Back in 1865, the South Australian Surveyor General, George Goyder, produced a map of South Australia with a line that subsequently became known as “Goyder’s Line”. It corresponds roughly to the southern boundary of the growth of saltbush. His claim was that agricultural cropping was viable only to the south of the line, principally because of unreliable rainfall. This area was no more than about 5% of the state! Some areas north of the line, he said, were suitable for pastoral use, but trying to grow crops there would, at least in the longer term, fail.
It was subsequently noted that Goyder’s Line was very close to the northern boundary of the area where the average annual rainfall is ten inches or more.
A good deal of scorn was heaped upon his pronouncement, particularly in the light of a series of good seasons in the 1860s and 1870s. The completion of the Overland Telegraph north to Darwin in 1872 and the commencement of the Northern Railway along the same route in 1878 brought great pressure to bear on the state government to encourage the settlement of land to the north.
“The rain follows the plough” was the catchcry, the theory being that breaking the soil released moisture into the air, which in due course would return as rain.
Various schemes were implemented to attract settlers to the vast areas north of Goyder’s Line, including one such scheme in the Cradock area, where allotments could be obtained for a very modest sum, provided a home was built on the land. Many farm cottages were built in the area, mostly constructed of local stone because suitable timber was relatively scarce. Many hundreds of acres were cleared, ploughed and harrowed, but the returns were meagre, and a series of poor seasons in the 1880s sealed the fate of many of these efforts.
The ruins of many of these modestly sized cottages still dot the countryside around Cradock. The Heartbreak Hotel was a local memorial to the blood, sweat, and tears poured out in vain. Goyder had been right!
Another tragic story due to failure to take heed of Goyder’s claim was the establishment in 1878 of the town on Farina, far north of the Line near the present-day village of Lyndhurst. It was, as the name suggests (Latin for “flour”) intended to become a wheat- and barley-growing area. It was located on the newly-built railway line, and was vigorously promoted by the state government of the day, who were keen to build up patronage of the railway. The population reached a peak of about 600 in the late 1800s, but not a single bag of wheat ever left Farina, and the town slowly died. Today it’s an interesting ghost town, and well worth a visit, if for nothing else, to remind one of the way in which governments sometimes choose to ignore the scientific evidence in order to promote their own myopic agendas. (Does that remind you of anything happening in today’s world?)
Although Goyder’s Line has proved remarkably accurate for the last 150 years, scientists now say it might have to be shifted south because of climate change. Research by the South Australian Research and Development Institute and the CSIRO suggests higher temperatures and less rain will change the agricultural landscape, moving the limits of reliable crop growth further south.