from Carl McMaster


Having read Paul’s story on the last use of the MRA-2, I am inspired to recollect its birth. Someone else may be able to tell us about the MRA-1 (now here).


I joined Natmap as a Tech Assistant in 1962 and spent time with Dave Hocking being introduced to the mysteries of template assemblies via the Bacchus Marsh training area.  I then worked for a couple of months in Ed Laos’s Section transferring map detail from spot photos to compilation sheets around the Boulia / Dajarra area of western Queensland which was recently flown by Syd Kirkby and Jacque de Stephanie.



As I was employed by Joe Lines for fieldwork, when the MRA-2’s arrived from South Africa I was told to go to Canberra where Klaus Leppert would work out how to use them to establish a network of control points in the ACT. At this time two senior surveyors from the Philippines mapping agency arrived at the Rialto Office for training as part of the Colombo Plan.


Like Paul I was hurriedly introduced to 4 wheel drive vehicles in the form of an International AA series “ute”, suitably modified including bullbars stretching from the bonnet to the top of the cab. Terry Douglas was in between field trips and showed me how to roll my swag and with the Filipino passengers crammed in the cab kindly drove us to the outskirts of Melbourne and departed. It was obvious to my foreign passengers that I was a novice Inter driver, but we made it to Canberra.

Natmap had booked us into the Hillside Hostel which I think was about where the new Parliament House was built. This was really rough, but no doubt cheap accommodation, in rows of “Nissan Huts” in the scrub and was reputed to have 600 guests of whom 50 were Aussies. They were primarily employed on earthworks for Lake Burley Griffin. I managed to shear off the Inter’s tailshaft when the 4 wheel drive lever slipped into action when driving across the Lake’s temporary low-level causeway. I later learnt that a bike tube was normally used to hold it in place. I phoned Mr Lines who freighted up a replacement tailshaft. I managed to change it much to the annoyance of some of the hostel’s occupants who reckoned it was a job for a union approved mechanic.




Klaus Leppert who had been a surveyor on the Snowy Mountains scheme had a Natmap Willys 4 wheel drive and between the four of us and the manuals we learnt to operate the MRA-2’s and completed the control survey. I assume the Filipino’s went back home fully trained. Later that year I flew to Rockhampton and caught the overnight train to Clermont where I joined Frank Leahy’s field party who were reconnoitering a 2nd order telle traverse from Springsure to the Eungalla Ranges out from Mackay. This mapping control survey used the new MRA-2’s (see John Ely’s photo above), pending the proving of the Aerodist system which was first operationally deployed in 1963 in the Bowen Basin. 


Paul’s story also recounts the use of the “big” dishes on the MRA-2. I was in between field trips in Melbourne when the “four foot” dishes arrived in the expectation that we could measure longer lines than with the standard dish. If I remember correctly they were manufactured locally, through D R Johnston who were the Tellurometer and Aerodist agents and I think Mick Skinner’s employer before he joined Natmap. To test the dishes we were to measure the intervisible line from Mount Macedon to Arthurs Seat which is about 111 Kilometres. Having backed the Inter up to the Mount Macedon monument I spent a very wet, fruitless day in the back of the vehicle switching on the gear and listening on the Traeger radio for Mr Bobroff’s party at Arthurs Seat.


Despite the failure of this initial test, the “big” dishes sometimes combined with the boosting of signal strength using 14 volts instead of the recommended 12 volts by tapping into a couple of extra battery cells, were invaluable in measuring long lines particularly on the Great Barrier Reef surveys.



“Big Dish” courtesy Reg Ford’s History


If anyone has any better pictures of Tellurometers with the “big dishes” we would like to show them.