South Australia: Drawing Goyder's Line

Photographic portrait of George Woodroffe Goyder, c. 1880s
History SA. South Australian Government Photographic Collection, GN03908

George Woodroffe Goyder: He knew where to draw the line.

N the 19th century, there was a certain belief that where land was ploughed the rain would come. Today, we know this to be a ridiculous fallacy. And so, it appears, did the South Australian Government of the time. In 1865, George Woodroffe Goyder, the surveyor-general, was commissioned by the government “to lay down as nearly as practicable the line of demarcation between the portion of the country where rainfall has extended to that where drought prevails”. 

Essentially, it was a guide to farmers about how far north they could practically go to grow cereal crops without risking continual droughts and bankruptcy. Goyder used natural vegetation as his guide and his boundary went roughly with the southern limit of saltbush. In the years that followed, numerous farmers ignored Goyder's line to their peril. There were numerous good years where cereal crops could be grown above Goyder's line but for consistent yields the “safe" farming country was, and still is, south of Goyder's line. 

Study area depicting Goyder's Line, 10 km buffers on either side of the line and cropping areas. EP: Eyre Peninsula, S Flinders: South Flinders [SOURCE]

After World War I, many settlers, after seeing the land in good years, went too far north, and drought, low prices and the Depression ruined them. These farms were then amalgamated to form bigger farms so crops could be rotated and run in conjunction with stock. 

These areas have been further threatened in recent years, with a fall in real prices for cereal crops making it harder for marginal areas to survive and, in so doing, forced Goyder's line farther south. But there still are areas outside Goyder's line, particularly in the Mid North, where cropping continues. Examples of this are at Orroroo, and west of Terowie, Hallett and Peterborough.

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