Goyder’s Line, A Cautionary Tale

South Australia is one of Australia’s driest states. Most people live along the coastline, mainly close to Adelaide, the state capital. Large parts of the state are desert or semi desert not good for farming. I remember learning at school how an early Surveyor-General, George Goyder went to inspect farmlands in the northern part of the state after a bad drought in 1864-5. Goyder noted that much of this area received less than 30cm (12″) of rain a year. After his inspection he advised the government of the colony (this was before Federation) that they should discourage colonists from planting crops north of an imaginary line which became known as Goyder’s Line.

Goyder’s Line

Goyder’s observations eventually led to the Waste Lands Alienation Act 1872, which permitted farmers to only purchase land on credit if it lay south of the line.

However, after a few good seasons of rain in the north the government was persuaded to repeal the act in 1874. Farmers once again began to purchase land north of Goyder’s Line. A few years later droughts came again. Farms failed and were abandoned. If you travel to the northern part of the state today you will often pass the ruins of these places.

Goyder was right.

CSIRO ScienceImage 4683 Abandoned homestead north of Hawker on the western edge of the Flinders Ranges South Australia 2003.jpg
By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, Link

I became fascinated by the Flinders Ranges when I was in my late teens. David, Naomi and I made several trips to the Pichi Richi Railway based at Quorn during the 1970s, 80s & 90s and as well as enjoying the railway I loved to see the mountains in the distance. I was only able to travel further north once when David and I went on a camping trip in 1988. We visited Hawker, Parachilna Gorge, Angorichna, Lyndhurst and Leigh Creek. In many places we saw the ruins of abandoned farms and other old buildings. Here are a few photos from that trip.

This photo was taken way back in 1988 when we went camping in the Flinders Ranges. There are many ruins by the roadside. My notes say this one was a railway station but I’m really not sure now.
Ruins – Flinders Ranges South Australia circa 1988
Ruins of a Shepherd’s Hut near Angorichna SA 1988
The old cemetery at Beltana. Sky has been edited.


Manuscript map of area between Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre, South Australia. Includes detailed notes on natural features and shows Eyre’s tracks.

Goyder drew this detailed map of the area between Lake Torrens and Lake Eyre in the far north of South Australia, using ink and water colours. It includes detailed notes on natural features and shows the tracks of the Edward John Eyre who had explored the area in 1840 in an attempt to open up the far north of the colony to pastoralists.

Map and information courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Sources & Further Reading:







I was born in England in 1957 and lived there until our family came to Australia in 1966. I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, where I met and married my husband, David. We came together over a mutual love of trains. Both of us worked for the railways for many years, his job was with Australian National Railways, while I spent 12 years working for the STA, later TransAdelaide the Adelaide city transit system. After leaving that job I worked in hospitality until 2008. We moved to Tasmania in 2002 to live in the beautiful Huon Valley. In 2015 David became ill and passed away in October of that year. I currently co-write two blogs on WordPress.com with my sister Naomi. Our doll blog "Dolls, Dolls, Dolls", and "Our Other Blog" which is about everything else but with a focus on photographs and places in Tasmania. In November 2019 I began a new life in the house that Naomi and I intend to make our retirement home at Sisters Beach in Tasmania's northwest. Currently we have five pets between us. Naomi's two dogs Toby and Teddy and cats, Tigerwoods and Panther and my cat Polly. My dog Cindy passed away aged 16 in April 2022.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.