10 things I learned crossing the Madigan Line

By Unsealed 4X4 6 Min Read

Sam Purcell is back from the hardest crossing of the Simpson Desert, across the Madigan Line. Following Cecil Madigan’s 1939 expedition as closely as possible from Abminga Siding to Birdsville, he covered over 900 kilometres in fourteen days in his trusty Defender 130. Last month we brought you his preparation for this truly epic trip, now he’s back from what is arguably the toughest four-wheel driving trip you can do in Australia. Here is what he learned.


It’s hard going

Compared to other, more popular crossings of the Simpson, the Madigan Line has only been cut in by 4X4 usage, not machinery. That means it is much rougher and slower than the QAA, WAA and French lines. It’s not the dunes that are rough (although they are pretty bad), it’s the hummocky swales that test your endurance. This also puts pressure on your fuel capacity and supplies, making the journey technically much harder as well.

If you’re smart, it’s not that hard

That being said, the Madigan is certainly conquerable. You just need to carry enough fuel, food, water and spare time. People who have trouble on this track are either going too fast, are overloaded, or both.

Escaping civilisation is the best thing for your soul

We had two glorious weeks of complete disconnection from the modern world, and apart from the camp markers, spent twelve days without seeing any sign of humanity. I took off on this trip stressed, worried and not sleeping well. After this trip, I felt like I made Matthieu Ricard look miserable.

You can’t be over prepared, but you can be over weight

Success in this trip comes down to preparation: Madigan’s Crossing The Dead Heart explains this with scientific accuracy. Know what condition your 4X4 is in, and do as much preventative maintenance as possible. Carry spares and tools, but don’t fall into the trap of overloading into failure. Google search bending chassis and structural failure on 4X4s: I’ll hazard a bet that every one of those cases was a direct result of overloading, or shock loading the chassis through driving too fast, which leads me onto my next point…


Taking your time can be the best thing you can do

The roughness of the Madigan will put every nut, bolt, weld and structural member of your 4X4 to the test, and will expose any weakness with impunity. Simply slowing down over the rough country solves 95% of these problems, taking the sting out of the bumps and allowing your suspension to do its job.

Lower your tyre pressure

I ran my tyre pressures way down, running at 12psi for the majority of the crossing. Keep in mind I have Secondairs, internal beadlocking devices in each wheel, fitted which gave me the confidence to go this low.

Don’t just go down a few psi for sand dune country, you are putting your 4X4 under much more pressure this way. You need to knock a fair bit of wind out of the wheels to make progress easier. There is no hard-and-fast rule for this, every 4X4, load and driving style is different, let alone tyre size, style and construction. You have to know your vehicle well to dictate what pressures will work. But don’t be afraid to go down low: drive sensibly, and you won’t have a problem.

Take lots of fuel

My Defender used almost double the amount of fuel it would normally use around town: around 22 litres per hundred kilometres. Don’t budget on any less, and carry more than you need. Every now and then, re-fill your tank to the brim, and make an accurate calculation of how many kilometres you are getting per litre. There’s nothing worse than watching the gauge instead of enjoying your journey, so try to roll up to your next fuel stop with 40 or 50 litres spare.

The beer at Birdsville is delicious

If you want to really enjoy that first beer at the Birdsville Hotel, do what I did and go without beer for the majority of the trip. This might sound like heresy, but absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. I unwound with the help of shiraz and a bottle of Irish whiskey around the campfire during the trip (no, not per night), and then indulged in probably the best and most coveted schooner of my life in Birdsville.

It’s really doable

After all is said and done, it must be said that the hardest part of the Madigan is in the preparation. Jump into this journey unprepared, and you’ll likely pay for it along the way. Keep the ‘Six Ps’ (in case you’re unaware – Prior Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance) in mind leading up to leaving, and all of the hard work will have already been done. You’ll be able to enjoy the journey much more, which is an incredibly rewarding one. Get out there, you won’t regret it!

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