Australian Government, Geoscience Australia

Updated: 11 Mar 2004

State and Territory Borders

Border Lengths

New South Wales 4 635 24.3
Queensland 3 339 17.5
South Australia 3 185 16.7
Northern Territory 3 179 16.7
Victoria 2 541 13.3
Western Australia 1 862 9.8
Australian Capital Territory 306 1.6
Jervis Bay Territory 32 0.1
Tasmania 85 metres -

Source: COAST 100K Coastline and State Borders database, 1993.

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Border Facts

The Australian Capital Territory is the only land-locked state or territory in Australia, and Tasmania the only island state. The Northern Territory is the only state or territory which has a shorter mainland coastline than the combined coastline of all its islands.

Longest Border:

New South Wales has the longest border of all the States and Territories. It adjoins Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory, making a total of 4635 kilometres.

Shortest Border:

A little known fact is that there is a land border between Tasmania and Victoria. Straddling the declared parallel line of latitude of 39 12' S separating the two states is Boundary Islet. This rocky outcrop in Bass Strait measures approximately 85 metres east-west by 160 metres north-south.

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Border Histories

The formation of Australia's States and Territories has been a continually evolving process since first settlement as a colony. Thus too, the definition of where State and Territory boundaries lie has been constantly reviewed, sometimes causing great contention. Although most of the boundaries were defined in letters of patent by meridians, determining the physical ground position that corresponds with those meridians has never been easy.

Floods, droughts, and frequent lack of supplies were just a few of the challenges dealt with by colonial surveyors. Facing the same harsh conditions as early explorers in Australia, surveyors also had a difficult job to do. Errors in the astronomically determined positions of observatories in Melbourne and Sydney didn't help matters either, since surveyors of the time relied heavily on tying their observations back to known coordinate positions.

Given the possibility of discrepancies, border disputes have occurred between several states. Generally speaking, rulings have upheld the position of borders with established physical references or property lines. This is despite the advent of technologies that allow modern surveyors to accurately plot their location as originally described in the letters of patent for the formation of that state. As a result, few state borders are actually where they were originally intended, or as simple as a straight line marked by a meridian of longitude.

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Corners of South Australia

You can use these coordinates to look the 'Corners' up on a mapSouth Australia shares a border with all the mainland States, as well as the Northern Territory. Where the border meets another State, or changes direction, the corner has been officially named, except where it meets the New South Wales - Victorian border. Each of the corners is marked with a concrete pillar. The following table lists the 'corners' of the South Australian border.

SA-WA-NT Surveyor General's Corner 26° S 129° E
SA-NT-Qld Poeppel Corner 26° S 138° E
SA-Qld Haddon Corner 26° S 141° E
SA-Qld-NSW Cameron Corner 29° S 141° E

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Western Australia - South Australia - Northern Territory Border

A glance at most maps of Australia will tell you something that isn't quite true. The border that runs along the eastern edge of Western Australia is not actually one continuous straight line.

The survey of the W.A. border was first discussed in 1911, but it wasn't until 1922 that an agreement was signed between then Prime Minister W.M. Hughes, and Acting Premier for South Australia, Mr. Bice, and the Premier of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell. The agreement set out the border as being a line determined by the 129th meridian east longitude. However, the agreement required that the boundary be defined by lines running north and south from independently fixed points at Deakin and Argyle. When survey work began on the South Australia - Northern Territory border in 1963, it was quickly realised that the earlier agreement precluded the possibility of these lines meeting exactly.

Precise survey methods confirmed this, and in June 1968, two monuments - approximately 127 metres apart - were erected at the junction of the boundaries. This ceremony was attended by the respective Surveyor Generals, H.Comm from Western Australia, H.A. Bailey from South Australia, and P.J. Wells from the Northern Territory. The monuments common to all three territories was named Surveyor General's Corner at the suggestion of the Director of National Mapping. One interesting piece of trivia is that fewer people have visited this site than have been to the South Pole.

(Note: National Mapping was the predecessor to the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG), which was the predecessor of Geoscience Australia's National Mapping Division. One might say that things have come full circle.)

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Queensland - Northern Territory Border

Plaque marking Poeppel's Corner.The boundary between Queensland and the Northern Territory was surveyed between 1883 - 1886, and was to be defined by the 138th meridian east longtitude. John Carruthers, Lawrence Allen Wells, and Augustus Poeppel surveyed the border from Coopers Creek north to Haddon Corner, and then westward to Poeppel's Corner.

The survey was actually commenced in 1879, but had to be abandoned due to drought conditions. Timber in the area was so sparse that the seven foot long Coolabah post, used to mark Poeppel's Corner, had to be dragged by camel across sand ridges from Mulligan River - 91 kilometres away.

The border was re-surveyed by a team led by Ken G. Redwood, in 1986 - 100 years after the original survey. By this time, little evidence of the former survey remained. When the team reached the Gulf of Carpentaria, they constructed a memorial a short distance from the mean high water mark. From Poeppel's corner, the border can be defined as a bearing of 359° 59' 30"

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Queensland - New South Wales Border

Letters of patent dated June 6th 1859 defined the boundary between Queensland and New South Wales as lying between Point Danger, following watersheds and rivers, to the line of parallel of 29° South. The survey was carried out between 1863 - 1866, from Point Danger to the Dumaresq River. Performed by Francis Roberts of Queensland, and Isiah Rowland of New South Wales, the two were supposed to work together. However when a falling out between them occurred, the pair each completed a separate survey. NSW records of the survey were destroyed in a fire, and both state governments settled on the Queensland survey.

From 1879 to 1881, the section between the Barwon River and the South Australian border was surveyed at 29° south latitude by George Watson of Queensland, and John B Cameron of New South Wales. The pair battled several floods and a drought to complete the job. The corner marked at the boundaries of Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia bears Cameron's name today.

In 2001, modern surveyors retraced the steps of Rowland and Roberts as part of a Centenary of Federation project, and found a 200 metre error. On the surface this might not seem like much to be concerned about, however the error occurs at the point where the twin towns of Wallangarra (Qld) & Jennings (NSW) are located, on the New England Highway. Established in 1885, indications are that the originally intended boundary would put most of Jennings squarely inside Queensland. In an area where loyalty to state-based sporting teams, businesses, and beer is practically religious, declaring one town to actually be in another state is tantamount to heresy according to locals. Public sentiment is that Jennings has always been in New South Wales, and always will be.

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Victoria - New South Wales Border

Photograph: State Border CairnWhen Victoria was made a colony separate from New South Wales in 1851, there was much conjecture about where the border should lie. With natural boundaries being in favour at the time, one intention was to make the Murrumbidgee River the state boundary. After much argument, it was eventually decided to define the border as a bearing from Cape Howe, the eastern-most point of Victoria, to 'the nearest source of the River Murray', and from there along the river's course to the border of South Australia.

The use of a river as a boundary has caused many arguments and debates between the states. Originally it was thought that doing so would cause less disputes and require less maintenance. But as trade and tariffs became more important in the early days, the Murray also grew in importance as a major trading route. The river has also slowly changed it's course over time in some places, and because the jurisdiction of New South Wales extends to the southern high water mark, this has changed the status of some land parcels affected by the river's meandering path.

In 1859, NSW claimed the pastoral leases of Pental Island near Swan Hill on the grounds that the island lay to the north of the watercourse of the River Murray. In 1872, the case was decided in Victoria's favour when the Privy council maintained that the main watercourse, being the channel of greatest discharge of the Murray was to the north of the island.

Border Cairn on the sand at Cape Howe.The line of bearing between the start of the Murray and Cape Howe was explored and marked between 1870 and 1872 by Surveyors Alexander Black and Alexander Allan. In 1984, this line was resurveyed by the Department of Surveying, RMIT, and the section of the border was renamed The Black-Allan line in honour of those first explorers.

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Victoria - Tasmania Border

Of all the land-based borders in Australia, this is by far the shortest. Officially, the border between Victoria and Tasmania is a parallel of latitude 39°12'. Off the coast of Wilson's Promontory in Victoria, there is a group if islands and islets known as The Hogan Group. Within this group is one islet, about six hectares in size, that straddles this boundary. Once called North East Islet, the name was changed to avoid confusion with another islet of the same name in the Kent Group, a short distance to the south east. In honour of the islet's position, lying across the border between Victoria and Tasmania, it was renamed Boundary Islet.

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Victoria - South Australia Border

South Australia - Victoria Border Sign.The border between South Australia and Victoria has an interesting history. It was to have been surveyed along the 141st meridian of longitude. However, through a series of miscalculations, the line was originally positioned 3.6 kilometres further to the west. Lines of longitude were difficult to calculate in the 1800s. Long distances travelled were measured off by chains, which need to be gradually adjusted to compensate for the lines of longitude drawing closer together as one moves away from the equator.

In this case, the two methods used to record longitude gave differing results, so an average distance was chosen. Further more, no adjustment was made to the chains to allow for the distance south of the Equator, and another error was made. The border runs north in a series of steps, until it reaches the Murray River. The two surveyors, Wade and White, managed to survey 450 kilometres of the border between them. They were forced to stop a number of times due to lack of funding and equipment. In 1849, White ran out of water, and lost several bullocks and horses before reaching safety. The survey was finally completed in 1850.

The error in calculating the line of longitude was suspected in 1868, and confirmed in 1883. The boundary was disputed by the South Australian and Victorian governments. The matter was taken to the High Court of Australia in 1911, and was not finally settled until 1914, when the Privy Council upheld the ruling in favour of Victoria. It is an interesting point to note that because of this decision, the western boundaries of Victoria and New South Wales do not meet. The border of NSW is set at 141° east, leaving a section of boundary between Victoria and South Australia that is undefined along the River Murray, measuring 3.6km from east to west.

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Australian Capital Territory - New South Wales Border

After Federation in 1901, it was decided that a seat of government for the new nation should be selected. The new capital would not be selected from existing state capitals to prevent further rivalry, particularly between Melbourne and Sydney. Several possible locations were suggested, including Albury, Armidale, Bombala, Lake George, Orange and Tumut.

In 1903, the House of Representatives initially selected the Bombala region by ballot. A change of government in 1904 favoured Dalgety, but political fortunes reversed again in 1905, and the question was thrown open once more. Three areas were considered and visited by parliamentarians in 1906; Dalgety, Canberra, and Lake George. John Gale, then proprietor of the Queanbeyan Age, delivered a paper, 'Dalgety or Canberra which?', setting forth the virtues of Canberra in glowing terms:

    "We have shown that in every essential factor Canberra stands unrivalled. It possesses water supply for all possible requirements; in summer and winter its climate has all the desirable conditions; in accessibility it has decided advantages over Dalgety; in fertility of soil and hygienic conditions nothing is left to be desired; its possession of stone, timbers, clays, and other mineral deposits are close at hand and inexhaustible; and its scenic charms and natural objects are unique and wondrously varied. It is almost impossible to conceive of a site more perfect in all its essentials."

Neither the Federal Parliament nor the NSW State Government were easily convinced, and the counter claims of Dalgety were promoted rigorously. On 9th October, 1908, a ballot win of six votes selected the Yass-Canberra region to be the location of the national capital. Yass-Canberra was defined as a triangle, with Yass at the top corner, Lake George to the east and the Murrumbidgee to the west.

The national capital was known originally known as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and formally transferred from New South Wales on January 1st, 1911. Land-locked, the FCT acquired a port when Jervis Bay was also transferred from NSW in 1915. On July 29th, 1938, the FCT was officially legislated as the Australian Capital Territory.

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