Twelve Mile Circle loves mail! I’ve discovered all sorts of interesting geographic artifacts from readers who’ve sent a much appreciated note. This time a message arrived from reader "Jonathan" who has offered several suggestions in the past. He mentioned a place he noticed while looking at maps of Australia. It was called Cameron Corner, found at the intersection of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. This wasn’t just any ordinary tripoint, it also marked a separation between three Time Zones during periods of Daylight Saving Time – DST. I later saw that this happened at two other Australian tripoints. The concept definitely piqued my curiosity.
The specific situation that existed at Cameron Corner meant that anyone within the vicinity would have an unusual opportunity to celebrate New Years three times in a single evening. It sort-of reminded me of the instance of being able to celebrate one’s birthday twice. During DST, New South Wales followed UTC+11 (i.e., eleven hours beyond Coordinated Universal Time, abbreviated UTC for some odd reason). South Australia followed UTC+10:30 during DST. Queensland didn’t recognize DST at all so it remained at UTC+10 all year long. A post marked the actual tripoint where this rare condition occurred.
People actually lived at Cameron Corner in the middle of nowhere, albeit with a very small permanent population of two souls who operated the Cameron Corner Store. I found more information about this obscure crossroads than I would have imagined given its remoteness. Little of this came from my usual sources. I found another source that was great though, TripAdvisor, of all places. A fair number of people went out of their way to stop at Cameron Corner and some of them recorded their experiences in rich detail. The store included a restaurant, a small hotel, a campground, a petrol station, and a pub where it seemed like visitors made a point of drinking into the early hours of the morning. There wasn’t much else to do so far into the Outback. The site also had a 3-hole desert golf course where a round included a hole in each state.
There were a number of TripAdvisor quotes that interested me, including a very simple description of Cameron Corner, "a metal post, a pub and a fence." That seemed straight and to the point.
There is only one shop/store on the Queensland side although their postcode is in NSW and telephone number is SA. As each state has a different time zone, they are known to have three New Year’s each year. I was told by Fenn, the shop-keeper that last year, they had about 70 guests passing this area for New Year’s and that they walked from one state to the other to celebrate the different times (which are only metres away from each other).
The corner itself, of course, is nothing but the marker post, the dingo fence and the Corner Store and the feeling of being remote is oh-so palpable when you arrive there and step out of your vehicle; the silence is absolute. Just magic!… This is not a trip to be undertaken lightly, though; on the trip in on the unsealed road we saw no other traffic – 280km – and only one car on the way out; spare water and fuel for the "just in case" moments are a must
This prompted me to look at some of the other Australian corners. Cameron Corner was the most accessible by far.
Poeppel Corner and Surveyor Generals Corner exhibited the same phenomenon, with a three state, three time zone anomaly during DST. MacCabe Corner and Haddon Corner did not, and Haddon Corner wasn’t even a tripoint. I decided to examine the first two a little more closely.
The Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia all met at the Poeppel Corner tripoint. Unlike Cameron Corner, nobody lived there and scant information existed. The Australian National Placenames Survey included a nice newsletter article though (pdf format). The corner was set deep within the Simpson Desert, accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicles, and registered perhaps 2,000 visitors per year:
In 1880, Augustus Poeppel, South Australian Government Surveyor, marked the corner with a coolibah Eucalyptus microtheca post, 2.1 metres long by 0.25 metres in diameter. The post was dragged 58 miles (92 kilometres) westward from the Mulligan River. Poeppel adzed it on three sides and chiseled into it the words "South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland"… Poeppel returned to the corner in 1883 to commence the survey of the Queensland/Northern Territory border. The post was not seen again by a European until 1936
The nearest people today are probably found in tiny Birdsville, more than a 150 kilometres (93 miles) away. One would need to be amazingly dedicated to go all the way to Poeppel Corner to experience this single post in the ground.
More difficult yet would be a journey to Surveyor Generals Corner, the tripoint of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. It contained an interesting geo-oddity though, a surveying error.
So in 1968 two monuments were set up at the resulting right-angles where the WA border does a brief east-west zig-zag in the desert. The easternmost corner, where two states and a territory meet, was named Surveyor-Generals Corner after the three officials who attended the ceremony.
Two cultures crossed at Surveyor Generals Corner. People of European descent created Australian States with straight lines that formed an arbitrary tripoint. The original Aboriginal people considered the spot their own, and had occupied it for millennia. Thus, anyone who wanted to experience Surveyor Generals Corner in person required explicit permission and a guide, in addition to the usual Great Central Road permit. That could be arranged by contacting the Wingellina (Irrunytju) Community Office in the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku, Western Australia. The logistics were discussed in ExplorOz.com
The corner consists of two actual markers separated by a distance of 75 metres. This creates a dogleg in the WA border. It is approximately seven km north east of Irrunytju community. Both are on the land of Mr Eddy and you must be escorted to the markers by one of the traditional owners. Arrangements (permits) have to be obtained prior to heading to Irrunytju (Wingellina) thru the West Australian DIA website. Prior to heading that way, ring the store or community centre to ensure that people will be around and available at the time of your arrival. Once arrived at Wingellina, head to the community centre and pay the appropriate fee (At July 07 – it was $100 per vehicle and $20 per person) and someone will be located to escort you (usually Mr Eddy or Mr Donald Ferguson, both community elders). Both are very helpful and will give you permission to take photographs.
I’ve not been to Australia in awhile. However, if I’m ever lucky enough to return, I would love to push away from the coast and visit one of these tripoints. Have any of the Australian 12MC readers ever been fortunate enough to experience these places in person?
Unrelated, but not completely unrelated
In preparing this article I went back through the index and I noticed I’d posted several other Oz-centric articles over the years. Enjoy.
The recent Twelve Mile Circle journey to western North Carolina included one of my favorite activities, whitewater rafting. The boys were finally getting old enough to join us although we still kept it pretty easy on them, sticking primarily to a series of Class II and Class III rapids (moderate to intermediate). This made a guided rafting adventure on the French Broad River particularly enjoyable and appropriate for our little group (map).
Similar references and claims repeated themselves as I searched for a suitable rafting operator. Invariably websites noted that the French Broad River was the third oldest river in the world. It was always the third oldest. Even the U.S. Forest Service repeated the claim. I didn’t have any ability to corroborate or debunk the statement at the time so I tucked it away in my mind, intending to check it later. I’ve learned since then that measuring the age of rivers wasn’t an exact science. However, geologists could determine their relative ages in wide general bands based upon various signs and conditions. Determining an exact order would be problematic.
The best that might be said of the French Broad River was that it was really, really old, maybe 300 million years old. I pondered that for a moment. The first dinosaurs evolved during the Mesozoic Era, 225 million years ago. It was entirely possible, even likely, that the course of the French Broad River predated dinosaurs. Many geologists believed that possibility because the current flow of the French Broad could exist only if the river predated the Appalachian Mountains, because it sliced entirely through the range.
Mountains formed over millions of years in fits and starts, providing plenty of time for rushing water to preserve the original channel via erosion while the range slowly rose around it. Otherwise — had the river had been younger than the mountains — the channel would have formed on one side of the range or the other.
The mountain range surfaced during the Alleghanian orogeny, when the Euramerica continent (including modern North America) and the Gondwana continent (including modern Africa) slammed into each other to form the super-continent Pangaea. Orogeny was nothing more than a fancy word meaning, "the process of mountain formation especially by folding of the earth’s crust." Thus, geologists could estimate the age of the mountains and then by implication work backwards to estimate the age of the river. The initial collision took place approximately 300 million years ago so the French Broad River must be something older than that.
That was about all the geology my simplistic mind could comprehend. I still wondered about the river’s name and assumed correctly that French Broad had nothing to do with a woman from France. English explorers discovered two rivers of comparably broad width situated near each other on opposite sides of the Eastern Continental Divide on the unsettled fringes of the Carolina colonies.
The western river flowed towards the interior of the continent, in the general direction of lands claimed by France in the Mississippi watershed. Thus it became known as the French Broad River. Its course took it past what later became modern-day Asheville, then northwest through the Appalachian mountains (going past Lover’s Leap) then due west to the current city of Knoxville. There it joined the Tennessee River, onward to the Ohio River and finally into the Mississippi River.
The eastern river was located just outside of modern-day Asheville, directly past the summit of a ridge a few miles to the southeast. It flowed into the Congaree River and then to the Santee River and finally into the Atlantic Ocean. It became known as the English Broad River because that’s where the English has established their colony. The name shortened later to Broad River, so now there was a French Broad River and a Broad River. I saw the Broad River when we visited Lake Lure during the same trip. I’m lucky to be able to say that I had the distinction of experiencing both the Broad and the French Broad Rivers during our outdoor activities.
Was the French Broad River the third oldest river in the world? Well, who knows. It certainly fell within the top tier of ancient rivers.
Hurricane Katrina formed ten years ago today, on August 23, 2005, and hit New Orleans on the 29th. I wrote about some of my family’s experiences previously in Hurricane Katrina: Family Memories 5 Years Later. I can’t believe another five years has passed. I can’t believe I’m still writing Twelve Mile Circle either.
Fortuna was the Roman goddess of prosperity and luck. That would be an excellent name for any location hoping for some of that mojo to rub off. I was aware of a Fortuna in California (map), probably the largest Fortuna in the United States. It was settled in the heart of redwood country.
I’m sure it’s very nice and I’d love to go there someday and take a drive down the Avenue of the Giants. However this Twelve Mile Circle wasn’t about that particular Fortuna. Maybe I’ll circle back to that eventually. Not today.
Rather, I became fixated on the Fortuna I’d uncovered as I investigated the intricacies of what divided Divide County in North Dakota. There sat tiny Fortuna, population 22, all alone on the Great Plains (map). Let’s ride along on a little driving tour given by some random guy on YouTube, shall we?
Hmmm… there wasn’t much there, was there? A church, a gun club, a curling club, a few houses and a senior center.
Don’t be deceived. Look below the surface and every place is a geo-oddity. I myself live in the smallest self-governing county in the United States. I’m sure your little corner of the world has its own unusual geographic distinction too. Fortuna (pronounced For-Toona) was fortunate enough to have two unusual features, one created by nature and one caused by the arbitrary placements of lines by man.
We already discussed the first condition in County Divided: the Brush Lake Closed Basin. Fortuna fell barely within the eastern edge of this endorheic basin. Sandwiched between Arctic and Atlantic watersheds, water falling in Fortuna wouldn’t flow to either ocean. Instead it drained to nearby Brush Lake just over the border in Montana where its overland journey ended, trapped in a gouge carved by ancient glaciers during the last Ice Age.
The second feature was somewhat more esoteric. According to North Dakota State University, Fortuna had the distinction of having the latest sunset on the summer solstice for any town in the Lower 48 United States, at 10:03 p.m. That occurred because of a confluence of a couple of different situations. Fortuna happened to be located at the far western edge of the Central Time Zone. The zone had a nub in northwestern North Dakota that made Fortuna considerably farther west than almost any other place along the time zone edge.
The exception was a corner of west Texas east of El Paso, say, somewhere like Van Horne (map). It was just a little farther west than Fortuna. However there was a different factor that more than made up the difference: latitude. I put the points into a great circle mapper and found that Fortuna was about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometres) farther north than Van Horne. Thus, with that large of a difference I think it would be safe to speculate that sunset happened later on the summer solstice in Fortuna’s corner of North Dakota than anywhere else in the Central Time Zone. I suppose I could also check the other three U.S. time zones in the Lower 48 for their westernmost extremes although I’m simply not that motivated. The Intertubes said it was true and I left it at that.
But Wait, You Also Get This
Fortuna had history. I hardly would have expected anything of historical significance in such a remote area. Yet, ironically its remoteness actually created its importance. Out-of-sight places made ideal locations for a variety of Cold War artifacts.
The U.S. government constructed Fortuna Air Force Station just outside of town, a radar base operating from 1952 to 1984. It was designed to track enemy aircraft and coordinate their interception should Soviets bombers have attacked the United States. The site was completely abandoned once the Cold War faded and fell away. Ghosts of North Dakota visited the old station recently and noted,
We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late… The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged. The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.
What does the future hold for the town of Fortuna? Perhaps something fortunate. This quadrant of North Dakota has boomed in recent years because of oil discoveries in the Bakken formation. The population of Divide County increased by more than 10% between 2010 and 2013 (the latest figures available) after decades of decline.