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Nature's Line: George Goyder

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George Goyder is one of those unsung and often forgotten great Australians. Janis Sheldrick’s stellar biography, Nature’s Line, attempts to redress this issue.

A remarkable pioneer, who as an explorer became to understand the reality of the Australian climate, Goyder was lampooned as the discoverer of the great inland sea. But for much of his life, he was devoted to influencing a northern limit to settlement and wheat farming, based on arable land within a line of reliable rainfall.

Goyder in his retirement. Photo: State Library of SA

Goyder in his retirement. Photo: State Library of SA

His understanding of an unpredictable  climate, drought, agricultural potential and resource management was decades ahead of his time. Despite his warnings, land-hungry farmers surged beyond “Goyder’s Line” – which was enshrined in law in 1872 – only to later retreat after years of protracted drought.

Who was George Goyder? How did he decide where to draw his line? And why was he the only one to recognise the limits of possible settlement in South Australia? Sheldrick answers these and many more questions in a lucid, detailed and well-researched biography of the man, his line and his influence as surveyor-general of South Australia and a foundational figure in laying out Darwin in the Northern Territory.

For the first time, a thorough life story of this innovative man and his works is published in a work that began as a PhD thesis. But this isn’t a heavy tome; rather, it’s a respectful, well-written and dynamic account of a remarkable man who deserves his time in the sun.

Sheldrick is rapt in her subject and the narrative is all better for her admiration. She argues that Goyder is important at a national level because it was he who identified that variability of climate is the crucial environmental characteristic across our country. After reading her arguments, few would disagree that this man of perspicacity and prescience should be a figure of enduring significance in Australia’s story.

Nature’s Line: George Goyder – Surveyor, environmentalist, visionary, by Janis Sheldrick, is published by Wakefield Press, $45.


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