Natmappers at the School of Military Survey


The staffing for National Mapping in its earliest years came largely from former Service personnel. In addition, there was a number of civilians who took the opportunity for travel that Natmap offered. However, the bulk of personnel, some with trade skills, were untrained in the techniques needed for survey and mapping work.

Natmapís in-house and on-the-job training provided part of the solution to obtaining suitably skilled field observers. It was found however, that especially the on-the-job training slowed the work in the field as experienced personnel had to be paired with the inexperienced. †

In 1954, Howard Angas Bill Johnson resigned from the Army and commenced duty as the Senior Surveyor, within National Mappingís then Melbourne-based Geodetic Branch. Immediately prior to this position to lead Natmapís part in the national geodetic survey, Lieutenant-Colonel HA Johnson MBE (1907-1990) had been Commanding Officer and Chief Instructor (CO/CI) of the Royal Australian Survey Corps, School of Military Survey at Balcombe, Victoria.

Through Johnsonís and otherís links to the Army, Natmap arranged for some of its field survey staff to attend the Basic Survey Course at the School of Military Survey. Although this training took the Natmap people away from the pool available for field work, on their return to duty they had a far wider range of survey knowledge and useable skills.

The following Natmappers are known to have attended Basic Survey Courses at the School of Military Survey :


B Storey and M Benassi (Canberra)


Rod Maruff and John Allen (Melbourne)


Ed Burke and Bob Goldsworthy (Melbourne)


Don Girvan (Melbourne)


Vic Bosnic (Melbourne)


Milton Biddle (Melbourne)


The Basic Survey Course ran for 26 weeks and covered the use of equipment such as the plane table, magnetic compass, Abney level, chain, theodolite, dumpy level, barometer, light and heliograph, communications and all associated survey recording, reductions and computations. The map compilation component of the course started with basic aerial photography geometry, and continued right through the processes of stereoscopy and stereoplotting to the finalisation of map detail.

The Course equipped students with the necessary knowledge and expertise to perform a basic topographical survey and produce a map with or without aerial photography. Documents that give more detail on the course and its components can be viewed via this link. These documents were kindly provided by John Allen from the course he attended in 1962.

In 1965, the need to train men for service in Vietnam, saw the Army negotiate with the Department of Immigration to take over buildings at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp near Lake Hume in north-east Victoria. Some of these buildings were used by the School of Military Survey, which established field-survey practical training areas and special astronomical observation sites as it began conducting courses in surveying. By 1966, the School of Military Survey had vacated Balcombe with future courses being conducted at Bonegilla. At this time, the then Major John Hillier and family were the only military family to live on site at Bonegilla. (Colonel NRJ Hillier (1928-2013) was Director of Military Survey from 1978 to 1983.)

Over the years, many former Royal Australian Survey Corps members went on to serve with Natmap. All such personnel would have undertaken Basic Survey Courses as part of their service with the Corps. Prior to 1966 the Course would have been undertaken at Balcombe and in later years at Bonegilla. Natmappers known to have attended the School of Military Survey at Balcombe during their time with RA Survey (as either staff members or as students) included :

Alec Pond and Bernie Snell had been Staff Warrant Officers at the School of Military Survey, Balcombe before joining Natmap.

Prior to joining Natmap in 1961, Kevin Moody served three years in the Royal Australian Engineers before being assigned to the seventh Basic Survey Course at Balcombe in 1955. After successfully completing the course, Kevin transferred to RA Survey serving a further three years.

Daryl Parker was another who joined Natmap from the Army in 1961. Daryl attended the Basic Survey Course that started at Balcombe in May 1960.

The Army Apprentice School was also located at Balcombe for many years. Natmap's Mick Skinner was in Balcombe's third apprentice intake and graduated as a telecommunications mechanic in 1952. Mick received his initial training in electronics, radar and telecommunications at Balcombe.

Photographs taken during the 1961 Basic Survey Course can be viewed via this link. These photographs give an insight into Course activities and also show the Balcombe camp and its surrounds as they were then.

Bob Skitch (RF Skitch, Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd)) attended the 7/55 Basic Survey Course at the School of Survey at Balcombe during 1955/56 (the word Military was added to the name in 1960). He has kindly provided a detailed description of the camp, its facilities and surrounds and the course and its equipment, as it was then. On this same course was Kevin Moody who was later to join National Mapping. Alec Pond, also to later to join Natmap, was one of Bob's instructors. Bob's contribution is greatly appreciated.

Below is a section of the 1967 SJ5509 R502 Queenscliff, 1:250,000 scale map sheet. It shows the site of the school and the surrounding terrain and locations as seen in the photographs.



Compiled by Paul Wise, 2017 with the assistance of John Allen, Bob Skitch (Lieutenant Colonel - Rtd) and Laurie McLean.