Northern Territory Border

During the 1880s the Land Commissioners office at Normanton was an extremely busy place to be. With the pick of the watered plains of the western country already secured, by 1882 there was quite a scramble to secure the best of the remaining land that was still available. Having found suitable land, run seekers were required to apply to secure it with descriptions of the plot and its exact location. To secure the land the tenant would need to stock it within a period of a year, obtain a declaration that he had done so and pay an annual rate. Late payment of rent would incur additional penalties.

Without a clear, recognised border between the Colony of Queensland and the Northern Territory of South Australia many people were hesitant to put stock on the land. Early surveys by three separate parties; Messrs Jopp, Winnecke and Scarr along the Herbert River (later to be named the Georgina River) had shown a discrepancy of at least 25 miles between the most easterly and most westerly line laid down. It so happened that the debatable country was that which contained the best water, and in some cases the key to the surrounding country.

As was the case for instance of Mr Richardson who wanted to put 30,000 sheep on the land, but his best and almost only water was on or about the Herbert where it crossed the disputed lines. Without knowing if the water was on his blocks he was unwilling to commit to the purchase of the sheep. The same instances applied to many people.

With lack of money and lack of the instruments needed to carry out an accurate survey, the decision to confirm the boundary was prolonged.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs was eventually resolved in 1884 when the South Australian Government sent Augustus Poeppel to survey the border. The work commenced from Poeppels Corner (SA, QLD, NT) in early 1884 and by the end of 1884 some 250 miles had been surveyed when the wet season set in causing the loss of some camels and equipment. Poeppel lost the sight of one eye, but carried on until he was replaced by John Carruthers in July 1885. About 324 miles of boundary had been surveyed at this time. By November a distance of 517 miles had been covered. Putting up with fires through the camp and delays when the land became to rough for camels and having to wait for horses, they finally reached the Gulf on 25th September 1886.

The 650 mile 57 chain (1047 km approx.) long survey cost £9,300 of which half was borne by the Queensland Government, and became the longest straight surveyed line in Australia. The eastern border of South Australia is about 290 km longer but there is a 3.5 km step at the Murray River. Again the eastern border of Western Australia is about 815 km longer but has not been surveyed in its entirety - a similar situation exists with the northern border of South Australia.

In view of the nature of the country and the equipment which was limited to two theodolites, the survey of a straight line of such a great distance was an incredible effort by the surveyors who undertook it.