George W. Goyder

George W. Goyder

George Woodroffe Goyder was born on 24 June 1826 and baptized on 16 July 1826 at Liverpool, England, son of David George Goyder, physician and Swedenborgian minister, and his wife Sarah, née Etherington. When the family moved to Glasgow, George joined an engineering firm and studied surveying. His sister emigrated to Sydney and George followed her in 1848 but later settled in South Australia. In 1851 he married Frances Mary Smith and they had nine children. He had joined the civil service as a draftsman and became chief clerk in the Lands and Survey Department in July 1853. Four years later he became Assistant Surveyor-General and Surveyor-General from 29 May 1861, a position he held until the end of 1893.

For more than forty years Goyder offered advice and made far reaching decisions on almost any aspect of surveying, railway construction forestry and mining. He often went into the field on horseback checking surveyors and even taking over the actual survey from incompetent men. When Goyder applied for the position of Surveyor General, three months after his appointment as Chief Inspector of Mines, Major A.H. Freeling wrote in support, 'I can speak in the highest terms of Mr Goyder's zeal and ability; and also of his conscientious discharge of his duties. He has been consistently in the field at least 10 months out of the year.' He held this, and several other, positions until his retirement.

During these years Goyder also wrote thousands of letters every year but only seems to be remembered for his famous line. One of his first expeditions north was in 1856 and 1857 when he reached Blanchewater and Lake Blanche, whose water he thought to be fresh and permanent. In May 1857 he stayed at Owieandana, owned by the MacFarlane Brothers, on his way north doing triangulation work. In 1859 he went north again, this time with A. Selwyn, government geologist of Victoria for a hurried survey of the Northern Flinders, visiting such stations as Angepena, Angorichina and Warraweena. A year later Goyder was ordered north again, this time to survey country discovered by Stuart and Warburton. It was on this trip that he named Lake Harry after Harry Franklin, a member of his survey party and surveyed the Hergott run ready for auction on 7 September 1860. Parts of his reports were published in the Adelaide Chronicle.

As Inspector of Mines Goyder visited many of the newly discovered mines. One of his first was the Nuccaleena mine in the Northern Flinders. His explorations, surveys and reports, which stated that the north had some excellent pastoral lands and were not just arid sands and saline deserts, attracted pastoralists to the area. Soon he was asked by the government to travel north once more to value pastoral properties and fix new rentals as many pastoralists were making substantial profits.

As early as 1858 Goyder became involved in the selection and survey of government towns, but soon questioned the wisdom of establishing townships in pastoral areas. By the 1860s the government layed out towns in agricultural areas and it was here that Goyder's ideas were followed and town design changed.

The 1860s were a difficult decade for Goyder who was responsible for the survey of the Northern Territory, supervising town surveys and the leasing of pastoral land. While away on one of his many trips in 1863, his wife gave birth to twins who died at birth. His wife never recovered from this loss and the loneliness when Goyder was away. During a holiday in England she took an overdose just before returning to Adelaide and died on 8 April 1870. Goyder married his wife's sister, Ellen Priscilla, who had brought the children back, on 21 November 1871.

When pastoralists complained during the severe drought of 1863 -1866, Goyder went north to reassess their properties. The first eighteen valuations carried out by Goyder were published in the Adelaide Express in September 1864. His line of travel, which amounted to nearly 5,000 km on horseback, marked off the line of drought and became known as Goyder's Line of Rainfall. He drew a line indicating the limit of the rainfall which coincided with the southern boundary of saltbush country. It separated lands suitable for agriculture from those fit for pastoral use only. It also marked areas of reliable and unreliable annual rainfall. Not all agreed with his Line and some even called it Goyder's line of foolery.


Goyder's Line.
This plaque was erected at Terowie

When agricultural land became scarce, combined with good seasons and crops during the early 1870s, and the expected income of land sales, it persuaded the government to disregard the Line and allow farmers to buy land north of the Line. The government even surveyed towns in that area such as Hammond, Bruce, Cradock, Gordon, Johnburgh, Wilson, Carrieton, Chapmanton, Farina, Amyton and several others. Poor seasons in the 1880s proved Goyder right, and farmers slowly moved back south of his Line.

Farming outside Goyder's Line is still very risky, but also inviting, especially after good rains. In the early 1980s Brenton Byerlee of Eurelia tried it once again. In doing so he became South Australia's northernmost farmer. According to Brenton the main problems of the past were not the land or climate but small holdings and poor farming techniques. He has a large farm, modern machinery and equipment and applies the latest farming and management principles which make his farm economically viable.

Goyder was also active in the Northern Territory, which after 1863 was administered by South Australia. In 1868 the South Australian government, harassed by land buyers who had no title to their northern properties, appointed Goyder to survey land in the Northern Territory, to meet the demands of the settlers. Goyder left late that year on board the Moonta and arrived in the Territory on 5 February 1869. The next morning at 5 am Goyder left the ship to look for a good landing place and fresh water.

He, and his men, surveyed thousands of hectares and recommended Palmerston (Darwin) as the site for the capital and selected land suitable for growing tropical produce. By the end of August the survey of 660,000 acres of town and country lands was completed. All the streets of Darwin were named after the surveyors. It was not until 1955 though that Darwin had a street named after Goyder, and 1983 until Goyder Square was named in the city centre of Palmerston. There are Goyder's Pillars, the Goyder River and a Goyder Creek though. In South Australia his name is commemorated a little better. The Hundred of Goyder was named in 1862. This was followed by Goyder's Lagoon on the Birdsville Track, Goyder Railway Station, Mount Woodroffe, the highest mountain in South Australia, Wheal Goyder, a copper mine near Wallaroo where W.S. Whitington was secretary. There is also the Regional Council of Goyder and an Electoral Division. On Kangaroo Island there was a goldfield named after him as well as the Goyder Range and the Goyder Range Branch Creek. There is even a fish named Goyder rainbow.

As the first South Australian Chairman of the Forest Board from 1875 to 1883, he was keen to conserve and manage timber resources. He was also a keen water conservationist, constructing wells and dams on northern stock routes. Most of all he strongly rejected the view that 'rain would follow the plough' or that rainfall would increase when more trees were planted. In 1875 Goyder was also appointed Chairman of the Railway Commission which was to look into the building of a railway to the Yudanamutana district.

As an administrator Goyder was a strict disciplinarian but always fair to his men. Despite complaints by graziers, farmers and miners, his decisions were accepted because of his sound reputation. As a civil servant he was conscientious, competent and efficient. Early in 1888 it was stated that he 'was one of the oldest Civil Servants and one of the ablest heads of Government Departments the colony had ever had. He has surveyed and opened up perhaps more of the southern portion of the province than any other man in South Australia. He has done admirable service in the Northern Territory and taken a prominent part in his official capacity in the drainage of our country lands in the South East. Considerable interest was shown by him in mining and agricultural pursuits. Latterly his health has not been good and a couple of months ago he was granted eight months' leave of absence'.

Goyder was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1889 and given a purse of 1,000 sovereigns when he retired in 1894. He died at his home, Warrakilla, the old Wheatsheaf Hotel, near Echunga in the Adelaide Hills, on 3 November 1898. He is buried at the Stirling District Cemetery. George Woodroffe Goyder has been one of South Australia's foremost civil servants. Few, if any, could claim to have been more diverse in the tasks they were involved in. Even fewer can claim that their decisions have been more durable than those taken by Goyder. His actions and advice on the survey of rural sections, roads, townsites, reserves and early forest plantings have left a lasting impression on South Australia.


Warrakilla, Goyder's residence.
It was restored again after the 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires.

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Lately he had one of South Australia's Highways named after him, as had R.M. Williams and Colin Thiele. Last but not least the local newspaper for the Orroroo and Carrieton area is named Goyder's Line Gazette.

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