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The Disputed Territory

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by Steve Hudson (subscribe)
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Published February 16th 2016
What were they thinking ?
Walking through the township of Wolseley it is difficult to find anyone who may have been responsible. In fact, at certain times, it is difficult to find anyone in this sleepy town in the South east of South Australia. Nevertheless, I continued my quest for answers.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Entry Sign - Steve Hudson


It started way back in 1834 when some Londoners drew a line on a map and determined that South Australia's eastern border with NSW (Victoria didn't exist at that point) was to be the 141st meridian east. Following that, and to settle some early land disputes, a Sydney-sider directed a Melbourne based Surveyor to head west until he found the 141st meridian and to place some rocks signifying the southern most point of the state boundary.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Houses of yesteryear - Steve Hudson


Further internal land disputes ensued, so this time a Sydney-sider was despatched in 1847 to start from the coast and mark the boundary up to the River Murray. The trip was abandoned near Wolseley, until two years later when a Surveyor from Adelaide came on board to complete the task and who in the end discovered that this southern state boundary did not align with the northern state boundary set out by the Surveyors working from the north.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Region layout - Steve Hudson


Many years later, and after many debates with the newly colonised Victoria it was noted that poor equipment and a comedy of errors led to the first marker being wrongly placed, with each subsequent marker adding to the mistake. But the states could not agree on the compromise as both wanted the land.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Former Institute Building - Steve Hudson


By then the railway revolution had hit Australia, and in 1850 both SA and NSW agreed to implement a uniform broad gauge track. However in 1853 NSW changed its mind and decided to adopt standard gauge tracks while the newly formed colony of Victoria and SA had already started laying broad gauge.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Former Store - Steve Hudson


In the early 1880's long distance railways were being built across the countryside, and the South Australia Railways built a broad gauge line to Wolseley while the Victorian Railways completed their line at Serviceton, both believing that they had stopped on the border. Despite the gauge being the same, the 4km distance between the towns across the disputed territory was debated until the South Australians took the upper hand and built the track that joined the two lines.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Wolseley Hotel - Steve Hudson


At the same time that the broad gauge line was being built, a narrow gauge line was laid from Mt Gambier to Wolseley thus leading to a break-of-gauge junction, often the cause of much angst, delays and challenges.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
The Disputed Territory - Steve Hudson


Meanwhile the border dispute between SA and Victoria as to where the boundary should be, and whose land it really was, continued in earnest. Threats and counter threats were thrown with little solution tendered. Not satisfied with the progress, South Australia took Victoria to the Privy Council in 1914 and received compensation for the value of the lost land. With that decision came the realisation that Wolseley was to be well and truly entrenched as a South Australian railway town.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Memorial Gardens - Steve Hudson


It took a few more years but it was World War Two which would see another significant event in the life of Wolseley. In the face of a pending invasion of Australia it was deemed appropriate that 31 inland aircraft fuel depots should be built at strategic locations (next to rail lines) where defence of neighbouring countryside and shores could be achieved.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Abandoned Barracks - Steve Hudson


In 1942, six huge fuel tanks and a barracks were built in Wolseley and disguised as farm buildings. Lasting two years, and not seeing any active service, the tanks and barracks were discreetly abandoned to become strange looking monuments on the landscape.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
Camouflaged Tanks - Steve Hudson


Soon thereafter the railway workers were rewarded when the narrow gauge Mt Gambier line was converted to broad gauge and the break-of-gauge junction was abandoned. This lasted 40 years until 1995 when ironically, following a direction from Canberra, the Melbourne to Adelaide line was converted to standard gauge, a direction which signalled the closure of the Mt Gambier line.

The Disputed Territory, Serviceton, Wolseley, Wolseley Hotel, Wolseley Institute
End of the line - Steve Hudson


Today Wolseley is a quiet town some 12km southeast of Bordertown with a train line that sees active service from freight services and the occasional passenger train. Without visitors, much of the towns shops and facilities have reverted to private residences with the Wolseley Hotel being the only place open on most days. A historical walk through the town is around 2km long, with brochures available online. Picnic facilities are available at the Memorial Gardens and near the playground in the main street.
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Why? To understand what really happened
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Where: Wolseley, South Australia
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Your Comment
A very interesting story. And yes.. what were they thinking when they built those fuel tanks
by Sharon (score: 1|50) 792 days ago
What a detailed and interest rousing article!! Wonderful work Steve.
by Diana (score: 2|620) 792 days ago
Somebody bought the Institute Hall and was going to have occasional film there in 16mm celluloid, about ten years ago.
by daviddon@dodo.com.au (score: 2|550) 787 days ago
Having lived in Bordertown for 3 years in the late 50's, your article reminds me of the few times I went there.They use to say the area produced some of the best wool in Aust.Nice to know you can still get a beer there.
by noelp (score: 3|1172) 787 days ago
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