The Goyder Line, Climate Change and Marginal Land

Karl FitzgeraldArticles1 Comment

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stephen Barnett

The infamous Goyder Line raises important issues for those concerned about climate change. The climate’s influence in drastically increasing the amount of marginal land and the flow through effects this will have on wages, communities and common sense are important issues we should all understand. Our unique commentary follows…

Charles Gent from Inside Story

THE MODEST historic marker in a dusty lay-by just north of Melrose purports to sit on Goyder’s Line, but the locals aren’t so sure: some think it should be a kilometre or so to the south. In sixty years time, if the grimmest projections of climate change science are right, this will be the driest of arguments. Projections say that by 2070, Goyder’s Line, regarded as the northern edge of South Australia’s arable land since the late nineteenth century, could have migrated as far south as Clare, 120 kilometres away.

The Line has been part of South Australian folklore and vocabulary for nearly 150 years. Early vineyards were already thriving in the Clare Valley when South Australia’s surveyor-general, George Woodroofe Goyder, headed north through the town at the behest of the colony’s government in 1865. Goyder made an extended tour of the mid-north to map the extent of a fierce drought. As he painstakingly traversed the landscape on horseback, he made a shrewd and, it would later emerge, remarkably accurate assessment of the limits of reliable rainfall. He relied primarily on cues provided by soil and vegetation types, particularly the zone of transition from native grass and woodland to drought-tolerant saltbush. His imaginary line turned out to be, in effect, an isopleth; north of his line, average annual rainfall averaged less than 300 millimetres (or twelve inches), which to Goyder’s mind made the prospects for settled agriculture too risky to be contemplated.

Read More on ‘South of the Goyder Line’.

With the lack of rainfall already showing signs of increasing the amount of marginal (barely arable) land, Charles Gent raises the prospect of South Australia’s farming land decreasing by approximately 20 – 30% within 60 years.

How will this effect wage earners?

With less land to farm on, the competition for those few sites down near the coast that benefit from weather patterns off the Great Australian bite will result in higher land prices. With less overall productive land, there will be greater competition between workers.

This double edged sword will reveal itself in lower wages and higher land (and thus housing) costs.

With the increased automation of mines (remote controlled mining is not far away), rural employment will be sparse. Urban drift will accelerate rapidly as permafrost melts increase. Environmental refugees are destined to accelerate. The negative feedback loops are accelerating.

How will we afford the infrastructure to re-design communities into walkable, sustainable, affordable communities?

All these factors place a premium on urban land. With our tax system ignoring the naturally increasing scarcity rents that accrue to land, the wealth gap is destined to accelerate. If the Henry Tax Review ignores these issues, future generations face the daunting prospect of paying 50% of their wages on somewhere to live. Understand why

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