The Lonely Planet
's Thorn Tree
website lists a sample of apparently dumb questions people ask about Australia
, like: Do they speak English? (oh, tres drole)
, Are platypuses poisonous? (some are)
, and Is there a bridge between Australia and New Zealand? (no, it only seems one exists at Bondi Beach)
There is however the potential to build a bridge between the mainland and the island state of Tasmania, which according to conventional wisdom is about 500 clicks south of Victoria in the general direction of the South Pole. However it is a little known fact that Victoria and Tasmania actually share a land border, on a small lifeless island in the Bass Strait.
In 1801 Captain John Black of the merchant brig Harbinger, travelling from the Cape of Good Hope to Port Jackson in Sydney, decided to veer south as he passed through the Bass Strait. He came across a group of six islands south of Wilson's Promontory (the southernmost point of Australia), and he named them the Hogan Group after his ship's owner. Despite being known as a person of good abilities as a surveyor and navigator, he incorrectly mapped the islands as being more north than what they really were.
Twenty four years later on December 3, 1825 Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) split from New South Wales to form its own colony. In the official proclamation Van Diemen's Land was given jurisdiction for all islands south of Wilson's Promontory. The same official proclamation, relying on Black's faulty map, also defined the border as running along latitude 39 degrees 12 seconds South. This cuts right through the northmost island in the Hogan Group, effectively giving Tasmania and Victoria an 85 metre land border. Called North East Islet, when the mistake was discovered years later the six hectare island was renamed Boundary Islet.
To rectify this inconsequential mistake would require a constitutional amendment, something that in Australia requires an expensive, unpopular and usually unsuccessful referendum.