State borders: far more strange and confusing than you might think!

States’ sovereignty in Australia seems straightforward. Each state is clearly defined, with well-drawn boundaries. There is no doubt about where a state starts and where it ends – or so you might think.

The Victorian/South Australian border runs north and south, doesn’t it? To pass from Victoria into South Australia, it’s only logical that you must travel west. How, then, is it possible to pass northward from Victoria into South Australia, or even eastward, when the whole of South Australia is west of Victoria?

This is just one of many strange characteristics of Australian geography.

A bit of a kink

To simplify a long story (it took a century of argument and was eventually settled in the High Court) errors were made in survey.

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Although the Victorian/South Australian border (and that between New South Wales and South Australia) is meant to follow the 141° East meridian, the border south of the Murray is, in fact, set 3.6 kilometres west of that to the north. As a result, a length of the Murray River represents an undefined boundary. The Murray, at that location, flows generally north-west, making it possible to travel north (or east) from Victoria into South Australia.

What territory…?

Australia’s smallest territory is one many people do not even know exists. It is the 70-odd square kilometres of Bherwerre Peninsula on the New South Wales coast that constitutes the Jervis Bay Territory. Without means of self-administration, it is fully maintained by the Federal Government. The territory was ceded by NSW in 1915. Why? To provide ocean access for the Australian Capital Territory, 250km to the west and otherwise landlocked.

Half a rock

Tasmania and Victoria are the states least affected by arbitrary map boundaries, separated as they are by Bass Strait. Believe it or not, though, they do share a land border of about 85 metres!

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Tasmania achieved its own identity when separated from the colony of New South Wales in 1825. By official proclamation, Tasmania was granted all islands “…south of Wilson’s Promontory”.

An addendum, 26 years later when Victoria was declared a state, made it more positive by marking the boundary at 39° 12’ South latitude, a line that cuts right through the middle of Boundary Islet. Unlike the Spratly Islands, it appears unlikely that two hectares of solid rock is likely to cause any future boundary dispute between states!

Don’t bank on it!

The state border requiring greatest definition is the one between Victoria and New South Wales. Many of us at school learned that the boundary is “the high tide mark” on the southern bank of the Murray River. Although it needed to be better defined in legal terms, that description is close enough for everyday use but has been put under a spotlight on a number of specific occasions.

One case in point related to a murder at Echuca in 1978. Edward Ward shot Alexander Reed, apparently to get his keys and steal his car. The Supreme Court had to determine whether Ward was standing in Victoria and Reed fishing in New South Wales at the time of the crime. It was decided, for the sake of jurisprudence, that both men were in Victoria, where Ward was found guilty and jailed for life.

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Blues or Maroons?

In 2001, at the start of the new millennium, surveyors discovered a 200 metre discrepancy in the Queensland/New South Wales border that affected the twin towns, Wallangarra and Jennings. The original survey intended most of Jennings to be in Queensland. This heretical matter was soon put to rest on the basis of beer, business and sporting allegiance. Jennings is and always was in New South Wales and no survey readjustment would ever cause its populace to support the Maroons!

Now trivialise this

Which state has the longest border measurement? New South Wales. Bordering Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and, of course, Jervis Bay Territory, it totals 4,635 kilometres.

When asked which state or territory has a shorter coastline than its associated islands, Tasmania (with substantial islands such as King, Flinders and Macquarie coming to mind) seems the logical answer but no, the answer is the Northern Territory.

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