“Firsts and Lasts” from Paul Wise


When I joined Natmap, I had never driven a Land Rover, let alone a 4WD vehicle, let alone a vehicle with a “crash” gearbox (a “crash” gearbox is a one where you have to manually “mesh” the gears by judiciously pumping the clutch otherwise you get that horrible graunching noise of metal on metal).


However, after being taken by an Instructor a few times around the Department of Supply Yard at Maribyrnong, and then let loose a further few times by myself, I was finally given a piece of green card, the famous Commonwealth licence, which enabled me to drive any Commonwealth vehicle up to 3 tons (pre metric).


The day came when I was told that my vehicle would be picked up for me and bought to the office so that I could take it home that night and bring it back the next day to start loading all the equipment I would need to take to the field. I was duly given the keys to my vehicle and walked down to the street, only to see that the Land Rover I had been given was not what I had been expecting, but was indeed the last of Natmap's Forward Control (or Cab-over) Land Rovers (see photos courtesy Laurie McLean & Paul Wise below).



I had already heard stories about the chequered history of these vehicles. While the design was great for bush travelling in that the driver had a great view forward seated right over the front wheels, the original steel trays, when loaded, placed too much weight on the front axles, causing the wheel nuts to shear. High tensile steel bolts overcame this problem. However, tests showed that when the rear tray was fully loaded the vehicle was overweight. The steel trays were thus replaced by aluminium. Even so the load had to be carefully monitored. As I and my gear were to be the only occupants of this vehicle, it was considered that the load (and I) would be safe. In fact, in the whole year, I only had one occurrence, where it the wheel bolts did break away, but it was a slow process, and I was not in any danger.

After getting over my shock of seeing this massive vehicle, I decided that it would be best to wait until the major Melbourne traffic had died down before I tried to “muscle” (no power steering) this monster home. So late in the afternoon I took off in this vehicle through the city streets and had only just got into suburbia when the worst of all things happened - the engine died. I was lucky to be able to roll to the gutter and stop. As I leapt down from the cab my training came to the fore, and I thought, I will just change over to the other fuel tank. On finding the changeover tap I discovered that it was broken and I had no tools with which to operate it. As it turned out it would not have mattered, the other tank was empty too!!!


After some phone calls (from a public phone – pre mobile phone days), I was rescued, the truck was taken back and repaired, the tanks were filled and the truck returned to me.


For most of 1971, this truck (ZSM881) was my home. The canopied tray area was so large that I was able to set up my stretcher and swag inside and so unless camped at a spot for a significant time, most nights, I was sheltered from the elements in the back of the truck – not quite an early version of a mobile home!


I drove nearly 20,000 km in that truck that year and apart from my adventures in the mud and slush of a huge table-drain in Queensland from which I needed two (2) other vehicles to tow me out, and spending half a day changing the fan belt (not because it was technically challenging but because to get to it one had to remove a number of steel protecting plates held on by more bolts than I ever imagined) the last of Natmap's FC Land Rovers went the distance (just).


There was another “last” that year. I believe it was the last time the MRA-2 Tellurometers were used with the “big” (1m+ diameter) dishes. 


Tellurometer with standard “dish”                             Tellurometer with 1m+ diameter “dish”




(pictures from Reg Ford’s Geodetic Activities Report)


A check was needed on an aerodist line (see map below) in NSW, Mt Yellow (refer picture below) to 32° 30" S 147° E. However, it went through trees, some of which were in a plantation so clearing was out of the question. With the standard dishes the Tellurometer signal was indecipherable so the “big guns” in the way of these larger dishes were freighted in. The problem was resolved and the big dishes went back into their boxes in the store and never saw the light of day again as far as I know!