Video: Cecil Madigan’s 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition

ByDean MellorJuly 13, 2020
2 MINUTE READ
Video: Cecil Madigan’s 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition

Thanks to the State Library of South Australia you can now see actual footage of Cecil Madigan’s 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition.

Once considered one of the more remote journeys you could take in outback Australia, the Madigan Line, which wends its way across the northern Simpson Desert along the route of Dr Cecil Thomas Madigan’s 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition, is these days a popular route with 4×4 adventurers.

When I first ‘did’ the Madigan Line in 2005, our party of six travellers in three vehicles didn’t see another soul for 11 days, but what we then experienced in the relative comfort of a Defender, Patrol and LandCruiser would have been a far cry from what Madigan endured when he and his party of nine (with camels, no less) forged the route back in 1939. It took them 25 days to make the desert crossing.

Up until recently, to gain an understanding of the effort put in by Madigan, you would have to have read his book on the 1939 Expedition titled Crossing the Dead Heart and, in fact, my party and I found this book to be a useful resource on our 2005 desert adventure. But now, thanks to the State Library of South Australia, you can view actual footage of Madigan’s 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition from the comfort of… well, anywhere.

Madigan Line Simpson Desert Trip 2015

Ex-Unsealed 4X4 staffer Sam Purcell crossed the Madigan Line in 2015.

Here’s how the State Library of South Australia describes the 39-minute film:

“Footage of the 1939 Simpson Desert Expedition, led by Dr. Cecil Thomas (C.T.) Madigan, with a team of nine. In 1929 CT Madigan undertook a series of aerial reconnaissances of central Australia and in 1939 followed this up with a scientific expedition into the Simpson Desert. His expedition crossed the desert in 25 days with a party of nine, pioneering the use of mobile radio communication, and making extensive zoological and botanical collections, which included 14 new species of spiders. The geology of the desert was also recorded. This was the first scientific examination of the Simpson Desert and only the second complete crossing by a European. Madigan’s expedition was financed by AA Simpson of Adelaide. His book of the journey is titled’ Crossing the Dead Heart’. Viewers are advised that this film contains footage that shows Aboriginal people who have passed away. Care and discretion should be used when showing this film.”

While the Madigan Line is now a much more popular route across the Simpson Desert than it once was, it is still one of the great Australian 4×4 adventures.

The Madigan video (below) is a must-see for anyone considering a crossing of the Madigan Line, or for those with an interest in Australian history or anyone who just wants a glimpse of how things were done more than 80 years ago. And if you’re going to cross the Madigan Line, make sure you check out ex-Unsealed 4X4 staffer Sam Purcell’s story 10 Things I Learned Crossing the Madigan Line which he penned in 2015.

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