Serviceton is a small town located near the Victoria-South Australia border. Due to an error in calculating the SA/Vic border, this town has been deemed to be in both Victoria and South Australia, even though it has never moved!
Where is it?: South East. 437 km north-west of Melbourne.
Surrounded by vast open plains, Serviceton is a tiny railway town located adjacent the Victorian-South Australian border on the Western Highway
The land here was first occupied by Europeans in 1846. Thomas Short, who established the 'Cove' run in 1849, employed a station hand named Dan Morgan, who later became one of Australia's most notorious bushrangers. Upon being dismissed after an argument, Morgan destroyed Short's provisions and stole a horse. With an Aboriginal tracker, Short pursued Morgan to the Murray River and took him by surprise but was shot in the knee while dismounting, permanently crippling him.
Small selectors began to arrive from South Australia in 1877 and began growing wheat. The town developed when the railway arrived in 1886.
South Australia or Victoria?
So how did this town in Victoria end up in the South Australian regional guide? Well you may ask. The border between Victoria and South Australia was intended to be on the 141° east meridian east but, owing to an error first made by NSW surveyor Charles James Tyers and then by surveyors sent in to correct Tyers' mistake, border markers were placed 3.6 km west of the meridian. When Victoria was proclaimed a separate province from New South Wales in 1851, the western border of the latter was defined as the South Australian border. Specific reference to the 141° east meridian was deliberately omitted, as South Australia and Victoria were in dispute as to where that border was.
When South Australia and Victoria built their respective railway lines up to the border in 1887, the border station linking the two lines and the town that supported it were to be built on the border, but as that was in dispute, the station was built as near as possible to the centre of the disputed territory - a strip of land 4.5 km in width which stretched along the total length of the SA/Vic border.
In pre-Federation times, border towns like Serviceton were important customs stations where excise had to be paid on goods passing between the colonies. Everything was unloaded and put onto another train, hence the sizeable railway station complex. The town's early population comprised of railway staff and customs officials from both Victoria and South Australia who lived in the parts of the town they each considered was on their side of the border. When the station was built, there were also two engine sheds, one for each state's trains.
Customs excise laws proved difficult to enforce because the town was in the disputed territory. Upon reaching the station, those bringing goods to Serviceton from South Australia told the Victorian customs officers they were not crossing the border, but were in fact already in Victoria, and therefore no duty was payable.
Those bringing goods from Victoria into South Australia told the South Australian customs officers they were still in Victoria and had not crossed the border into South Australia, therefore no duty was payable. The Victorian customs officers were all too quick to confirm this. Smuggling was therefore a very profitable business.
A High Court judgement in 1911 eventually ruled in Victoria's favour, establishing that the border was where it had originally been surveyed. Serviceton was now legally fully in Victoria. Nevertheless, the South Australian Railways and its successors continued to claim ownership of the railway line to Serviceton, as according to them, the town is in South Australia, even though the High Court's ruling places it in Victoria.
The station is not used any more but The Overland train passes through the town. Inside the station complex is the old customs house, a mortuary for bodies being shipped across the border and a lock-up to house prisoners during the transfer of passengers and goods from one state's train to the other.
Serviceton is the subject of a Tom Waits song entitled Town With No Cheer from his album Swordfish Trombones.