1967 : My Year with National Mapping


by John Doherty (from his correspondence home and saved by his Mother)


Although it might sound somewhat strange, I got to know about National Mapping because I owned a Triumph TR3A sports car!

As the car's engine had been modified, it tended to run on when the ignition was turned off. So, every Saturday morning I would drive over to the Shell service station at Ormond, not far from the family home, and buy two gallons of racing fuel, then top up the tank with super grade petrol. This cured the problem.

One morning I was approached by a member of the Triumph Sports Owners' Association (TSOA), who worked at his nearby father's tailoring business, and who invited me to become a member. The club met at the Australian Motor Industries (AMI) showroom at the top end of Elizabeth Street in Melbourne. There they sold Triumphs, Vanguards and American Motor’s Ramblers. I went along to the next club meeting and joined up.

Some three years later I was at a Christmas party hosted by a TSOA member's friend and I got chatting to Gavin Chambers who worked for National Mapping. As I had become disenchanted with my job at the State Electricity Commission, I made the necessary enquiries, applied for a job as a Field Assistant, and got the nod.

One of the requirements was that I have a Commonwealth Driver's Licence. Even though I already had a Victorian licence and an SEC licence that enabled me to drive their cars, utes and panel vans, I found myself driving around inner city Melbourne with the assessor giving me on-the-go directions on a busy Friday. Fortunately, I passed the test. This meant that I could drive Commonwealth owned utes, those with number plates that began with a red Z, in every Australian State and Territory.

For the first few weeks we were at the National Mapping workshops in a laneway alongside a magnificent Melbourne building known as 497 Collins Street. We were tasked with making sturdy plywood storage boxes for maps and other important documents. I remember being shown how to use a band saw by Terry Douglas, without losing a finger or two. Some of us even made camera boxes for ourselves.

We also used to meet half an hour before starting time at a nearby coffee lounge for toasted raisin bread and a cuppa. This was a good way to get to know some of the blokes I'd be working with.


Monday 17 April, Melbourne

It was on the morning of Monday, April 17, that Neil Fenton picked me up from our Brighton home in a new International C 1300 ute, with a canvas canopy over the tray, and other fittings making it suitable for off road use. We set off, going through the city and onto the Hume Highway as far as Campbellfield where the rest of the fellows were waiting for us on the side of the road.

We stopped for lunch at the Benalla roadhouse, then on through Wangaratta and Wodonga to Albury where we booked into a pub in Dean Street. As three of our five utes needed servicing we spent Tuesday wandering around the river city admiring the classic buildings and parklands.

First thing Wednesday morning we were on the Hume again as far as the Olympic Hwy turnoff, then through Wagga Wagga, simply Wagga as the locals know it, and on through West Wyalong and Forbes as far as Parkes overnight, then on through Dubbo, Gilgandra and Coonamble, arriving at Walgett on Thursday afternoon.

Friday saw us renewing station NM/C/52, located in a paddock, and then building a new station, NM/C/43, as an eccentric station to NM/C/52. NM/C/43 was positioned on the nearby road reserve and negated the need to occupy NM/C/52 on private property which was subsequently destroyed so the landholder could use his field.

On Saturday, April 29, Neil and I spent the day tidying up around NM/C/52, and then putting the finishing touches to NM/C/43. This amounted to a day's work, allowing us an hour for lunch.

Our International ute had not given a moment's trouble, even though it was new. It had done its thousandth mile the previous day, which was about 750 since we left home. On the open road and cruising at a steady 50 miles per hour, it consumed standard grade petrol at the rate of a gallon per 13 miles.

The Inters, as we called them, had two built in tanks which held 14 and 10 gallons respectively, so when travelling on bitumen we used almost both tanks each day. It was also equipped with a 60 gallon reserve tank, alongside a 40 gallon water tank, both mounted on the tray. Fuel therefore had to be siphoned into the main tanks.


Tuesday 25 April, 1967 (Anzac Day) Charleville, Qld

On a postcard to my family I mentioned that we had been eating well with scrambled eggs for breakfast and steak for lunch and dinner. I also mentioned that good fruit was hard to find and very expensive, and that we had seen many wild animals; 'roos, emus, pigs and horses. One of our utes had had its windscreen broken. Now we were mainly travelling on dirt roads that were corrugated and pot holed. We expected to stay there another day while some of our utes were serviced.


Saturday 6 May Camooweal, Qld

I wrote home acknowledging the receipt of a letter, two magazines and the registration papers for my car which I had stored on blocks and under a tarp in our garage, and a letter from my ski club at Mt Buller. The rego papers had to be signed by me as the owner. The letter had also included some 4 cent postage stamps.


Sunday 7 May Landsborough Hotel, Camooweal, Qld

To help fill the day I had written to the family letting them know how warm the weather was, and at 75°F my washing was all but dry by mid morning. We expected to stay put as there was two or three day’s work to be done, and that we would then move on to Tennant Creek which would take us two days to travel the 300 miles on dirt roads.

I went on to tell them that we had spent the week looking for three Army Trigonometrical Survey Stations, and that we gave up on the first two after searching for three days. As we had found the third station late on the Friday afternoon we camped there overnight. The work involved clearing several small gum trees, measure up several points on the station, then putting a circle of stones around the main or central point and painting them white to make them easier to see from the air. We had also marked the track from the point to the Camooweal-Burketown road, a distance of almost three miles.

The Army had marked the track with blazed trees when they built the station in July 1960, and many of them were still visible. We also had to mark the point where the track left the main road, so we made up a small sign with the station's number on it, and nailed it to a tree on the edge of the road. We had also marked the start of the track by tying four to five feet long pieces of 3 inch wide white plastic strip to the low branch of a tree every 50 yards or so until the track to be followed became obvious.

The pub at Camooweal was very old and was falling down. There were no sewered toilets and no hot water for showering, so we went to the Esso Service Station just across the street. We ate there, too. We refuelled the trucks at the Caltex service station, as Caltex had the Commonwealth Government petrol contract in Queensland.

I had also written home asking my mother to pay my car registration, an amount of $42.07 for my 997cc Morris Mini Cooper. The cheque had to be mailed to the Officer in Charge, Motor Registration Branch, Box 1644N, GPO Melbourne!


Thursday 18 May Tennant Creek, NT

The photo on a post card to my home showed the local hotel with a huge neon sign out front for Swan beer, half a dozen cars or utes, all light coloured, a VW beetle with the big back window, a Falcon station wagon and a two tone FB Holden station sedan as they were known. Also visible were Mobilgas and Caltex service stations.


Sunday 21 May Renner Springs, NT

Our helicopter, a turbine powered Fairchild Hiller FH 1100, registration VH-UTZ, had arrived at Tennant Creek the day before. As it was about to touch down, the spring that held the secondary air intake door closed had snapped and was sucked into the engine destroying it in the process.

It had been planned for the helicopter to meet us at Banka Banka Homestead the following day, where the work would begin in earnest. The plan was for us to go bush for three weeks, so I would not be able to post any mail to my family. We also knew that we would not get any mail until we got over the border to Wyndham in WA. We also thought that after that we would probably be going Alice Springs, Mount Isa (again) and Townsville.

My family were also keeping me up to date with magazines from the RACV, Car & Driver, an American magazine rather like Road & Track, letters from friends and other routine correspond­ence that one normally got.

I had liked Tennant Creek. It was peaceful, quiet and a change from the other towns we had visited. Camooweal was rather depressing and two consecutive Sundays, our days off, there didn't help.

As one of our trucks was going back there the next day to collect some spare parts for our chopper, it would also take our mail so we were all busy writing letters.

Renner Springs was no more than a pub with accommodation come general store, although it did have a swimming pool and a tennis court, and it sold petrol. It catered mainly for the tourist buses, some of which stopped for lunch or dinner, while others stayed overnight.

One of the amazing things here was the size of the trucks, many were road trains, a truck pulling up to three trailers, which were all up about 150 feet long. Its load included two of the new, 2 door Holden Toranas, which I had not seen before. They were like the current Falcons, but smaller.

In a letter from home, my family were raving about a film they had been to see in Melbourne called Zulu, which starred Stanley Baker, and introduced Michael Caine. It sounded so go I hoped that it would still be showing when we got back to Melbourne.

My folks had offered to buy me a transistor radio, as they were all the rage, for my upcoming birthday, possibly even a National brand, which were known to be the best, but were also the most expensive. I suggested that they leave it until I got home as I knew of a store where I would get a discount. They also reminded me that my car registration was due.


Thursday 1 June Hooker Creek, NT

We had reached Hooker Creek that afternoon. All of us were together again after working in four small parties, and had arrived from four different directions. Neil and I had arrived in style in the chopper as we had been searching for a new station. After half an hour we had to give up as we were running low on fuel.

We had circled the town looking for our trucks and eventually spotted the Bedford heading for the airstrip to meet us. As we were coming in to land, we could see all of the local people looking up at us. It was an amazing experience with so many people stopped in their tracks as some of them had never seen a helicopter. As soon as the rotor blades stopped turning we were surrounded with people having a look see. We had also given someone's chooks a fright as we made our final approach. Hooker is not a town in the usual sense of the word, just a cattle station, albeit a big one, and an Aboriginal Mission as well. We hoped we'd get a chance to have a good look around as we would be there for a few days. It had its own airstrip, with a taxi way that ran right up to the edge of the town, a large Co-op building, houses, several streets, electricity and piped water. It even had street lighting.

The Superintendent of the Mission had kindly offered us the use of an unoccupied house which we gladly accepted. There were 12 of us so it quickly became known as a bachelor house, with stretchers in all three bedrooms and the living room. As there was no furniture we used our camp chairs and folding tables.

The house had obviously been vacant for some time as there were spider webs everywhere. We also took in one of our little fridges, and we fixed the slow combustion stove which incorporated a 40 gallon hot water system. We also managed to repair the toilet cistern so it was then an all systems go house and we even had the luxury of hot showers. It was the tropical style house with many windows and louvres, and on stilts with a concreted children's play area underneath. Someone said that it was more like a Mornington Peninsula holiday house!

I had flown in our chopper on the Tuesday and Thursday of the previous week and again that day. It was a magnificent machine, almost new, and painted daffodil yellow which really set it off. It had an optically perfect, tinted glass windscreen which showed up well against the body colour, with the tail section painted black to cope with the jet exhaust.

Our work program had been hectic. We had been doing our best to catch up as the helicopter contract was for just 50 flying hours, so we had been using it as fruitfully as possible. With the delays and setbacks, we had encountered it looked like we would not be going to Wyndham for a week or two.

In a letter to my folks I commented that with all the ground travel, working in so many different places and flying around in our chopper, I was finding it difficult to convince myself that it was a job, and that we were being paid to do it!

Some of the countryside really was magnificent. In just the one afternoon our driving took us through an area with some classic Australian countryside. One low range of hills was green, the second was brown and the third noticeably reddish.

On the other hand, much of the country we'd been through had been flat, featureless semi desert, with little more than a few stunted gums, spindly shrubs, spinifex and other weedy grasses.


Sunday 4 June Hooker Creek, NT

Len Tyzack and I cooked the dinner that night. We dished up peas, beans, carrots, mashed potato, steak deep fried in oil, raw onion soaked in vinegar, and mushrooms on the steaks. For dessert we had tinned peaches, chocolate cake and creamy, whipped Bear brand milk. Not surprisingly the meal was a huge success as none of us had eaten anything substantial all day. As Sunday was always our day off, someone volunteered to do the cooking, while for the rest of the week we take it in turns.

Things then turned a bit upside down. We had a new helicopter pilot, George Treatt, who grounded the machine pending the arrival of some replacement parts from Sydney. All these parts were air freighted, with a label bearing the letters AOG, meaning Aircraft On Ground, in bright yellow and an eye catching green, attached. The airlines give such packaging the red carpet treatment.

We were low on AvTur (ATK or AViation TURbine Ketrosene) which was a highly refined kerosene that powered the helicopter. The Bedford was thus leaving tomorrow morning for Wyndham, 530 miles distant, for six 44 gallon drums of AvTur. They hoped to be back by Friday night. 1000 plus miles in the Bedford, in this country, is a good five day’s drive. They will fetch our mail, too.

Petrol is also difficult to come by, so one of the utes was going to Wave Hill Station tomorrow for four 44 gallon drums of petrol. Wave Hill, 70 miles away, is the nearest place where we can get it.

There were six commercial flights into Hooker Creek each week; three on Saturday mornings and another three on Tuesday mornings. On both days all three aircraft met here. They were all owned by Connellan Airways; a De Havilland Heron (four engines), a Beechcraft Baron (two engines) and a Beechcraft Twin Bonanza (two engines). Yesterday the Baron had come from Alice Springs, flown by a female pilot and obviously very competent. The Heron had come from Darwin and the Bonanza from Wyndham.

The Traeger two way radios in our trucks all had a little draw like panel at the front to hold specific frequency crystal boxes. By changing these boxes we could receive commercial and ABC radio. At the end of the day we would swap the boxes. This gave us some entertainment, and kept us in touch with what was going on in the rest of the world. The clearest station we could usually get was 8DN Darwin.

We were uncertain when our work would resume as the spare parts for the chopper had not arrived. This meant that we would be sitting around until the Saturday.

We also found that one of our older International utes had cracks in the chassis so we unloaded it, removed the canopy and the tray, borrowed some welding gear, repaired it and put it back together which took us a couple of days.


Friday 9 June Wave Hill Station, NT

The Bedford was back from Wyndham with the six, 44 gallon drums of AvTur; a round trip of a thousand miles which our blokes did in four days. They also brought our mail with them. Being as isolated at we were most of the time, we all relied heavily on our mail to keep us up to date with what was happening at home, along with monthly club newsletters, magazines and the like. We also found that because we moved around so much a lot of our mail, especially magazines, never reached us.

Yet again the chopper was grounded as one of the new parts that had been fitted was found to be faulty.

Our current campsite was only a half mile or so east of the Wave Hill Police Station so I planned to go and see them the next morning to find out about their mail services to see if we could use them. One of their officers had driven our new chopper engineer here from the airstrip the previous day when he flew in from Darwin.

Although our weather had been very dry for weeks it looked as though we might be getting some rain in the next few days as it had been raining heavily in south east Queensland. We had heard the geodetic fellows saying on their radios that they couldn't get to one of their ground stations as the access road was under water.

It occurred to me that if I was at home I would have had to choose what I would do for the Queen's Birthday long week end. Whether to go to the annual Albury get together of the Melbourne and Sydney Triumph sports car clubs, or the start of the ski season at Mount Buller.


Sunday 11 June Camp 2, 10 miles west of Wave Hill Homestead, NT

The helicopter was serviceable again so tomorrow we were to be back on the job, probably with a vengeance as we were so far behind. As it was after dark we were listening to some great music on the radio. To our amazement we found that it was 3UZ in Melbourne, and crystal clear. There were three stations we could receive on a regular basis; 4AY Ayr, 8DN Darwin and 3UZ Melbourne. Our favourite was 3UZ as it played the songs popular at home.

Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd, that owned our chopper, had sent up an additional engineer to speed up the work as so much time had been lost.

Our evening meal was a sort of sweet and sour pork with fried rice, chopped bacon, tinned pine­apple and peas and beans, all cooked in together, and served with mushroom sauce. Strangely enough it was very tasty; or could it have been that we were ready to eat anything?

Neil Fenton and I went for a walk and found a huge waterhole with lots of fish. Neil got his fishing net, and to set it up we made a boat using our galvanized steel tub with a plastic water container tied to each side for stability. As I was fitter than Neil I got the job of paddling across with the other end of the net.

The next day we found that the net had caught 14 fish and an eel. Neil let the eel go, and we cooked some of the fish but they had an awful muddy water flavour. We retrieved the net and didn't use it again.

The Wave Hill Station was much the same as the other big cattle stations we had seen. It had the usual houses, buildings for the vehicles and other equipment, the inevitable aboriginal humpies and an airstrip. It also had some very small houses, one or two bedrooms, and occupied by some of the aboriginal people employed by the station.


Sunday 18 June Victoria River Downs, NT

We had been to the Victoria River Downs (VRD) homestead the previous Thursday, and as it has its own post office, telegrams were sent to Darwin where they were put into a teleprinter. We also found out that there was a mail plane each Tuesday which was either Connellan Airways or MacRobertson Miller which is affectionately known here as Mickey Mouse.

The Bedford was leaving the next morning for Katherine for more helicopter fuel. We had discovered that the chopper's fuel tank held close to 60 US gallons, so if it was almost empty it would take one full 44 (Imperial) gallon drum to fill it. We also used what was called the McNaught quart stroke pump, meaning four strokes per gallon. Pumping was good for the biceps!

On the previous Tuesday, Neil, Alan Mould and I flew out to build a new ground station about 70 miles from our camp near Wave Hill. It had been a hot day so we were very pleased to be able to go for a swim in the river at the end of the day.

Then on Wednesday we flew back to our camp, packed up and set off for VRD which was about 120 road miles away. Up here road conditions, as well as distances, have to be taken into account when we were estimating how long it would take to get from A to B. A recent trip had taken us an hour and a half on 70 miles of bitumen, followed by 100 miles of rough dirt track that took six and a half hours.

When we were travelling distances that took more than a day, we stopped well off the road for safety, and set up our stretchers with the pillow end against one of the wheels on the side away from the road.

On Thursday we set up camp as we were going to be there for several days. We erected two tents, a Kimberly for an office, and an auto tent for a kitchen, where we put our little fridge, a Portagas stove and three tables for meal preparation.

We ate by sitting on a folding chair with an enamel plate in our lap. We invariably slept out in the open, on our stretchers, with a canvas cover over our blankets as there was usually a heavy dew by morning as we were so far inland. At night I would doze off looking up at the myriad stars and the occasional satellite.

VRD was another of the really big cattle stations. As per usual it has buildings for living quarters, a hospital, sheds for vehicles and equipment, even an indoor picture theatre. We were invited to go in on Friday night where we saw a cartoon, a short film and then Doctor in Distress. There was also a general store where I bought a pair of thongs for 90 cents, two cans of Tarax, 20 cents each, and one pound of dried apricots for 70 cents. There were also several other small buildings.

Our campsite was about three miles from the homestead, where we were able to camp on a part of the river bed. As there were several levels we chose a higher one as water was flowing in the lowest two channels. This is the best campsite we'd had for some time as there was unlimited water for drinking and washing. Also, there were no nasty, spiked grass seeds, which was quite a change from where we'd been.

It also meant that we could go for a swim, or a bath if you took your Velvet soap, each day, which was great. It was now 11 days since I'd had a hot shower. John Nolton and I also went fishing. We only caught one fish but John Madden said it wasn't edible so we quickly took it back and watched it swim away. As it had orange brown spots on its sides we think it was a codfish.

Although we normally used colour film in our cameras, sometimes we could only get black & white. While it didn't do justice to the countryside we were working in, it was better than nothing.


Friday 23 June Timber Creek, NT

As we were now working on shorter days we made sure that we got out of bed at first light. The nights were now cool, if not cold, especially when we had to get up! I was using my sleeping bag plus three blankets even though the day temperatures were still getting into the low eighties.

This also meant that we took our shirts off mid morning to improve our suntans. As we also got quite grubby some of our suntan washed off at the end of the day.

Even though we were working in remote areas we still listened to the radio at night, usually one of the commercial stations, which ever one we could get or the clearest if we had a choice.

I also had the pleasure of doing a lot of flying that week, with four flights in three days, even though I had to volunteer for some of the jobs. But it was worth it.

John Nolton and I had gone rock hunting the previous Sunday, but only found some small pieces of rather sombre agate even though we had dug a small channel in a bank of the Wickham River.

Last Monday we moved camp from VRD to our present location, two or three miles north of Timber Creek. We covered around 95 miles on a good, wide dirt road, so we were able to maintain 45mph most of the way.

On the Tuesday I made some scones for lunch that were well received.

On Wednesday, John Madden, Alan Mould and I were flown out and back to an Army Trig Station, U103, in the Pinkerton Range, about 35 miles west of Timber Creek. The station was at the top of a tableland, and the only place where the chopper could land was almost on the edge, with a drop of several hundred feet over the side. George Treatt our pilot, made two careful, dummy approaches and then landed. It was quite exciting there for a while!

On the way back, we searched a valley unsuccessfully for a herd of goats that were on the loose. We flew really low which was exhilarating to say the least.

On Thursday, Neil, Alan Mould and I were flown out to build a new station, NM/G/205, located about 50 miles north east of Timber Creek.

The next morning after we had finished building the station and were cleaning up, I threw some scraps of paper onto the campfire which appeared to be out. Next thing we knew was that it was not out and the burning paper had been blown into some dry grass. Within what seemed like a few seconds, the wind had fanned the fire and it had got away. Fortunately, all our gear was upwind. Alan and I fought the flames for almost two hours, eventually having to give up from sheer exhaustion. Fortunately, no harm was done.


Wednesday 28 June Kununurra, WA

This morning we got a surprise when we found out that Neil Fenton, John Nolton and I were to transfer from Ground Marking to the Aerodist field party.


Sunday 2 July Kununurra, WA

John Nolton and I were instructed to head off the next morning with the Bedford for Calvert Hills, about 900 miles away, which we thought would take five days. Neil was to fly across. In the days prior, I had made two trips to Wyndham, where there was not a lot to see other than their interesting docks used for servicing small coastal freighters. On the second visit I bought a banana, as I hadn't had one for months, that cost me 18 cents. At home I could have got a pound of them for that.

We had gone to the pictures the previous Wednesday night and saw One Eyed Jacks with Marlon Brando. We thought we would go again that night as it cost only 50 cents to get in. We had also booked in to the local hotel/motel so that we could do our washing and have a hot shower. As it was now 11 weeks since we'd left Melbourne we were almost halfway through the season.


Sunday 9 July Calvert Hills, NT

As Neil had just cut my hair I was feeling a lot tidier, even though I was growing a beard. The weather had been getting warmer, so we made a point of keeping in the shade, often only by sitting beside a vehicle.

We had left Kununurra the previous Monday lunchtime and arrived at Timber Creek late that day. The next day we moved on to Katherine where we bought two months of food, mostly tinned, at the local Co-op while the Bedford was being serviced. I had spent $83.

Then we had headed south to Daly Waters. Daly, as it is known locally, consisted of a pub, store, police station, post office and an airfield. I needed to make a phone call to Melbourne and had to queue up for more than an hour.

The Thursday saw us driving east on the road from Daly to Borroloola, yet another cattle station, complete with the usual police station, general store, post office and airstrip.

From Borroloola we had moved on to Calvert Hills arriving around 8pm Friday. The road was such that the last 150 miles took us close to seven hours. John Nolton and I were really glad to get down out of the Bedford after five days of travel mostly over rough, dirt roads.

As I was now with the Aerodist field party, I was scheduled to spend the next four days with Ed Burke.

I had been out to the Calvert Hills airstrip to meet our fixed wing aircraft, a Grand Commander VH-EXZ. It reminded me of a Fokker Friendship, although noticeably smaller. It had been to Camooweal to pick up a couple of our workmates, some spare parts for our equipment and our mail.

We had then moved on to Timber Creek, roughly midway between Katherine and Wyndham. All the police stations here were big as each served several hundred square miles of territory.

I had found living out in the open pleasant, especially as the weather had been so good.

We were also able to buy food when it was needed, although good, fresh food was a bit hard to come by, and very expensive.

Our aircraft problems had surfaced again. The Grand Commander, which carried all the electronic, Aerodist measuring equipment, was grounded when its port engine developed a bad oil leak. As an engineer had had to come up from Essendon to sort it out, it meant that we were again sitting around for a day or two. On the other hand, the chopper was earning its keep.


Sunday 16 July Calvert Hills, NT

Four of us had had our Friday evening meal with a group of fellows from Australian Geophysical Pty Ltd. We were camping near them and they kindly invited us to join them. The feed they turned on was terrific. Starting with the main course where the meat was served flambe, then lemon meringue pie, percolated coffee, beer or fruit juice. Then for supper there were savouries and pancakes with raspberry jam. Wow!

The weather had changed from cool days to much warmer ones with clear blue skies and temperatures well into the 80s. The nights though were still as cold as we would have had in Melbourne. We had also flown back to Calvert Hills as the day before the Grand Commander had had an engine failure just after take off. Thanks to the very capable pilot, Ken Singh, the Commander made a safe, downwind landing. It had to have a complete starboard engine change. Our boss, Syd Kirkby, was almost at his wits end trying to program the work.


Thursday 20 July Calvert Hills, NT

The Bedford had returned from Borroloola after meeting Tuesday's aircraft from Mt Isa, and Wednesday's flight from Darwin.

The Grand Commander, which someone had nicknamed the Ground Commander, was still not flying. The new engine had arrived, having been flown up in an Executive Air Services (that owned it) Aero Commander. The Aero Commander looked much the same as the Grand Commander but smaller. If all went well, Aerodist would be flying again come Saturday. It also meant that we had been just sitting around for a week.

It had also been decided that all the remote parties would be flown to their respective stations the next day so that we get the most out of the Grand Commander flights on the Saturday.

I also learned that I would be working with Gavin Chambers, the fellow who told me about National Mapping, for the next two weeks.


Sunday 23 July Junction Camp, NT

Junction Camp was about nine miles north west of the Robinson River Homestead, or about 70 miles from the Calvert Hills Homestead. Gavin and I had been flown out from Calvert on Friday, as planned, then stayed at Junction Camp overnight.

First thing Saturday morning the chopper picked us up and took us to NM/G/219 on Vanderlin Island, one of the Sir Edward Pellew Group of islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria. From NM/G/219 we then flew to NM/G/216 on Centre Island, another of the Pellew group, overflying North West Island.

Next, we flew back to the mainland to Snake Lagoon, a refuelling point, then on to Junction Camp for our rest day.

First thing Monday morning we were back in the air on our way to NM/G/214, making it the fifth trip in the chopper in a couple of days. The views from the air had been stunning. The sea colours had ranged from greens to pale then deep blues. We had also flown over several of the small islands, or islets, some not much more than an acre or two. Many of them had beautiful sandy beaches, especially Vanderlin, the biggest of the group. We didn't get a chance to go for a swim, even though we would have loved to, as we were either too far from the water or too busy.


Saturday 29 July NM/G/172, near Brunette Downs, NT

Gavin had badly gashed his foot when he trod on a concealed dingo trap. Just prior to his accident I had walked near the trap but thankfully not close enough to set it off. We were both only wearing thongs, it was just too hot to wear socks and boots.

We had also acquired new, Forward Control Land Rovers, the 6 cylinder model, of which we now had six. We had just completed three full days of driving and measuring, covering close to 300 miles so our day off will be most welcome.

We had also called at two cattle stations. We asked for directions at Gallipoli Homestead, one of Alexandria's two outstations, where they gave us about 12 pounds of meat. We had also called in at Alexandria Homestead where the manager, Bill Young, invited us in for a beer. His wife then made afternoon tea, with biscuits and home made cakes, which were delicious. She even put a freshly washed and ironed linen cloth on the table!

They then showed us the two nicest cars I had seen since we left home; a brand new, white V8 Pontiac, and their old Chev of 1961 vintage. It had done 63,000 miles and didn't have a mark on it. It was unregistered as it was only used for driving around their property. They, too, gave us some meat.

We had also stopped and spoken to an old chap whose job it was to look after the water pump at No.21 bore on their property. He was on his own and expected to be there until it rains. We understood that that would have been about December. The homestead people took him fresh meat and vegies every four or five days.

Alexandria now had only 6,400 square miles of land as they had recently returned the lease on another 5,000 square miles!

The work we were doing from then on became repetitive, as the helicopter contract eventually expired. From then on it was all road travel.

We then moved across the border into Western Australia to the Ord River irrigation project area for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, we had found that the Land Rovers were not up to the task. As they were forward control they were higher off the ground than the Internationals we were used to, and did not feel anywhere near as stable which we found disconcerting especially when driving across a slope. One of several problems was that the wheel rims soon cracked rendering them useless. The rims were so poor we had to strip the wheels off one of them and put them onto the remaining Rovers. We were able to store the wheelless Rover which was picked up on our way back.


Homeward bound

Months later, as we were heading for home, the one I was driving hit a blind spoon drain destroying the front differential, shearing off two studs and partially stripping the thread of another on the left hand front wheel. It could be driven at no more than about 15mph, and I had to stop and retighten the wheel nuts every hour. I then got the job of taking it to the Land Rover dealer at Mildura to make it safe enough to continue to Melbourne.

We arrived back in Melbourne in early December. Thus, ended my year, 1967, with National Mapping.


Notes :

I have included the names of as many of those I worked with as possible. To anyone I have missed, my apologies.

Although I took some 200 colour slide photos, years later when I was living in Wollongong, I found that I had not stored them properly and they had been ruined by the humidity.