from the 1966 field season from Andrew Porteous


or more accurately


“sand, tinned tucker & how to burn a Natmap vehicle”


When I joined Natmap early in 1966 the fieldwork for the first order control survey of Australia had recently been completed and the AGD66 adjustment was in hand. So the next task allotted to Geodetic Section was to carry out second order traversing to establish 1:100,000 map control, with work being in parallel with the Aerodist program but in different regions of the country.


Prior to mobilization to the Great Sandy Desert, specifications and procedures for second order traversing had to be finalized and a pro-forma for field calculation of geographic co-ordinates had to be developed. This was the pre-programmable calculator era when field calcs were carried out with tables and hand cranked Facit calculators. Field calculation of co-ordinates was necessary in order that we could confirm that each targeted control point was within the prescribed distance of the half degree lat/long intersect. As I remember, the pro-forma to calculate co-ordinates was developed by Peter Langhorne with some minimal help from myself.


It was a long drive from Melbourne to our assembly point at Port Hedland and a particularly slow one in company with Bedford trucks which were governed to around 35mph. We had quite a large party, under the leadership of Adrian Roelse and consisting of probably five observing parties, two Bedford supply trucks with drivers and at least four one-man parties with vehicles, the latter being for reconnaissance (party leader), setting backsites, and general support. One of these men was supplied by the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury SA, the organization through which we communicated with Melbourne via VL5BW Woomera. The arrangement had been a tradition from the days when Natmap operated in areas controlled by the WRE, but in our case the man supplied had zero bush experience so the logic of sending him escaped me. He also had the only Engel fridge in the whole team with which he managed to regularly flatten his vehicle battery.


The desert work was, of course remote, but punctuated by the odd visit to town for vehicle repairs – initially Broome and later Port Hedland. Front end and shock absorber problems were common as the Internationals had been fitted with oversize tyres and an enormously heavy front bumper and roo bar which put rather a strain on things. Each Inter carried an additional 50 gallon fuel tank and 50 gallon water tank in the tray and enough tinned tucker to last two men several months. Plus of course technical and camping equipment, batteries and (army disposal) “Chore Horse” chargers, observing tents etc.




Convoy of International trucks (Inters) and refueling from the Bedford.


Field observations were carried out using T3 Theodolites, MRA2 Tellurometers, heliographs and Lucas lights, and followed closely behind the reconnaissance by the party leader.




Observing setup with tent and a MRA2 Tellurometer being operated by K. Wachtel.


Very little fresh food was available for several reasons – we were far from towns, there was little game except for the highly protected turkey (Bustard), and those who had attempted to register their rifles with the WA police had had them confiscated for the duration of the field season. Needless to say, Natmap people of that era had a thorough knowledge of the qualities of the various brands of tinned food and were well qualified to advise on same.




L-R: Yates, Samsonakis, Wachtel, Bosnic, Roelse “Rest Day” and “camp”.


To get to the final point of this story, I had been told from the time I joined, that Natmap burned a vehicle every year. The causes did not seem to have been identified or one would assume that the problem would have been solved. Theories included a buildup of spinifex under exhaust systems and shorting of batteries used for the MRA2s. A later experience of my own suggests spontaneous combustion of oily rags as another possible cause. Anyway, in 1966 we managed to burn another Inter.


I was not present at this event but saw the result. Fortunately the fire was extinguished before the tyres caught and, as we always had a competent mechanic or two around, the vehicle could be hot-wired and driven to town. Its salvage value may not have been much and I imagine that we eventually got a replacement.


The way in which the fire was extinguished is worth relating. As told to me, after the canopy had been consumed the 50 gallon petrol tank in the tray had blown off its cap and a jet of flame was shooting high into the air from the filler neck.


Most people I am sure would bolt at this sight, fearing an explosion, but Dave Yates calmly walked up, threw a bag over the tank and shoveled sand on top. The flame went out and the others present were able to finish the job.


The timing of this event was interesting as it coincided with a field inspection visit from Senior Surveyor Bobroff, who may have had previous experience with burnt vehicles – see photo below. I do not know whether Natmap continued the tradition of burning a vehicle each year, perhaps someone else can throw some light on this?



Yates (under bonnet), Bobroff and (probably) Bob James with burnt-out International.

(All photos courtesy Andrew Porteous)





from the 1967 field season from Andrew Porteous


or more accurately


“rabbits, roos, and the ‘Tea and Sugar’ ”


In 1967 Natmap became involved in the PAGEOS (PAssive GEOdetic Satellite) Project. The satellite was used in the Worldwide Satellite Triangulation Network, a global cooperation that connected the network of 46 stations (3000 - 5000 km distance) on all continents with an accuracy of 3-5 m (approx. 20 times better than terrestrial triangulations at that time). The aim being to improve the knowledge of the figure of the Earth.


The satellite was an inflatable, aluminum coated, mylar balloon, 30-40 metres in diameter, and was simultaneously photographed against the background of heavenly bodies from various stations whose distance apart was as accurately known as was possible. Australia’s (and consequently Natmap’s) initial task was to measure two very long baselines, one EW and the other NS.  Similar baselines were planned on the other continents.


 PAGEOS being inflated


As it was determined that the standard of angular measurement on Australia’s first order network was as high as it could be, the strategy was to remeasure distances only of geodetic lines along the selected baselines using state of the art equipment. The lines had originally been measured using MRA1 And MRA2 Tellurometers which were relatively wide beam instruments yielding ground swings which arguably limited their precision and made it difficult to determine their index errors, if any. By 1967, the South African supplier had developed the MRA4 Tellurometer which was a very narrow beam instrument and promised to yield greatly superior results. A pair of these instruments were duly ordered by Natmap and after testing on a number of geodetic lines in Victoria our party mobilized to Cook, on the South Australian Nullabor, to commence measuring the existing first order lines to the Western terminal point of the baseline at Muchea, North of Perth.


The intention was to then measure the lines from Cook to Narrabri, NSW, thus providing a baseline around 3500 km long.




On the Nullabor along the Trans Continental Railway and tower operations with the MRA4 Tellurometer.


Such was the advance of technology that by the time we had completed the work for the 1967 season, the Geodimeter Model 8 was available which would supersede the MRA4 for high precision measurement. But that is another story and better known by others who continued the work after I had left Natmap. 


The geodetic traverse across the Nullabor closely followed the route of the Trans Continental railway as far as Kalgoorlie and in the timbered section approaching Kalgoorlie sometimes made use of the rail clearing to extend the line lengths. Virtually all stations had to be occupied using 20 foot high towers and as the original towers had mostly been left in place we had only to carry scaffold in order to occupy the stations. I understand that the original Nullabor traverse was commenced with 30 foot towers but that following the collapse, in 1962, of a screened scaffold in a ‘willy willy’ (complete with observer) the towers were limited to 20 feet in the interests of safety. Consequently lines were short, perhaps between 8 and 12 miles long and results of meteorological observations (vital to good Tellurometer results) were always good.




Collapsed tower in 1962 (courtesy john Allen) and geodetic connection near Perth.


We carried two alloy scaffolds which were quick to erect. All lines were measured twice, at different times of day and progress was very satisfactory. From Kalgoorlie to Muchea we occupied hill stations through the goldfields and wheat belt and finally completed four days of first order geodetic connection to a pillar at Muchea (for which we had carried T3 Theodolites for four months). As we were by this time ahead of schedule we returned to Cook and measured all the lines eastward which required scaffold. The strategy was to avoid carrying towers for the next season.


Living on the Nullabor in winter was not always pleasant, the winds could be strong and the nights cold. Firewood was discarded railway sleepers which did not produce the coals so needed by chefs competent with the camp oven. But we had compensations - fresh food, which we so badly lacked the year before in the Sandy Desert. Rabbits were plentiful and we had rabbit traps. Three traps yielded three rabbits every morning and another three at night. And if six a day was insufficient (for six men) one man could pull apart a pile of old rail sleepers while another shot at the rabbits which ran out.


One bloke who had a good rifle managed to bag the odd kangaroo as well but Terry Wignell’s theory that fly strike could be prevented by rubbing the carcass with a mixture of flour and pepper proved to be very wrong.


And we had the ‘Tea and Sugar’ train which traversed the Nullabor weekly to supply the population of the rail maintenance sidings with groceries, fruit and veg and fresh meat. Since concrete sleepers and all-welded rail, the population of the Nullabor has dramatically reduced and I understand that the ‘Tea and Sugar’, so looked forward to by generations of railway people, no longer runs.




Tower operations with the MRA4 Tellurometer.

(All photos courtesy Andrew Porteous)


I recall on one occasion lining up at the butcher’s shop on the train and being told by the butcher that as we had rifles we would be better off  bagging a couple of stray sheep which he had seen just back along the track. At the time sheep were being transported west to stations near Rawlinna and some tried to make it home to SA. These were two of them, a ewe and her lamb, and we did manage to save them from dying of thirst, but only just in time as a party of fettlers had also heard the news and came tearing down the track with about four rifles on a rail motor trolley. Terry Wignell, our qualified butcher, did a fine job on the sheep and by this time he knew that flour and pepper didn’t work! As a final tribute to Terry, before we left Melbourne, he got us each a well salted side of bacon which I can attest lasts indefinitely, but I do not recommend spilling petrol on it as one unfortunate did.







from the 1966 & 67 field season from Murray Porteous



Ground Marking Programme July 18 to 23. 1966



The following groupings of persons shall be made for the ensuing week, with

alterations as shown, on the appropriate dates

Red Master: R.A.Vassil, awaiting an additional person from headquarters.

Red Remote: T.L.Douglas, M.Porteous, A.Mould and C.Cheary.

Blue Remote: A.Fenton, G.M.Harris, R.Gray and R.Cavanagh.

Vehicles:      Red Master: ZSU-183.

Red Remote: ZSU-O47 and ZIS-612.

Blue Remote: ZSU-136 and ZSU-133.

Call Signs:     R.A.Vassil: 9SDD.      N.Fenton: 8SDK          ZSU-133: Mobile 8SDK.

                          T.L.Douglas: 9SDF                 G.A.Harris: 9SDC.          Z1S-612: Mobile 9SDF.

Time Table:

July18:  Red Master, with A.Porteous again go to NM/B/221 for reconnaissance, in

         the old gold mine area. Use ZSU-183, after minor welding to "bull-bars".

Red Remote, consisting of T.L.Douglas and C.Cheary oontinue on office work

of South-Central Queensland and check on garage work on ZSU-047 and ZIS612.

Blue Remote (with A.Mould in lieu of N.Fenton, until the latter's arrival

on Wednesday at Charter's Towers, by T.A.A.) inspect B041, if this station is unsuitable as an Aerodist advise Red Master by radio.

July I9: Red Master (alone) make reconnaissance of NM/B/222.

Blue Remote make an inspection of NM/B/l48.

Red Remote establish NM/B/221 (A.Mould is with Blue Remote).

July 20: Red Master on office work and meet•N.Fenton at Charter's Towers airport.

Red Remote still at NM/B/221.

Blue Remote make an inspeotion of NM/B/149 and return towards Charter's Towers.

July 2l: Red Master (alone) leave Charter's Towers for reoonnaissanoe of NM/B223.

Blue Remote receives N.Fenton as its leader and A.Mould joins Red Remote.

Red Remote completes NM/B/221 and Blue Remote heads for NM/B/223.

July 22: Red Master makes reoonnaissanoe of NM/B/225 and Red Remote heads for NM/B/225.

         Blue Remote at NM/B/223.

July 23: Red Master makes reconnaissance of NM/B/224

July 24: Day of rest.

This time table is primarily dependent on BO41 being anAerodist station, if however

a satellite station is necessary here, this will be established by Blue Remote and would delay their rendezvous with N.Fenton and the return of A.Mould to the Red Remote. When staying in hotels there will be no REPEAT no noise at night and all persons are to remember they are on a survey for National Mapping all week long

and NOT relaxing at night except to sleep. Offioe work is expected(by me() to be

done eaoh night by all those persons who handle field books, to keep up with our field production. If I receive any complaints by irate townsfolk, then the guilty party can start packing his bags for Melbourne. So let it be Known we are here to work and to relax in a professional fashion.

          Surveyor Class 1

Copies to all remote parties                                   Ground Marking Party.

and to be read by all.

Copy to Supervising Surveyor Topographic.








Programme week commencing 19th June



Mon      Bedford leaves for Katherine to collect 9 drums Avtur with D.Thompsen

and N.Fenton.  A.Mould AND L.Tyzack take tent, fridge and meat and will be advance guard to set up camp at Timber Creek and prepare evening meal, leaves VRD 0830. Chopper leaves 2 hours after truck for Timber Creek.

No radio watoh is necessary. T.Douglas will bring remainder of party to Timber Ck. after cleaning up present camp and calling on Homestead on the way out.


Tues.    Blue Group (T.L.D., Porteous and Nolton) will mount 206 at 0900.

Red Group will complete camp arrangements and prepare to mount 205 on Wed. Also level baro TBM and arrange servicing of vehicles.

Cook is L.O'Connor.


Wed      Bedford returns with fuel. Dismount Blue not earlier than 1030.

Red (Fenton, Doherty and Mould) will mount205, the time depending on the return of Bedford. Vehicle service to continue until complete.

Cook is L.Tyzack.


Thur Blue (Douglas, O'Connor and Nolton) will mount 237 0800.

Dismount Red .

Cook is M.Porteous.


Fri      Red mounts 236 o800 (Fenton, Doherty and Tyzack). 

Dismount Blue.

Cook is A.Mould.



Sat      Madden with XXXXXX will fly to U103, Chopper will wait, then return to camp, Dismount 236, Any outstanding servicing to be oompleted. Blue

will prepare to mount 238 on Monday and all preparations to move camp to Kununurra on Monday will be made.

Cook is XXXXXXXXX J.Nolton


Sun      Rest day at camp.


Last week showed a very creditable performance with five new stations built and one existing trig checked. 24.31 hours were flown for a total of 49.28 hours. The completed stations were very good.


The standards in camp were not so good. Some people are not putting into the mess what they are taking out. By and large the camp and mess has been excellent but it seems that the long working hours leave a few people too tired to perform their necessary camp chores and it could become necessary to provide for shorter working hours.


Mail address is Wyndham and inwards mail can be expected about Tue. 27th. Time sheets etc. should be completed on Wednesday evening next.






Surveyor in Charge