In the beginning of the 20th century Kimberley cattlemen were looking for a way to traverse the western deserts of Australia with their cattle. Between 1906 and 1910 Albert Canning surveyed the route and sunk a total of 52 wells. The route was used for the first time in 1911, but all the cattlemen were killed by Aborigines along the way. What is not generally known is that Canning's party constructed the wells with the forced help of Aboriginal people whose land the route traversed, the Mardu. Canning himself found it difficult to locate desert water sources. In order to gain Mardu assistance in locating water along the route, Canning captured several Mardu men, chained them by the neck, forced them to eat salt, and then waited until they got thirsty enough to lead his party to a native well.
Before 1930 the route was not used regularly. This changed after the improvement of the wells, and between 1930 and 1950 it was used on a fairly regular basis.
In 1968 the entire length of the track was driven for the first time. During the 1980s fuel dumps were created and adventurous travellers became interested in the history of the track and the challenge to drive it.
Today, whilst quite a few travellers successfully make the trip, it still requires substantial planning and a convoy of well-equipped SUVs or equivalent vehicles, and is only practical during the cooler months. Fuel drops typically need to be organised in advance.