the dunes. (Note: Just because you have one, doesn’t mean you need to tow it across the desert).

Closing in on Camp 7, my TPMS alarm went off as one of my tyres lost pressure. It turned out the side wall of a tyre that I’d nicked a few thousand kilometres before, had given way because of the reduced pressure, tyre heat and constant compression crossing the dunes. I added some air to get us to Camp 7 and quickly replaced the tyre before setting up camp. We enjoyed the starlit sky in front of a warming fire and the absolute silence, an amazing day of driving behind us.

BELOW One of the many great campsites on the Madigan Line

BELOW We set up under the watchful eye

DUNE COUNTRY
Spinifex dominates dune country, the crests sometimes dotted with Desert Myrtle, the swales laced with wildflowers and small shrubs. In between Camps 8 and 9 we came across a claypan with a large patch of Gidgee and several great camping spots. We decided to call it a very early day and really enjoy time relaxing in the Simpson Desert.

We calculated averaging just over an hour between Camps. The dunes were becoming taller and more of a challenge, with some taking two or three attempts to get over, the scallops and fine sand killing momentum. Madigan Camps 10 and 11 were very close together and then we lunched at the nearby Madigan Claypan, another popular campsite. We pushed on, with Camp 15 our goal.

There was a complete lack of trees, the spinifex dominating. We tracked across several sections of sand moguls dropping speed to around 10km/h, any faster and it was just too rough. Camp 15 was reached just prior to sunset, a falcon watching closely from his perch in an old gum as we set up camp at the junction with the Hay River Track.

ABOVE An untouched sand dune in the Simpson // BELOW The Hay River Track was a piece of cake compared to the Madigan Line

ABOVE 
The old Annandale ruins, I don’t know how anyone could live out here

ABOVE 
The big rigs still travel these outback roads

ABOVE 
The Madigan blaze tree at Camp 16

ABOVE 
It was an amazing view over every dune

BELOW
This was the mangiest dingo I have ever seen

BELOW The claypans can be treacherous

THE END IN SIGHT…
Following the Hay River, we came across a spindly dingo that appeared to be extremely malnourished. As much as we wanted to, we refrained from feeding it and he rejected the water on offer. We sadly left the poor bugger and continued south to Camp 16 at Madigan’s blaze tree.

Turning east, we re-joined the Madigan and closed in on the NT\QLD border. A couple of camels decided they would slow us down for the next 15km, refusing to get off the track. There was no indication we’d reached Queensland, but along this section, there were more patches of Gidgee and several great camping options. It was obvious that less traffic covers this route.

We camped over the next dune from Camp 19, a nice flat spot, protected from the wind and away from the dusty claypan. Our last night in the desert was enjoyed with a hot shower, a tasty meal and a roasting fire, the solitude, serenity and silence just perfect.

Next morning, we picked up the old vermin proof fence line that led us to the Eyre Creek and Camp 20, startling a mob of kangaroos. Madigan Camps 20-24 are situated on Adria Downs, an accredited organic cattle station. I was lucky enough to gain access permission if both vehicles and travellers adhered to their policy of take only photographs and leave only tracks/footprints and don’t encroach on the cattle.

The Madigan Line then follows Eyre Creek to its completion at the QAA Line. In between, just south of Camp 21 are the Annandale Homestead ruins, once part of S.Kidman and Co from 1896. The cattle we passed on our final few kilometres after Camp 22, looked happy and healthy in their harsh environment, not even concerned with the dust raised by the vehicles.

We soon reached the QAA Line and our thoughts on the stunning drive across the Simpson Desert were suddenly interrupted as the UHF sparked to life. We were now close to civilisation as the hordes of excited 4WD adventurers headed west into the desert. Our final hurdle was Big Red, tackled with a minimum of fuss before some air was returned to our tyres and we headed towards Madigan Camp 25.

Cecil’s final camp was opposite the Birdsville Hotel, some would say the perfect place to camp. As we sated our thirst with a couple of cold ones, I concluded the Madigan Line is by far the BEST track across the mighty expanse that is the Simpson Desert. There is a different WOW over every dune.

ABOVE Rod had to fix his damaged sand flag before we reached the QAA Line // BELOW Big Red was our final hurdle

BELOW Camp 25 was here!

DESTINATION DETAILS
WHERE: Simpson Desert National Park. The Madigan Line runs from north east of Old Andado Station then east across to Adria Downs Station before turning south down to the QAA Line. From there it is east to Birdsville via Big Red.

CAMPING: Most of the Madigan Camps have cleared space for camping. The best spots are wherever there is a stand of Gidgee Trees. Fires are not permitted at Mac Clarke Conservation Reserve. There are no facilities anywhere along the track.

SUPPLIES & FACILITIES: We stocked up and fuelled up at Alice Springs, taking enough fuel to easily reach Birdsville. Santa Teresa Community sell fuel and if you are coming from Mt Dare or Finke, they are your last fuel stops until Birdsville.

TRIP STANDARD: This trip is for experienced desert travellers and is extremely remote. Reduced tyre pressures are required with soft sand sections of almost every dune. You will need to be self-reliant and carry a satellite phone as a minimum. First Aid kit, air-compressor, recovery tracks, long handled shovel and a means to remove air from your tyres are all necessary. The Traditional Owners prefer that you do not collect wood along the track.

PERMITS REQUIRED: You will require a permit from the Central Land Council to traverse the Madigan Line in the Northern Territory.

To request access to Adria Downs, you can email Don & Judy Rayment here. It may take time to receive a reply as it is a working property and I cannot guarantee you will receive permission. You will never know if you don’t ask is my philosophy.

If you are camping on the QAA Line, you’ll need to pay a camping fee.

FUEL USED: 2006 Prado 120 Series with 3.0L TD – Carried 180 litres in standard fuel tanks and 40 litres in jerry cans. I used 164 litres over 857km; 19.14 litres per 100km

2012 Holden Colorado 2.8L TD – Carried 76 litres in standard fuel tank, plus 55 litres in a sub tank plus 80 litres in jerry cans. Rod used 151 litres over 857km; 17.62 litres per 100km

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