We recognise that these borders lie on the stolen lands of the Meru people who occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years before European settlement. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians of the land.
A few years ago, Lisa was on a mission to witness the anomaly of the mismatched borderline between South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. So when the Osprey Adventure Grant came along, she knew it was the perfect way to kickstart her adventure.
Disclaimer: We’re about to use our imaginations here, so don’t take this history to heart!
It’s 1849 and you’re a land surveyor, with a thick old-timey moustache that curls up at the ends, a snappy three-piece suit, and top hat.
You’ve been given the job of marking out South Australia’s border from coast to desert, no big deal. The only thing is air conditioning, the petrol motor, and any mode of transporting large volumes of water, haven’t been invented yet.
Perhaps as it’s such a strenuous and difficult task you decide to humour yourself, and instead of following the 141st degree of longitude, you follow a parallel course roughly 3.6 kilometres west of it – just for kicks.
The knowledge that generations to come will be scratching their heads in confusion is enough to keep you going through the perilous task.
Once your plot is eventually uncovered decades later, the government does what it can to fix it and changes the SA/NSW portion of the border back to its rightful place on the 141st degree. However Victoria won’t stand for this minor loss of territory and refuses to let the error be corrected.
Through sheer embarrassment, the government undertakes a century-long cover-up to ensure no Australian uncovers the truth of the misaligned borderline. The cleverest of techniques were utilised – hiding the evidence in plain sight, in any map or history book published since.
Uncovering a Borderline Secret
Fast-forward to 2019 and for no reason other than boredom, I was looking at the Australian state border intersections on Google Maps and came across the shocking anomaly. Where the Murray River intersects the SA/VIC/NSW border, the lines just don’t match up.
There’s the borderline north of the Murray River as it should be on the 141st longitude, but south of the river the somewhat random borderline shuffles a little to the west. From the looks of it, a strange no-man’s-land had been created on the Murray itself.
Determined to see this bizarre border for myself, I set out for South Australia with my bike, pack raft, and plenty of questions. The good folk at Osprey kitted me out with all of the essentials to help me on my journey.
The Osprey Aura AG 50L pack fit all that was needed, other than the bike, and the Osprey Dyna 1.5L hydration vest pack would see me through the ride and paddle. But no piece of kit was going to be more vital than the selection of Osprey drybags that securely held everything away from the soaking that was inevitable while on the Murray itself.
Being a Queenslander, getting to South Australia was the first leg and since I already had a tough journey ahead of me, a flight was in order.
Upon touch down in Adelaide I hauled all 50kg of gear into my hire car and headed to Renmark, the starting point of the bike leg of my journey out to the Murray River.
Day 1 – Renmark to The Murray River
After the only night I’d spend in the comfort of four walls and a squishy bed, I put the bike together and strapped to it everything I was taking with me for the journey. I’m a chronic over-packer – I find it incredibly difficult to keep things to a weight minimum and always curse my past self when I’m mid-adventure, and this was no exception.
I don’t know how it always happens but true-to-form, the challenging inclines hit me straight away and I struggled to get me, the bike, pack raft, food, and gear up the climbs.
These inclines were spent mentally picking apart every single item on the bike, questioning if I really needed it, and promising myself that next time would be different, I would pack better.
Even as this ran through my mind, I knew it was a lie as this little dance was a familiar one and I was never different, I never packed better (even if I did have Osprey bags to help me). After pushing through for a while and thinking that I couldn’t possibly make it to the river before the sunset, I got into the groove and started to feel comfortable.
Almost immediately after consciously acknowledging this, my front tyre decided that it was the perfect time to bring me down a peg and go flat.
Now, changing a tube is no big deal, but doing so when your bike is absolutely packed to the brim with gear is a massive pain in the butt.
As I struggled to get a new tube in, with the assistance of some colourful language, it dawned on me that I was thinking this was difficult, when the old-timey, moustached, land surveyor whose error I’d mocked, had undertaken a task that made my journey look like a casual jaunt around the block.
Not only that but he did so with an astonishingly primitive set of tools all while maintaining the humour to stick to his goal of incorrectly marking the border. What a hilarious legend.
After what felt like many hours, I finally made it to the Murray River and set up camp with only the faintest flicker of sunlight to keep me company.
I’d forgotten the magic of camping next to flowing water and was drenched in the beauty of the flora and fauna around me as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 2 – Tent
Hammering rain and wind woke me early the following day to let me know that I wasn’t daring enough to head out in a storm and that the day should be spent immersed in my book.
I hastily agreed and proceeded to nap and read all day tucked nicely in my tent, not in the least bit disappointed.
Day 3 – The NSW/SA Border Point… And Back Again
When I awoke the next day to the delightful sounds of birds and gentle breeze flittering around the tent, I quickly jumped out eager to get on the water. After becoming a ninja at bike disassembly and gear pack down I had everything ready to go in a jiffy.
With everything packed up in the safety of my Osprey drybags, I thanked my past self for not budging on the necessity of the micro air pump which made the inflation of the pack raft a breeze, pun obviously intended.
A push and small jump from the launch site, with a slip thrown in for fun, meant I was on my way, albeit with wet shoes.
The first 2km paddle upstream into a headwind was absolutely brutal and I was genuinely considering whether I could make the 28km return paddle, given the ferocity of my shoulders’ screams.
After several hours of pushing through, I arrived at the first border point, VIC/SA, and was very relieved to have made it.
That relief vanished when I realised it had actually only been half an hour and I was in fact only one-seventh of the way and had so far left to go to reach the second border point.
Now I was angry – angry at the old-timey surveyor and his stupid moustache. He was no longer the hilarious legend, he was a scoundrel.
As I sat in my pack raft simmering with rage, I had to scoff at the ingloriousness of the border intersection. One measly sign was all that was afforded to this point, hardly the celebratory marker that I was expecting. And to make matters even worse, the single sign bore the Lions Club logo indicating that it wasn’t even the government who erected it.
Knowing that I needed to move on, I tapped into previously unknown reserves of energy, possibly fuelled by my rising anger, and paddled, hard. Eventually the second glorious border point revealed itself and I almost fell out of my pack raft with excitement.
I felt positively spoilt by the two signs announcing the NSW/SA border point, putting the VIC/SA point to shame.
As it turned out, my journey had fuelled anger and contempt which seemed to cause super paddle strength allowing me to make the distance with time and daylight to spare. I decided that with my newfound super powers, combined with a downstream return journey, I wouldn’t camp at the border for the night and instead would attempt to return to my start point.
As I increased my stroke rate and doubled my speed, the mind-boggling beauty of the river started to dawn on me. My eyes zipped from one patch of land and water to the next, trying to imprint every detail of the landscape onto my memory.
I treated myself to a couple of 30 second breaks to close my eyes, breathe in the air and really hear and connect with everything around me.
The annoyance and anger that had reverberated within me had completely subsided. What replaced it was a feeling of genuine awe at the astonishing natural wonder around me.
Before I knew it, my weary arms were pulling my pack raft onto the bank and I collapsed in wonderful exhaustion. After I packed up the gear I looked back at the river for the final time and pondered my journey.
I have no idea how I would’ve pulled this adventure off without the benefit of my rad Osprey gear, GPS, and the occasional battery power. For all of this I’m extremely grateful but what about the old-timey surveyor of 1849?
I thought about the immense task that he undertook and what I can only assume was extreme hardship he endured to do it, but there was one lasting thought that really summed it up for me…
What an arsehole!