Paul Wise





Within a few years of the federation of the Australian States, the Surveyors’-General of the States and new Commonwealth recommended that a geodetic survey be undertaken. Ultimately this would ensure that a nation-wide, homogeneous network existed within which all future survey and mapping work could be kept consistent within and across State and Territory borders. The Geodetic Survey of Australia only gained impetus after World War Two and the formation of the National Mapping Council (NMC) of Australia. To support the NMC the government gave the then National Mapping Office within the Department of Interior divisional status within the Department of National Development, forming the Division of National Mapping.


The Division of National Mapping (Natmap) became the Commonwealth’s civilian mapping agency whose first task, in conjunction with the Army and States, was to complete the Geodetic Survey of Australia.   



The Geodetic Survey of Australia  


Some 60 years ago the first stage of the Geodetic Survey of Australia (Johnson, 1964) was undertaken in south-east Australia, by Natmap.


When completed the Directorate of Overseas Surveys Great Britain, in its Information Service Newsletter of April 1974, stated that:…“The Australian geodetic network, a great part of it completed in ten years, must always be historically one of the survey wonders of the world."


Ford (1979) narrated the progress of the geodetic survey by Natmap, year by year. His work however, being published only in a single and limited circulation journal, is not widely known.


In re-reading Ford’s paper today, it is not so much about the survey, its equipment or accuracy that is significant, or even the hardships that were endured or the adversities overcome; what is remarkable today is the way, in order to complete this survey the western deserts of Australia were penetrated and crossed as expeditiously as possible. Today, one could call this survey’s impact on the fragile desert as “environmentally friendly”. When Ford’s paper is also read in conjunction with Johnson’s 1964 and unpublished 1963 papers, and examining Johnson’s original reconnaissance diagrams, this accomplishment is all the more meritorious. The recent emergence of some of H.A. (Bill) Johnson’s original geodetic reconnaissance information (courtesy Des Young and Peter Langhorne) now allows Natmap’s involvement to be documented in greater detail.



Figure 1 : Map showing Natmap’s geodetic survey routes through the Western and Tanami deserts.



(a) Giles to Carnegie Homestead via Warburton


(b) Sandy Blight Junction (Mt Tietkins) – Well 35 (Canning Stock Route) – Callawa and Marble Bar


(c) Halls Creek - Well 35 - Young Range/Everard Junction

Light green

Muckaty - Hooker Creek


Natmap network to 1958 from the south via Finke and Alice Springs to Aileron then north to Darwin and north-west to Halls Creek and Derby


Western Australian Survey Department network

Light blue

Natmap 1960 connection from the Rawlinson Ranges near Giles to join the Aileron to Granites survey near Mt Doreen Homestead


Access through the western deserts of Australia was required by Natmap to complete the geodetic survey of the continent. At the same time the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) required access to this same area for rocket recovery purposes as well as precise locational information for actual rocket impact/trajectory and flight-time calculations. Natmap and WRE co-ordinated their efforts to achieve their goals simultaneously, and as recorded by Ford (1979) very detailed routings for access track-making were provided by Natmap to WRE and WRE in return provided material support for Natmap’s survey.



The Geodetic Survey and Weapons Research Establishment (WRE)


The requirements of the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) of the then Department of Supply was not only a “driver” for the western sections of the geodetic survey but WRE also provided practical support by way of men, vehicles, communications and track making capability executed by its range reconnaissance officer Len Beadell.


Ford (1979) provided a summary of Natmap’s assistance to WRE for their track-making work and tracks used by Natmap during their surveys.


They [WRE] also provided assistance with track grading. L. Beadell graded the track from Giles to Carnegie Homestead along the route reconnoitred by H.A. Johnson. He [Beadell] also graded the following tracks on routes selected by National Mapping and supplied to WRE in the form of 1:1,000,000 scale maps which had been plotted with the selected route:


Young Range - Well 35, WA

Windy Corner ‑ Talawana Homestead, WA

Jupiter Well along Bobroff’s wheeltracks to Well 35, WA

Well 35 along Ford’s wheeltracks to the telephone line N.W. of Callawa, WA

Neale Junction WA - Vokes [today Voakes] Hill, SA


Other tracks graded by L. Beadell for WRE purposes which were used by National Mapping geodetic survey parties:


Mt Kintore - Emu, SA

Papunya area NT - Jupiter Well, WA

Giles ‑ Sandy Blight Junction, WA

Mt Davies ‑ Mt Kintore / Emu track, SA

Vokes [today Voakes] Hill - north edge of Nullarbor Plain SA”.



Figure 2 : Map showing the importance of the Talgarno Prohibited Area to WRE’s “Blue Streak” preparations.


Woomera, operated by WRE at the time, was recognised:…“as the best-instrumented overland rocket range in the western world” (Flight International, 1963). The range was selected by the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) as the launch site for its first space vehicle (Blue Streak), under a joint agreement between the United Kingdom and Australian Governments. In the late 1950s, WRE's main job was to prepare for the first test launch of the Blue Streak’s first stage rocket, planned for 1960. WRE therefore required geodetic survey control in the Talgarno area (between Port Hedland and Broome WA, refer map at Figure 2) by the end of 1959.


The Talgarno facility, now abandoned, was near Anna Plains WA and had an airstrip, meteorological facilities and had the project proceeded was to grow to be a small town not unlike Woomera itself. Akin to Giles which was mid-range, Talgarno was down-range. The Talgarno Prohibited Area was more than just a stretch of desert about the size of France; since much of the value of the Blue Streak lay in how closely to the target it could land its nuclear warhead at the end of its long ballistic trajectory, Talgarno was to be well instrumented to fix the point of impact to within 30 metres.


To meet WRE’s requirement, during 1958 and 1959, a 4400 kilometre loop between, Alice Springs - Finke - Giles - Rawlinson Range - Roy Hill - Derby - Halls Creek - Alice Springs, was surveyed. Natmap completed this work in late 1959 only to learn that the British Government had announced the project's cancellation. However, Ford (1979) observed:…“probably the Geodetic Survey of Australia came out best; it is most unlikely money would have been available to push the survey ahead at such a fast pace if it hadn't been for the Blue Streak requirement”.


Later a modified Blue Streak became the first stage for the European “Europa” vehicle being developed for launching satellites. From 1964-70 there were nine successful launches of a “Europa” vehicle with the first three in the direction of Talgarno and the remainder over the Simpson Desert. As will be read later, a Natmap geodetic field party was responsible for recovering parts of one of these vehicles after its re-entry.


The geodetic survey of Australia had commenced at Broken Hill (Johnson, 1964) such that after 1957/58, the survey had been completed from Aileron (about 130km north of Alice Springs) generally north-westerly through the old Granites and the deserted Tanami goldfields to Halls Creek and Derby. This work re-opening as Johnson (1963) recorded:…the guttered, overgrown and sand-filled tracks of these possibly remotest of all fields in Australia”.


Now with the 4400 kilometre loop for WRE completed, there remained a huge area within awaiting accurate survey between Alice Springs, Marble Bar, Wiluna, and Finke. Two geodetic surveys through this region were chiefly responsible for the making of two new east-west routes ((a) and (b) in Figure 1 above) across this part of Australia, and the complete opening up of this vast desert country. In addition, a new north-south route ((c) in Figure 1 above) also connected the two new east-west routes; this north-south route partly re-opened the Canning Stock Route (CSR) north of Well 35.



Routes through the western deserts : (a) Giles to Carnegie Homestead via Warburton


Johnson (1964) wrote:…In the first of these surveys [1958], the route kept westerly and closely to the 26° parallel of latitude, along the South Australian-Northern Territory border, through the magnificent Musgrave Ranges (where Mt. Woodroffe, the highest point in South Australia rises 4,970 feet) and embracing the "three tors" of Mt. Connor, Ayers Rock and Mt. Olga, thence through the Mann, Tomkinson, Rawlinson and Blackstone Ranges to Warburton Mission, and all well known and travelled by the staff and aboriginal members of the Ernabella and Warburton Missions, and by Patrol Officers of the Northern Territory, South Australian and Western Australian Aboriginal Departments (which strictly control entry into the great Aboriginal Reserves in this area), and by the staff of the Giles Weather Station in the Rawlinson Ranges.


Westwards from Warburton Mission for 200 miles to Carnegie Homestead, near Lake Carnegie, aerial photographs had not been flown in 1958, and John Forrest's notes and sketches made on his historic journey in 1873 were carefully studied when this geodetic survey recon­naissance was carried out by National Mapping in 1958.


It was known that Forrest's party traversed a good deal of sand, but by swinging about 75 miles north of his mid-route, a track was selected which kept at least on firm flattish sand, with wide gentle undulations, and with occasional low, but very helpful, stony residual ridges and tops - and all without the need to cross a sandridge.


The going was easy and generally fairly open, and by travelling from rise to rise and by standing on the roof of the Landrover, the best route was readily picked through the occasional belts of mulga”.


The Warburton to Carnegie Homestead reconnaissance, Ford (1979) stated:…was undertaken by H.A. Johnson to select traverse [survey] points west from Mt Talbot, near Warburton Mission and also a route for a track which L. Beadell of the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) would grade to enable good access to be available for the beaconing, observing and Tellurometer [an electronic distance measuring instrument] parties.


It was a difficult trip to organise, the distance Giles to Carnegie HS being about 420 miles and from Warburton Mission about 300 miles and no water was available along the route. T.R. Nossiter, L. Beadell, W.B. MacDougall and R. Smith of WRE joined H.A. Johnson at Giles for this reconnaissance.


A good traverse and track route was selected using the low hills available and the route was marked for the grading party which was to complete the track in the spring. The route passed through country which at that time had been rarely visited by Europeans since the early explorers.


Subsequently Department of Supply [WRE] graded a track along this route prior to the main marking and measuring of the [geodetic] survey in 1959”.


HA Johnson's full report of the Warburton to Carnegie Homestead reconnaissance may be found in the Division of National Mapping's 1958 publication titled Reconnaissance Report on Proposed Geodetic Survey : Mt. Harvest to Carnegie Homestead. Initially on 26 and 27 September 1957, the Director of National Mapping, Bruce Lambert, and Weapons Research Establishment, OIC Engineering Reconnaissance Section, Trevor Nossiter, made an aerial inspection of part of the proposed survey route from the Tomkinson Ranges in South Australia to the Carnarvon Ranges in Western Australia to ascertain its potential for a geodetic traverse by theodolite and Tellurometer. This survey would supply early horizontal control for the Talgarno area and make a valuable link in the main geodetic scheme covering Australia. Arrangements were made for a ground reconnaissance and selection of traverse stations in May 1958, and at the same time to inspect the going for a possible graded track as an access and supply line.


The ground reconnaissance commenced on 14 May 1958, 175.3 miles from the Giles Meteorological Station on the graded Giles - Warburton Mission track. On 28 May 1958, after 312 miles Carnegie Homestead was reached. The party of five, each with their own vehicle consisted of, from WRE, Trevor Reginald Nossiter, OIC Engineering Reconnaissance Section in a Landrover 88" wheel-base, Len Beadell, Reconnaissance Officer in a Landrover 88" wheel-base, Walter Batchelor MacDougall, Native Patrol Officer in a Landrover 88" wheel-base, and R. Smith, Mechanic in a Unimog; from Natmap, Howard Angas Johnson, Senior Geodetic Surveyor in a Landrover 109" wheel-base. MacDougall's Landrover dragged an Army type trailer carrying 40 gallons of water and two 44 gallon drums of fuel. The party knew that they would have to be self sufficient with fuel and as it turned out, water as well, as no water was seen on the trip.


Johnson stated in his 1963 paper that:…“Warburton Mission to Carnegie graded in late 1958…was deeply cut in making, and was heavily scoured and washed in the first rains before any use was made of it at all. Last report in early 1962 was that it was badly scoured in places - it is doubtless filling up with light wind blown sand”.


Johnson had very clear views on tracking-making in desert areas, and his views are expressed in Annex A from his unpublished 1963 paper. His views were obviously well respected and thus specifically sought by WAPET to guide their accessing of this region for oil exploration. The use of a DIY “scraper” by Natmap, mentioned later, is a result of his views on minimising the “environmental impact”. Track-scraping was seen as being cost-effective by Natmap in that it reduced the incidences of differential failure in remote areas, especially spinifex country, in an era before “limited-slip” differentials. Spinifex gets filled with sand and over time becomes almost “rock-like”. Travelling over these “spinifex rocks” a wheel was continually being impeded while the other side would get all the drive and tend to spin. Suddenly, when the obstacle was surmounted the resistances equalised requiring the retarded side to have to “catch up in a hurry”. This continual stress on the differential caused failures. Acquiring replacement differentials and transporting them to remote locations was hugely expensive and time consuming, not to mention the actual mechanical challenges involved in their replacement in the field. An alternative, once off-road, was to replace the differential with a one that had been “welded” so there was no longer a drive “differential”. This practice proved to be successful in reducing the strain on the drive mechanism in desert areas.


At Carnegie Homestead, the survey swung north-west, to the Carnarvon Ranges, Ophthalmia Range, and to Roy Hill where it joined the Western Australian Survey Department work.


In 1960, another survey connection was run from the Rawlinson Ranges, near Giles, to Lake Mackay to join the Aileron to Granites survey near Mt. Doreen Homestead. On this work one of the party, using the explorer Tietkins journal, searched for and found the tree Tietkins had blazed in 1889, at the foot of Mt. Leisler. Tietkins had climbed this tree only to see, disappearing to the West, an endless sea of sand; an impassable barrier to him in 1889 (Johnson, 1964).



Routes through the western deserts : (b) Sandy Blight Junction (Mt Tietkins) – Well 35 (Canning Stock Route) – Callawa and Marble Bar


The second survey across the desert, commenced in 1961, ran from Mt. Tietkins, on the Northern Territory-Western Australian border and south of Lake Mackay, westward to Well 35 on the Canning Stock Route (CSR) and on towards Marble Bar via Callawa. Johnson (1964) noted:…Minjoo Well, No. 35, at that time on the Canning Stock Route - a point, by the tracks which now reach it, some 600 miles from Alice Springs, 550 miles from Marble Bar, and 400 miles from Halls Creek, and one of the remote parts of this continent”.



Figure 3 : The route of the Mt Tietkins–Well 35 survey.


WRE had graded a track from Sandy Blight Junction westward to 160km past Pollock Hills in 1960. At that point their grader suffered catastrophic gearbox failure. Setting out to (successfully) tow the grader to Giles with the bulldozer, near Mt Webb, their Commer ration truck caught fire and was burnt out.


Near the end of this graded track, the 1961 Natmap survey party, dug Jupiter Well and saved the further carting of water from Liebig Bore, some 600km to the east. It was Natmap’s Bobroff, along with Goldsworthy & Johnson, who completed the reconnaissance to Well 35. This allowed the completion of the survey and established a route for later WRE grading. Ford (1979) recalled:…“the route was pre-planned on aerial photomosaics to avoid any unnecessary sandridge crossings and the position of Well 35 as identified in the office was confirmed as being accurate. Theirs [Bobroff & Johnson] were the first vehicles to reach this part of the Canning Stock Route”. In May 1963 these wheeltracks were replaced with a WRE graded track. Figure 3 shows the route of the Mt Tietkins–Well 35 survey.


The section of the geodetic survey, Well 35 to Callawa (north of Marble Bar) was completed in 1962. For logistical and terrain reasons, however, the survey started at Callawa and ended at Well 35. Ford (1979) stated:…“a possible route had been selected on the 1:1,000,000 scale maps and then checked on the 1:250,000 scale photomosaics. This route would avoid crossing large numbers of sandridges. The individual air photos covering the route were brought so that the track could be plotted accurately and the [survey] stations identified”.


To make it easier for the following vehicles, a track scraper consisting of a rectangular angle iron frame with a “V” shaped prow of heavy red-gum plank, was to be towed by the lead vehicle. However, vehicle problems forced an end to scraping after 210km. After that the route to Well 35 was just wheel tracks, but being very well defined by the end of the survey. As manpower permitted a well (un-named then but now known unofficially as the John Allen Shaft) was dug at the 260km point. Unfortunately its supply of water came too late to really impact the survey. These wheeltracks formed the route for WRE to later grade a more substantial track in 1963 after completing the unfinished section to Jupiter Well. Figure 4 shows the route of the Callawa–Well 35 survey.


With the two new east-west routes across the western desert now complete, attention was given to the survey from Well 35 north to meet the Tanami–Halls Creek survey near Halls Creek and south to meet the Giles–Carnegie survey at Young Range/Everard Junction.




Figure 4 : The route of the Callawa–Well 35 survey.


Routes through the western deserts : (c) Halls Creek - Well 35 - Young Range/Everard Junction


Natmap’s Johnson, who had joined the survey party to complete the Callawa–Well 35 section, undertook the reconnaissance of the route north to Halls Creek. Ford (1979) remarked:…after discussing alternative routes for a traverse to the north it was decided that a route following the wells of the disused Canning Stock Route [CSR] was likely to be the most successful as it would avoid the carting of water”.


Johnson had some familiarity with the CSR. In June, 1959, after talks with George Lanigan (George Lanigan with horse and camel made four complete trips from Billiluna to Wiluna with cattle, and was regarded as the authority on this historic track, as the last cattle from Billiluna travelled it in 1959), Johnson travelled the CSR from Wiluna to Well 14 by Landrover. In so doing he established that:…if needed, it was possible to take a geodetic [survey] traverse over the Route by motor vehicles, without the use of camels or pack-horses” (Johnson, 1964).


In late 1962, Johnson in an AB120 series International four wheel drive light truck, drove some 800km from Well 35 up or near too the CSR to Billiluna and then on to Halls Creek. Alone for the journey, he established the route for this part of the survey which was completed later, as would be the Well 35-Young Range/Everard Junction section.


Due to the necessary preparations, the Halls Creek–Well 35 survey did not commence until 1964. National Mapping paid Mr Bill Moyle of Carranya H.S. to lightly grade a track from the vicinity of “Old Billiluna” to Well 45. “Although generally clear of sandridges the terrain was very rough and a graded track to the start of the formidable sandridges would be a great help” (Ford, 1979). The route of Bill Moyle’s track is retraced in McLean & Wise (2012).


From Well 45 south to Well 35 it was planned that the survey party would scrape its own track. The scraper would be the same as previously used on the Callawa–Well 35 section; however, two specialised towing vehicles would be employed this time. Bombardiers (Model J5), very light-weight tracked vehicles designed for pulling snow ploughs and believed to work well in sand, were shipped to Kalgoorlie by rail. Loaded onto a single trailer behind a Bedford, with their accompanying tracked-trailer loaded onto the Bedford’s tray, they were then transported to Well 45 via Halls Creek. However, when the Bombardiers were required to perform they failed in their task after 140km, near Well 41. The remaining 175km to Well 35 being indicated by well-travelled wheel marks. “This was one traverse [survey] which gave those who worked on it a sense of having achieved something well worthwhile” (Ford, 1979). The fate of the Bombardiers is unclear; they were certainly not left in the desert. Those on the survey surviving today have no clear recollection of events as they had to progress the survey and went on ahead, and then the party was split up for further work. The likeliest scenario was that they were retrieved by WRE and sold off as scrap at Woomera!


An interesting insight into the resilience and fragility of the natural landscape is shown in that in Gard’s book (2010, 3rd Ed.) Russell Wenholz, who accompanied Dave Chudleigh up the CSR in 1967-68 (Chudleigh, 1969), remarked:…“From Well 35 we had the security of a track made by the Division of National Mapping surveyors in the early 1960s. Stock route wells are all within ten miles - either east or west - of this track”. Back in 1962, however, when travelling between Wells 35 and 45, Johnson could not observe any sign left by the last (1959) herd down the CSR. By 1964 he notes that his previous (1962) wheeltracks had been “obliterated” and only his reconnaissance marks remained. The track made by the five 1½ ton Internationals in this area in 1964, whilst the survey was being undertaken, was such that some 4 years later Wenholz & Chudleigh could follow it. Figures 5 & 6 refer.



Figures 5 and 6 : Johnson’s own handwritten note regarding his route from CSR Well 35 north, and an extract of a plot of Johnson’s 1962 and the survey’s 1964 routes contrasting with what track(s) remained indicating the likely route between Canning’s wells.


Before joining the above field party at CSR Well 36, Johnson completed the reconnaissance from Young Range (Everard Junction) almost due north to Well 35, generally along the line of WRE's recently graded track from Young Range to Garry Junction near Well 35. Extract 5 is a page from his Young Range/Everard Junction–Well 35 reconnaissance, showing its proximity to the WRE graded track. This section of the geodetic survey was completed in 1965 during which the field party was asked by WRE to search for parts of a missile following re-entry. Some 60 pieces were recovered and returned to WRE, the largest being a 17ft x 2ft section of “K” tank. In a letter of thanks to Natmap and those involved, the Director of WRE wrote:…“We are very pleased, as the location confirms, within expectation, the prediction of impact; and for the first time we have positive evidence of the extent to which missiles of the type survive re-entry”.


Johnson commented in his 1963 paper that:…Young Range northwards to Well 35 - Work should commence in 2 or 3 weeks by the Depart­ment of Supply track grading party, in making a lightly graded track northwards from Young Range to Well 35. This is good going, with no sandridges involved, and it is expected this track will be rapidly completed. This grading party will then lightly grade from Well 35 to Jupiter Well and from Well 35 to Callawa” [following Natmap’s wheeltracks on both routes in mid-1963].



Figure 7: A page from Johnson’s Young Range/Everard Junction–Well 35 reconnaissance, showing its proximity to the WRE graded track.


The geodetic field party then moved south to the Neale Junction area to commence the survey to Voakes (correct spelling today) Hill. The work was “reconnaissance as you progress” and followed fairly closely to the track graded by WRE in 1962.



Muckaty - Hooker Creek


This last track seems to have come and gone within five years, for it never attained any ‘status’ or appeared on any official map, but for a few years was a vital access route for National Mapping field parties.  


The Helen Springs, NT to Ord River, WA, 1966 survey was not strictly part of the Geodetic Survey of Australia. Johnson, however, established its route, after an aerial reconnaissance, specifically the section known as Helen Springs to Hooker Creek, now Lajamanu. Peter Langhorne, who was 2IC of the survey party, provided his copy of Johnson’s reconnaissance notes from which Figures 8 & 9 are extracts.



Figures 8 & 9 : Extracts from Johnson’s Helen Springs, NT to Ord River, WA, 1964 reconnaissance.


Ford (1979) stated:…“Observing commenced at Mt Willieray near Helen Springs…. The first section to Hooker Creek had been reconnoitred by H.A. Johnson in 1964 and C. Golya had built cairns and cleared lines where possible [in 1965]….The traverse was completed to the Army Survey Corps station Turner, near Turner Homestead’. Refer Figure 10.



Figure 10 : Map showing the line of traverse for the Helen Springs, NT to Ord River, WA, 1966 survey.


Around 1968 the track was used to position fuel for helicopter operations in support of the Aerodist (airborne distance measuring) survey. The 207 mile (330km) track started at the yards at Ladabah bore on Muckaty Station, now known as Warlmanpa after being returned to its Indigenous custodians in 1999. Originally a pastoral lease in the late 19th century and for many years a cattle station, the turn-off into Muckaty is 110 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, and approximately 800 kilometres south of Darwin. The track intersected the Hooker Creek-Wave Hill (Buntine Hwy) road some 17km north of Hooker Creek (Lajamanu). Interestingly, if you took the route today some 14km west of Ladabah bore you would have to negotiate crossing the Adelaide–Darwin railway.


A summary of all the above routes and their association with other access, is provided at Annex B : Desert Tracks - Tabular and Map Summary.



Concluding remarks


Access across the western deserts was largely due to Natmap’s skill in pre-planning routes using maps and photomosaics and that of its people like Johnson, Bobroff and Ford who could interpret this information on the ground. In modern parlance they “went with the flow” and were “environmentally conscious” and rather fighting the terrain went with it or around it. Thus the worst of the western desert’s terrain was accessed as expeditiously as possible. This is not to say it was easy rather it was efficient in terms of minimising wear and tear on both men and equipment.


Bill Harney, the first ranger at Ayers Rock (1957-1962), pays perhaps the only tribute to Bill Johnson and the work of National Mapping in his book “To Ayers Rock and Beyond”.


“…we travelled on to cross the tyre tracks of a Land Rover which seemed to be heading nowhere [and]…discovered it was the camping place of my old friend Bill Johnson of the National Mapping Survey.


Have you ever noticed in life that the ones who are well known are those who have arisen because their findings are 'news'? The explorer whose discoveries were along a well-travelled highway is far better known that those who moved over these desert lands. In the future, perhaps, the Bill Johnsons and their like may be 'News'. Today they are unknown to the multitude because the places they travel over are unknown. It is a roadless land because he and his National Mapping Survey are just now surveying the route along which the future roads will go. Every prominent peak in this so-called western desert has been climbed by Bill. The face to be scaled is plotted by him first on to small charts so that his survey party, who follow behind, shall know where to climb as they ascend it with packs upon their backs to build cairns for a triangulation survey of the area.


Around our camp everything is as nature left it from the beginning of time. Yet somewhere out to the westward bulldozers and road-levellers are laying down roads because of this man's wanderings….


The tracks of the surveyors and their camp-fires were all that reminded me that they had passed by. But the results of their efforts had been recorded on the maps of this area I was now wandering over. My aboriginal friends knew the country out of their hunting pattern and mythological chants which gave us its original name, but without maps I did not know where I was….


I look at the map before me. Every detail in this area has been carefully copied from original aerial maps….Thousands of miles had to be travelled to make this map which I hold; men patiently at work in offices in the cities; a thousand details to complete. Everything must be correct for on one imperfection lives could be lost. When all the work is finalized it will be printed - a work of art which I can buy for a few shillings….


Today my map shows every sandhill in the area for hundreds of miles around. So correct are they that I can view them under a magnifying-glass to plot out the path I shall travel without crossing over a sand ridge.


Before such evidence as this I feel truly humble.”




November 2012, updated 2018





Flight International (1963) accessed March 2012.


Chudleigh, D. C. (1969) Retracing the Canning Stock Route and Other Early Explorers' Routes in Central Western Australia, The Australian Surveyor, December 1969, pp. 555-563.


Ford, R. A. (1979) The Division of National Mapping’s part in the Geodetic Survey of Australia, The Australian Surveyor, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 375-427; vol. 29, no. 7, pp. 465-536; vol. 29, no. 8, pp. 581-638.


Gard, R. & E. (2010, 3rd Ed.) Gard Canning Stock Route – A Travellers Guide, Western Desert Guides, W.A., ISBN:0-9586715-1-6.


Harney, W. E. (1969) To Ayers Rock and Beyond, Seal Books a division of Lansdowne Publishing Pty Ltd., Sydney, Australia (first published by Rigby Limited 1963 Reprinted 1964), pp 156-158.   


Johnson, H. A. (1958) Reconnaissance Report on Proposed Geodetic Survey : Mt. Harvest to Carnegie Homestead. Deptartment of National Development, Division of National Mapping, [Canberra].


Johnson, H. A. (1963) Great Sandy Desert and Canning Basin W.A. - Going and general information supplied to WAPET, Unpublished 22nd April, 1963.


Johnson, H. A. (1964)  Geodetic Surveys through the Australian sandridges, The Australian Surveyor, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 157-184.


McLean, L. & Wise P. (2012) Bill Moyle’s Track for the Old Billiluna to Well 45 Section of the 1964 Halls Creek to Well 35 Geodetic Survey Traverse on the Canning Stock Route.


Shephard, M. (1998) A Lifetime in the Bush : The Biography of Len Beadell, Corkwood Press, Adelaide, SA., ISBN:1-876247-04-5.






Annex A


Track Making


(from “Great Sandy Desert and Canning Basin W.A. - Going and general information supplied to WAPET”, Unpublished 22nd April, 1963)


It seems impossible to get across to track makers, who rarely return to see the results of their ignorance and damage, how tracks should be made in those remote and light sandy soils, when such tracks will have infrequent use and probably little or no maintenance.


Unless there are stony outcrops or dense and heavy scrub, bull­dozers are unnecessary and can be destroyers of a new track.


It seems there is an irresistible compulsion on the part of most bulldozer drivers to turn on the great power available to them at the touch of a finger in pushing out trees (which might often be readily avoided by a slight deviation) and thus leaving great soft holes which immediately subside with the first vehicle and occasionally the first heavy rain, or in ripping down 12"-18" into the light soil, which had taken centuries to firm to its previous state, then pushing, the soil back and smoothing it over.


There is usually a 12" high bank of spoil (soil, branches and bushes) left on each side of the track, and often a foot deep channel cut on each side - inside the banks, supposedly to run off the water. The levelled off soft sand is usually full of broken stakes, puncture producing.


Two things should be appreciated about remote, arid, light, soil areas:


a) Rain is infrequent, but almost invariably, when it does rain, it deluges down, after a drought, probably inches in an hour, with no herbage to steady its rush on any slope. This water gets channelled in deep cut tracks, tearing ruts and washouts feet deep; and the track becomes simply a new watercourse.


b) On infrequently used deep tracks in flat sandy areas where every wind, puts sand on the move, these deep tracks fill up with the finest sand. With no traffic to consolidate this loose sand, it is soon much easier on the vehicle to get out of this deep, very fine sand and travel outside the track.


The whole success of making useful and lasting but infrequently used tracks in arid areas with light soils depends on the following:


a) Cut the surface as little as possible and only scrape enough to level the surface reasonably; smashing and throwing aside, or spreading the sandfilled or small antnested spinifex bushes which make the travelling so slow and rough.


b) Avoid channelling deep long straights on slopes where the water can gather speed, volume and destructive power. A few very slight bends may help this on long slopes.


c) Avoid high banks of spoil as much as possible, by light cutting, and, if at all possible, by burning the spinifex. Burning spinifex is easy when in season, or just after seeding, and when the bushes are thick and the wind right, but it is far from easy at many times to get a running fire. Burning spinifex immediately improves the going, but after a few weeks the sand held in the bushes blows away, to improve going even more.


d) If a grader is used so that the spoil can be thrown either side, this spoil on a side slope should always be thrown on the low side. If on the high side water will bank up against the wall, break through, and channel deep gutters across the road every few yards, in the very first rain, especially before the surface consolidates, and there­after with every subsequent heavy fall.


e) If easy turns can be made, deep ruts will be avoided at corners.



The main purpose of the above track notes has been to let your [WAPET] parties know the great saving in time, repairs and money to your operations, if tracks are put down initially, and cut in the lightest possible manner, so that stormwaters can flow over them with least interruption and channelling.


They may be confused though that the new beef roads are going down as high built-up sand tracks, with channels each side and a good camber to shed the water. These beef roads are well-used well-maintained and over 100 feet wide, shedding the water, which cannot saturate back to the centre to form a quagmire and cut up, as happens with the normal narrow track, 20ft wide or less whose side gutters and walls on any flat, firmer, heavier ground hold the water to retain a morass long after the untouched, adjacent ground is dry or are channels of destruction on any slope.





Annex B


Desert Tracks - Tabular and Map Summary







From Mabel Creek north-west of Coober Pedy west to Emu, Voakes (3) Hill Corner, Neale Junction to Laverton

Anne Beadell Hwy

Neale Junction, WA,-Voakes Hill, SA, Natmap (4)

WRE (2) 1962, using Natmap (4) supplied routing for section Neale Junction, WA,-Voakes Hill, SA (5)

WRE (2) 1953/57/61/62






Maralinga south to Watson and Maralinga north to Emu

Emu Road


WRE (2) 1953/55

WRE (2) 1954/55






From the Stuart Hwy south of Kulgera, west via Victory Downs and Mulga Park, south around the intersection of the WA/SA border then generally north to Giles; looping west and south to Forty Mile turnoff, north of Warburton (later Jackie Junction); then generally west via Everard Junction to Carnegie

Gunbarrel Hwy (6)

Natmap (4) for section Giles-Carnegie HS, WA, (5)

Natmap (4) / WRE (2) 1958, using route selected by Natmap’s Johnson for section Giles-Carnegie HS, WA, (7

WRE (2) 1955/56/58






Anne’s Corner north-west to the Gunbarrel near Mt Davies and the intersection of the WA/SA border - about halfway another track heads north, to pass just west of Mt Kintore and also intersect the Gunbarrel

Both un-named but unofficially Mount Davies Road and Kintore Avenue


WRE (2) 1956/61

WRE (2) 1956/57/61






Giles north to Sandy Blight Junction

Sandy Blight Junction Road


WRE (2) 1960

WRE (2) 1960






Callawa following the telephone line north-east to the WA Lands Dept. station M6 then south-easterly to the CSR (8) at Well 35 and onto Gary Junction;


then easterly to Jupiter Well;





From the Stuart Hwy north of Alice Springs and then the Tanami Road west to Papunya, continue west via Sandy Blight Junction to Jupiter Well

Callawa to Gary Junction replaced by WAPET Road & Kidson Track (10) in 1964 and now access west is by 1976 Telfer Mine Road (11)







The Gary Junction Road from the Tanami Road T/O to Papunya becoming the Kintore Road until in the vicinity of Sandy Blight Junction; it then becomes the Kiwirrkurra Road to Gary Junction via Jupiter Well

Callawa-Well 35, WA, Natmap (4)






Jupiter Well-Well 35, WA, Natmap (4)





Natmap’s (4) Ford 1962, from M6 to Well 35, WA, (5)





Natmap’s (4) Bobroff 1961, from Jupiter Well to Well 35, WA, (5)




WRE (2) 1960

From M6 for 210km (130 miles) initially scraped by 1962 Natmap geodetic party then wheeltracks (5) to Well 35; graded WRE (2) 1963


1961 wheeltracks of  Natmap’s Bobroff & Johnson, Jupiter Well-Well 35; graded WRE (2) 1963



Sandy Blight Junction, NT, west to Jupiter Well, WA, WRE (2) 1960/63







Voakes (3) Hill Corner to Cook

Voakes Hill Corner to Cook Road


WRE (2) 1961

WRE (2) 1961






Rawlinna north via Neale Junction to Warburton and Jackie Junction (now bypassed by Great Central Hwy/Road (6))

Connie Sue Hwy (Rawlinna to Warburton)


WRE (2) 1962

WRE (2) 1962






Everard Junction north via Windy Corner to Gary Junction

Gary Hwy

Everard Junction (Young Range)-Gary Junction and onto Well 35, WA, Natmap (4)

WRE (2) 1963, using Natmap (4) supplied routing (5)

WRE (2) 1963






Talawana east to CSR (8) Well 24 and onto Windy Corner

Talawana Track

Talawana-Windy Corner, WA, Natmap (4)

WRE (2) 1963, using Natmap (4) supplied routing (5)

WRE (2) 1963






Halls Creek south-westerly to CSR (8) Well 35

Canning Stock Route

Well 35-Billiluna (Mindibungu), WA, Natmap (4)

Natmap’s (4) Johnson 1962, from Well 35 to Billiluna (Mindibungu), then Halls Creek, WA, (5)

Natmap (4) contractor Moyle scraped 1964 track to Well 45 (9); Natmap geodetic party continued scraped track to Well 41 then wheeltracks to Well 35 (5)



Names come from latest 1:100K maps


WRE: Weapons Research Establishment then Dept. of Supply. Len Beadell led a WRE construction party grade WRE required routes (Shephard, M. (1998) A Lifetime in the Bush : The Biography of Len Beadell, Corkwood Press, Adelaide, SA.


Vokes used/spelt in early documents/maps is today correctly spelt as Voakes


Natmap: Division of National Mapping then Dept. of National Development; Johnson, Ford & Bobroff worked for Natmap. Not to be confused with National Mapping Council which was mapping coordination forum


Ford, R. A. (1979) The Division of National Mapping’s part in the Geodetic Survey of Australia, The Australian Surveyor, vol. 29, no. 6, pp. 375-427; vol. 29, no. 7, pp. 465-536; vol. 29, no. 8, pp. 581-638


Great Central Road/Hwy today now links Laverton with Kaltukatjara via Warburton and Giles replacing northern “Rawlinson loop” of the Gunbarrel; also new Heather Hwy west from Warburton meets the Gunbarrel near Mt Samuel


T.R. Nossiter, L. Beadell and W. McDougall of WRE joined H.A. Johnson (Natmap (4)) at Giles for this reconnaissance (5)


CSR: Canning Stock Route


Natmap paid Mr Bill Moyle of Carranya H.S. to lightly grade a track from the vicinity of Old Billiluna to Well 45; Natmap geodetic party then scraped track to Well 41 (5)


WAPET (Western Australian Petroleum Pty Ltd) constructed the now WAPET Road/Kidson track in 1964 to access the Canning Basin in search of oil. Their Kidson No 1 well was abandoned in 1966. Their track runs from near the Wallal Downs homestead turnoff on the Great Northern Highway to Swindell Field airstrip thence to the Kidson drill site and an associated airstrip (Kidson Field) finally terminating at the now Gary Highway south of Gary Junction. Refer advice to WAPET in 1963 by Natmap’s H.A. Johnson as well as Johnson, H. A. (1964) Geodetic surveys through the Australian sandridges, The Australian Surveyor, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 157-184


The Telfer Mine Road was built to access Newcrest Mining’s Telfer mine from the west via either the Ripon Hills Road from Marble Bar or the Warrawagine Road via Shay Gap. The road west past Telfer goes on to Punmu and joins the old WAPET Road north of Lake Auld







Natmap selected route for WRE grading


Joint Natmap/WRE reconnaissance and WRE grading


Natmap reconnaissance and track making by light scraping/wheel tracks with later WRE grading


Natmap reconnaissance and track making by light scraping/wheel tracks only


Natmap contractor track making by light scraping


Natmap reconnaissance only


Natmap reconnaissance and use for geodetic survey and later Aerodist helicopter support operations


WRE reconnaissance and grading


WAPET (Western Australian Petroleum Pty Ltd) constructed WAPET Road/Kidson track of 1965


Great Central Road links Giles to Warburton and Heather Hwy west from Warburton meets the Gunbarrel


Telfer Mine Road from Marble Bar to Telfer and onto Punmu joining the old WAPET Road north of Lake Auld


Trigonometrical (Trig) Point of the Geodetic Survey. Note that for intervisibility the points are closer together in the flatter terrain


Stylised boundary of historical Talgarno Prohibited Area : From Broome it appears the boundary followed existing property/road boundaries approximately south-east until Longitude 125°E at which point it turned due south to Latitude 22°S thence due west to intersect the Davis River. It followed the course of this river until its source then cut back due west at that latitude to intersect the Oakover River. It followed the course of the Oakover downstream to the De Grey River and then that river’s course until it met the sea at Port Hedland. In areal extent it was equated to the size of France (650,