1921 WA/NT Border Determinations

During June and July 2011 it was 90 Years ago in 1921, that the SA & WA Government Astronomers, Dodwell & Curlewis respectively, travelled to the Kimberley by ship to Wyndham, then on to Argyle Station, hosted by MP Durack, who guided them to a point supposedly close to the border of Argyle Downs Station with the north western boundary of that part of Rosewood Station which lies in the Northern Territory. That boundary was supposed to be on 129 degrees east meridian, which is also the WA/NT border.  After the 1921 determinations a WA Survey crew returned six years later in 1927 to start marking the WA-NT border on the ground (see below).

  They set up about 2 ½ km south-east of the confluence of Hicks & Bobtail Creeks, close to the north bank of Bobtail, at a site that was later named as the Austral Pillar, where they carried out tests utilising the latest technology of the day, being radio transmissions of the time signal pips, that you should recall hearing before the news on the radio.

  They measured these time signals from all over the world, to determine how far east of Greenwich they were, hence the position of the WA/NT border on the ground.

  As it turned out MP Durack would not have been impressed, because he lost just over a 2km wide slice of what he had believed to be Argyle station land to Jack Kilfoyle of Rosewood, as the border was determined to be about 2km west of their position.

  Just over 2km from the Austral Pillar (1921) site is the Kimberley Obelisk, constructed in 1927 by a WA Lands and Surveys Department crew, near the confluence of Hicks and Bobtail creeks, to officially mark the WA/NT border (129 degrees east), on the ground.  The son of one of the 1927 expedition members, Kevin Markey, contacted KHS in 2005 with good information on the 1927 expedition and asked us to locate the 1927 obelisk on the WA-NT border and the 1921 "Austral Pillar" site, about two and a half kilometres to the east-south-east. We managed to locate both sites after some efforts in 2005 and was also able to take Kevin and his sister to both of these sites in 2006. The 1927 expedition was undertaken on horseback from Wyndham with the aid of a (70) donkey team to take all their loading.  They had to borrow more cement and cart sand from the Ord River, while fill for the obelisk concrete conglomerate with black basalt rocks.  They did not have enough form-work for their large Obelisk structure and had to take apart all the wooden packing cases that held their supplies to use for the formwork then later remake the cases to keep moving to survey and mark other points along the border. It did not sound like a simple task.

1968 - Surveyor Generals' Corner - In their Infinite Wisdom

  At a meeting in 1968 of the SA & WA Surveyors General and the Commonwealth Surveyor General (for the NT), in their infinite wisdom, instead of just running a line extending through the Deakin Obelisks (WA-SA border) and through the Kimberley Obelisk (WA-NT border), which would have given WA the longest straight border in the world, what did they do?


  Their decision was to run a line run north-south to the northern coastline and south to the 26th parallel, through a cross marked in a copper plug, embedded into the top centre of the Kimberley Obelisk, which officially marks the WA/NT border on the ground, then run another line north south to the coast, through a similar marker, the Deakin Obelisk, near the Trans-Continental railway, and a line is run north to the 26th parallel (26 degrees South - the border of South Australia and the Northern Territory), but where they meet the 26th parallel... (a fact that very few people know! :^)

Due to slight inaccuracies in those early days of 1921 and 1927, at the 26th parallel is a section of the WA-NT border that runs sideways (east-west) for 126.943 metres and is marked at and what is known as "Surveyor General's Corner."

Another interesting fact is, that due to these early inaccuracies, both of the border marker Obelisks are actually east of the 129th Meridian by some degree, so that officially both borders encroach over the edge of this Meridian, allowing WA a small slice (each just over a kilometre wide), of both South Australia and the Territory.


Recent archive images of the freshly completed Kimberley Obelisk in June 1927, when WA Governor, Sir William Campion visited the site, have recently been digitised from Elizabeth Durack's personal photographic collection (61 photographic prints) courtesy of the Durack family.

  Research with the department responsible for lands in South Australia has found new information on the 1921 determinations and a new set of 1921 photographs from the family of former SA Surveyor-General Clive Melville Hambidge, who was a surveyor on the 1921 border determinations. These archival documents and prints were kindly sent to KHS via Chris Jordan, who liaised with former SA Surveyor General, John Porter to supply the Hambidge Family Collection to KHS. The photographs have now been digitised and are available from below.

Tip! - When viewing the slideshow you can use the four arrowed gadget in the lower right hand corner to view in Fullscreen mode and get back here again.

 You can read a more detailed account of the 1921 history when you view the new KHS interpretation of the 1921 WA/NT Border Determinations - A news article mixed with the Hambidge Collection and MP Durack's diary entries.

[This goes to the "1921 - Fixing the WA/NT Border" set (on Flickr)]

M.P. Durack and others photographed as mast is being raised.

1921 Fixing the WA/NT Border (on Flickr)


[This goes to the "Hambidge Family Collection" (on Flickr)]

1921 "Unloading passengers at Carnarvon, W.A. on a rough day.

Ship is Bambra" - KHS-2011-15-09-P2-D

Hambidge Family Collection - 26 photos.

[Also see 1927 Kimberley Obelsik images below]

[Link goes to the "WA border" set on Flickr]

WA-NT Border - Set (on Flickr)

(The WA-NT Border Set includes the 1921 Hambidge Collection mentioned above)

The Durack & Hambidge collections, help to show the local, State and National "significance" of these border determinations.

The KHS Archive and Museum has a permanent display about the border markers with new information that has recently been researched on the June and July 1921 Austral Pillar border determinations. If in Kununurra visit the museum to find out more about the border.

You can read a more detailed account of this history when you view the new KHS interpretation of the 1921 WA/NT Border Determinations - A news article mixed with the Hambridge Collection and MP Durack's diary entries.


WHERE AND HOW IT WAS FIXED. Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885-1954)

Thursday 18 August 1921

Read the KHS illustrated version of this 1921 WA/NT Border Determinations Article

...from the State Library of South Australia

This photograph of Clive Melville Hambidge at the Deakin Obelisk was found at the

State Library of South Australia (SLSA) and appears here courtesy of the SLSA.

State Library of South Australia - B29307

TITLE Mr C.M. Hambidge DATE

[Date - KHS Added - circa 1926 as the Deakin Obelisk was constructed by CM Hambidge in that year]

Another photograph of Clive Melville Hambidge is available here, with courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

State Library of South Australia - B8531

TITLE Clive Melville Hambidge

DESCRIPTION Clive Melville Hambidge

DATE 1939

Archival No. B 8531