Annual Rainfall
George W. Goyder

NASA MODIS image taken on September 17, 2001.
A green vegetation pattern closely matches Goyder's Line

1865 Map for rent relief

1920-29 Map of South Australia showing Pastoral Stations and an accurate Goyders Line
by H E C Robinson Ltd

2nd April 1927


How a Famous Boundary Was Delineated


......A harassed Commissioner of Crown Lands asked Goyder following the great drought of 1865, to make the necessary examination of the country lying to the north of Adelaide to enable him to determine and lay down on the map, as nearly as practicable, the line of demarcation between that portion of the country where the rainfall had extended and that where the drought prevailed.

Zig-zag Route

With characteristic promptitude Goyder set about the task, and by December 6 of the same year presented a comprehensive report to the commissioner in which he observed:  "Had the drought, which unfortunately still prevails, been of an ordinary nature there had been no necessity for my leaving town upon this duty, as the line of demarcation might have been shown from information previously in my possession and specially referred to in my report on the valuation of some of the northern runs. The drought, however, being of an unusually severe nature and extending more generally than any previously known, it became indispensable to add to my previous experience the knowledge of the state of the country as it now exists."

To obtain this information Goyder adopted the following general route:  He passed in various directions over the intermediate country from Adelaide, north easterly to the Murray, northerly and north-westerly to Kooringa, north to Gottlieb's Well, east to Ketchowla. northerly to Teetulpa. southerly to east of Mount Lock, north-west by Boniah Creek, Rocky-Gully; and Hogshead to Pekina, south-west and north-west through Booleroo to Mount Remarkable, north easterly over the plain to the north of Kanyaka Run, south-westerly by the western plains to Port Augusta, and by Baroota and Telowie to Crystal Brook and Broughton, and thence by Clare to town.

The result of his investigations, Goyder stated, showed the line of demarcation extended considerably farther south than he had anticipated - the change from the country that had suffered from excessive drought to that where its effect had been only slightly experienced being palpable to the eye from the nature of the country itself. It might be described as bare ground, destitute of grass and herbage, the surface soil dried by the intense heat, in places broken and pulverised by the passage of stock, and formed by the action of the wind into miniature hummocks which surrounded the closely cropped stumps of salt, blue, and other dwarf bushes. Those of a greater elevation were denuded of their leaves and smaller branches as far as the stock could reach.

Picture of Desolation

This description, Goyder stated, generally held good of all country upon which stock had been depastured. Where the drought had obtained the change from that to where the drought had had a less serious effect was shown by the fresher and more leafy appearance of the bushes which gradually improved to those in their ordinary state, and by the gradual increase of other vegetation from bare ground to well-grassed country.

During the visit he observed that stocked runs which had been pretty well grassed during the drought of 1859 were utterly destitute of grass or herbage........

Within a few days Mr. Goyder had prepared a comprehensive report with a map which showed the country divided into districts, which indicated the portions liable to drought.

In mapping the country in such a manner Mr. Goyder showed how he considered, pastoral lessees who had applied to the Government for relief in respect of rent should be assisted. They were the only persons to be considered, since agricultural operations had extended only to a little north of Clare.....

...Mr. Goyder, it is plain, was guided in drawing his imaginary line by the appearance and character of the salt and other edible bushes. His method, it has been authoritatively stated, was to follow the edge of the saltbush country. It has been said that such a course was hardly reliable, since several kinds of saltbush flourish even on the abundant watered Adelaide Plains. However, that there are several varieties of saltbush, and those which came under the notice of Mr. Goyder were those indigenous to the drier portions of South Australia.

Whatever agriculturalists may say about Goyder's line the fact remains that pastoralists still stand by it. It is famous far beyond Australia. A visitor to London in recent years discovered in scientific circles that while not much was known about South Australia the scientists had heard of Goyder.

Area of SA surveyed before 1865-69.
See full set of maps here

When Goyder's Line was drawn in 1865, only the hundreds of Anne (1863), Hallett (1865), Gregory (1858) and Wongyarra (1851) had been proclaimed, within the area covered by this website, [opens in new tab]. The remainder of the area was leased to Pastoralists. A map of their holdings can be seen here, and Goyder is referring to these pastoral runs.

In 1869 the 'Strangways Act' was passed and, by proclaiming certain Hundreds as Agricultural Areas, opened up the Mid North to the agriculturalists. Within these new areas blocks of up to 320 acres were surveyed and sold on credit - 20 per cent of the price being paid at once as interest, and the principal being paid off at the end of four years. Each buyer was limited to 640 acres, and was required to reside on the land until purchase had been completed.

Area of SA surveyed before 1880-84.
See full set of maps here

Prior to the Act settlers wishing to purchase land as agriculturalists (growing crops, requiring regular rainfall) rather than lease land as pastoralists (grazing sheep or cattle), were required to pay cash for the land, ownership of which which was then transferred from the Crown to the agriculturalist.

After the Act settlers were able to buy their agricultural land on credit, thus opening the prospect of land ownership to a far greater percentage of the population.

Coincidentally, there were a number of good rainy seasons (see rainfall chart, above), making land outside Goyder's Line appear to be viable, and land was surveyed and sold further and further north, (as can be seen in the 5-yearly sequence of maps here) in the years to 1889. It was during this time that the myth of rain following the plough arose.

2 May 2006

Climate change may shift Goyder's Line

Climate change could force South Australia's iconic Goyder's Line to shift 100 kilometres south.

The imaginary line was drawn in 19th century by surveyor general George Goyder marking the 250 millimetre rainfall area from the Eyre Peninsula around to the Riverland. He believed the region north of the line should not be cropped.

Peter Hayman from the South Australian Research and Development Institute says with an increase in temperature and a reduction in rainfall, the line could shift as far south as the Clare Valley. "What we found was that the worst scenario, so the worst amount of warming and the most extreme scenario was for it to move by 2070 as far as as somewhere like Clare," he said. "But the much more likely outcome was to bounce around roughly where it was or to move north of Jamestown."

Abandoned farmhouses between Orroroo and Appila

This graph has been created with figures available from the Bureau of Meteorology, using Google Charts.

Orroroo is outside Goyder's Line
Where the rainfall records are incomplete for even one day the entire year's rainfall figures are null. There are, therefore, gaps in the recent graph though the overall trend can still be seen.