History Extract


Review of Operations

in the

Division of National Mapping

Department of Resources and Energy

January 1984



The genesis of the Division of National Mapping can be traced back to 1945, when the Commonwealth Surveyor General was given the additional title of Director of National Mapping. In this capacity, the Director of National Mapping became chairman of the newly formed National Mapping Council that had been created by agreement between the then Prime Minister and State Premiers.

By 1947 a National Mapping Section was established in the Property and Survey Branch of the Department of the Interior. Later in 1954, the Public Service Board obtained an important Cabinet decision on the future role for National Mapping. The importance of this decision resides in the recognition of National Mapping as the Commonwealth authority for geodetic and topographic surveys and mapping. In addition, National Mapping's role was to co-ordinate these Commonwealth activities with those of the States. The definition of these responsibilities was followed by the incorporation of all National Mapping functions into the Department of National Development in 1956. Thus, the circumstances surrounding this event partly fulfilled the recommendations made by Major-General R.L. Brown in 1951 on departmental control of national surveys.

Topographic Mapping

One of the earliest topographical tasks set for National Mapping was to provide aeronautical charts, at a scale of 1:1 000 000, to cover the whole of Australia for the Department of Civil Aviation. Although, as early as 1954, the Advisory Committee on Commonwealth Mapping had recommended that topographic mapping should be provided at 1:50 000 and 1:100 000 scales, the resources available were insufficient for such a program. However, in co-operation with the Royal Australian Survey Corps (RA Svy) and the States, a serious attempt was made to cover Australia at 1:250 000 scale. To carry out this formidable task, it was necessary to acquire aerial photography of the whole of Australia for the depiction of the terrain. This photography was produced at various scales, but after 1962 was generally obtained using a super wide angle camera in an aircraft flying at about 25 000 feet above sea level which provided photographs at 1:84 000 scale. Much of this aerial photography and processing was carried out by contractors. By 1965, the 1:250 000 scale mapping program was nearing completion so that resources were then able to be gradually shifted toward the acquisition of contour information.

In 1965, a Cabinet Decision was made to map Australia at 1:100 000 scale with 20 metre contours. The Decision set this task for completion within a time frame of ten years. This was a momentous decision for the Division of National Mapping, particularly in its firm definition of the Division's mission. As with the less rigidly defined program for 1:250 000 mapping, the new program was also to be shared by the Division and RASvy with some assistance from the States.

It was soon realised, however, that the requirements for the 1:100 000 mapping program would exceed the resources available for this purpose. Consequently, a modified program was the subject of agreement by the members of the National Mapping Council. The amended program called for the publication of 1:100 000 maps on the fringes of the continent but only for compilations at 1:100 000 scale to be prepared in the interior. In the exercising of this strategy, it also accommodated the replacement of the existing 1:250 000 series with fully contoured maps. The current aim of the national topographic mapping program is to complete : compilations covering the whole of Australia by 1986; the publication of all 1:100 000 maps outside the "Red Line" by June 1985; and, the publication of metric-contoured 1:250 000 maps by the end of 1987. Recently during 1983, the Division of National Mapping began to compile at 1:50 000 scale in specific areas to meet the requirements of Council members. In the future, the deployment of resources for topographic mapping will be increasingly determined by the need to maintain the national series up-do-date. Much of this need, in turn, will become responsive to changes in both user requirements and mapping technology.

Bathymetric Mapping

Bathymetric maps are designed to portray sea-bed relief by contours at a common scale on the one horizontal and vertical datum. To investigate Australia's requirements in bathymetric mapping a committee of Commonwealth departments was formed in the late 1960s. One of the main findings of this committee revealed, that there was an urgent need for bathymetric mapping to strengthen Australia's position in United Nations' conferences on the Law of the Sea.

The committee also found that bathymetric mapping would increase the efficiency of subsequent geological and geophysical surveys. While for scientific programs, research of oceanography and meteorology would benefit from the completed bathymetric maps; from ancillary scientific observations made during the course of mapping operations; and, moreover, much of the scientific data gathered over the continental shelf would be of ephemeral value without maps.

The committee's report in 1970 led to a Cabinet Decision on bathymetric mapping. This Decision made the Division of National Mapping responsible for a bathymetric program to map the Continental Shelf of Australia between the 20 metre and 300 metre isobaths at a scale of 1:250 000. The area of this shelf is 2.3 million square kilometres, which makes it one of the largest undersea shelves in the world. A total of 287 map sheets will be required to cover this vast area.

The Bathymetric Mapping Branch commenced its program in 1971 with a small staff and some contract assistance. The last bathymetric contract was let in 1975, since when all bathymetric surveys have been carried out by Divisional staff. The bathymetric program, however, has neither been funded nor staffed to the extent envisaged by the Cabinet Decision. These restraints have generally been imposed because of adverse economic conditions affecting Government operations. Nonetheless, overall progress has been maintained with about 60% of the survey program expected to be completed in June 1984. It is expected that the bathymetric survey program will be completed, at the current rate of activity, by the end of 1991.

Geodetic Surveys

On a nation-wide scale, geodetic surveys in Australia started late, in the relatively recent year of 1945. In that year, the newly-formed National Mapping Council adopted a basic scheme for a National Geodetic Survey.

Initially, the traditional method of triangulation was used for geodetic surveys and progress was slow. In 1954, the Division of National Mapping acquired a Model 2 Geodimeter which was used to measure baselines for the triangulation method in all States. In 1956, however, some important innovations for geodetic surveying were introduced into the Division. These innovations included the Tellurometer distance measuring equipment, automatic levelling instruments, electronic computing, and the use of commercial helicopters. As a consequence of this technology and traversing techniques, the basic network of geodetic surveys covering the Australian continent and Papua-New Guinea was completed in less than ten years.

By March 1966 the geodetic survey in Australia contained 2506 stations which, as a whole, was adjusted using program VARYCORD on a CDC 3600 computer at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This adjustment established the Australian Geodetic Datum (AGD). Since this historic adjustment many thousands of survey stations have been adjusted in terms of the AGD.

For geodetic levelling, before 1956, about 5000 kilometres had been completed in three States. By the end of 1970 this had been increased to more than 150,000 kilometres to provide a basic network of levelling control. The completion of this program in 1970 had been made possible by adopting third order levelling techniques.

By choosing this standard, the Division successfully let contracts for station-marking and levelling by private surveyors under the supervision of the Surveyor General of each State. In all, during the period 1961-70, the Division arranged 232 contracts for some $2 million of expenditure. A tide-gauge program was also implemented during the course of this expansion of levelling control. The adjustment of the levelling network took place in May 1971, thereby creating the Australian Height Datum (AHD). Subsequent to this second historic adjustment for geodetic surveying in Australia, additional levelling has also been adjusted. The result is that some 100 000 bench marks and about 200 000 kilometres of levelling for the national program are now on the AHD.

In 1971, a geoid adjustment was made for Australia following a field astronomy program carried out by the Division. The introduction of Doppler satellite receivers and improved electronic distance measuring equipment has allowed the rapid expansion of control and upgrading of geodetic networks. This progression during the seventies and early eighties had led to the completion of several Geodetic Model of Australia (GMA) adjustments. The latest adjustment GMA 82 - is presently being considered by the National Mapping Council as a possible replacement for the AGD. In addition, the modern Doppler satellite equipment and future global positioning system receivers will be used in a wide range of geodetic surveys. They will be used for surveys of crustal movements and for the determination of geodetic positions in Australia, its islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The Division also operates a Photographic Zenith Telescope at Mt Stromlo, ACT, and an atomic-clock ensemble at its satellite and lunar laser-ranging station at Orroral, ACT. Most of the data obtained from these systems are used for: the maintenance and dissemination of Universal Co-ordinated Time (UTC) in Australia; and, for the monitoring of earth rotation, polar motion and crustal dynamics.

Cartographic Group

The Cartographic Group, as it exists to-day, evolved from the embryonic Map Production Branch that was set-up within the original National Mapping establishment of 1945. Already, in those early years, the Branch had many and varied functions that included:

.                   the fair-drawing and printing of topographic map compilations produced by the then Photogrammetric Branch;

.                   the production of the 1:1 million scale Australian Aeronautical Series. This has been superseded by the World Aeronautical Chart (WAC) Series;

.                   the production of the 1:1 million scale Australian Geographical Series. This has been superseded by the International Map of the World (IMW) Series;

.             the provision of mapping services in support of Antarctic expeditions;

.                   the production of general reference maps of Australia and its Territories; and,

.                   the provision of ad hoc mapping services to client organisations.

The Branch was staffed by professional-grade draftsmen under the Chief Draftsman, Cartographic (Chief Cartographer). It also included a photo/lithographic laboratory staffed by photographers and printers.

In 1968 there was an extensive re-organisation of the Map Production Branch. The Branch was expanded to include drafting staff and functions from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS); also included were drafting staff from some other Commonwealth departments together with their functions. The re-organised Branch was headed by a Chief Drafting Officer, Grade 3 (Chief Cartographer) and was organised into four discrete Sections, each led by an Assistant Chief Drafting Officer, Grade 2 (Assistant Chief Cartographer). The Sections' responsibilities were allocated as follows:

.                   the Topographic Mapping Section responsible, generally, for the fair drawing and printing of 1:100 000 and 1:250 000 scale topographic maps, 1:100 000 scale photo indexes and, after 1970, 1:250 000 scale bathymetric maps;

.                   the General Mapping Section responsible, generally, for the production of thematic maps for other departments and for the AAR; the Section was also responsible for the compilation of 1:1 million scale bases for the WAC and International Map of the World (IMW) Series;

.                   the Production Section responsible, generally, for the fair-drawing and printing of the WAC and IMW Series, ad hoc requests for miscellaneous small-scale maps and charts, and operation of the photo/lithographic laboratory; and,

.                   the Census Mapping Section responsible, generally, for the production of field-maps for the collection of the quinquennial census and for the production of post-census maps for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

During the next few years, some minor rearrangements of functions took place in the Branch. These re-arrangements included the establishment of a small Production Control Section, led by a Senior Draftsman, to control and record production statistics for the Branch.

The next major re-organisation for the Branch occurred in 1977. This re-organisation raised the Branch to Group status under the direction of the Chief Executive Officer, Cartography (Class 11), which was a new position. The Cartography Group - as it still exists, in the main, today - was re-organised to consist of three Branches:

.                   the Series Mapping Branch, which is led by a Chief Draftsman, Grade 2 (Chief Cartographer); this Branch assumed the duties of the former Topographic Mapping Section; and, it was assigned the field-mapping functions of the former Census Mapping Section and the IMW publication function of the former Production Section;

.                   the Thematic Mapping Branch, which is also led by a Chief Draftsman, Grade 2 (Chief Cartographer); the remaining functions of the former structure, including the photo-lithographic laboratory, were assigned to this Branch; and,

.                   the Geographic Branch under a Senior Executive Officer, Class 10 (Chief Geographer); this former Section within the Department had previously been transferred to the Division in 1973; its primary function is the preparation of the AAR, while other functions have been expanded to cover the collection of data for many different types of topographic and thematic maps.

Developments during recent years, particularly with digital-mapping techniques, have resulted in minor structural changes within the Group. One of these changes, is that census field-mapping functions have been transferred from the Series Mapping Branch to the Thematic Mapping Branch. This latter Branch, since the mid 1970s, has also been performing most of the digital-mapping function for the Group. Another change, was the setting-up of a small Cartographic Computing Services Branch in 1983 to accommodate the tasks carried out by those Computer Systems Officers allocated to the Group.

Currently, action is in hand to re-arrange functions of the Group by establishing a Digital Mapping Branch. This action will likely become effective in early 1984. To head this new Branch, approval for a new position of Mapping Systems Manager, Class 10, has been requested from the Public Service Board. The Branch will be responsible for the development and implementation of digital mapping techniques, within the Group and in conjunction with the Topography Group. The staff for this new Branch will consist of draftsmen, surveyors, and computer systems officers.

Geographic Branch

The Geographic Branch had its origin in the Department of Post-War Reconstruction in the late 1940s. In the early 1950s the small team became part of the Regional Development Division of the then newly created Department of National Development (NatDev). The team comprised three research officers and four draftsmen whose single main task in the 1950s was preparation of the First Series of the Atlas of Australian Resources (See Appendix 1). On completion of the first Series in the early 1960s the draftsmen were transferred to National Mapping with the proviso that National Mapping would provide drafting services for future Atlas work. Also, in the early 1960s, the geographers became a sub-section within the Resources Information and Development Branch of NatDev and, following Ministerial approval, commenced work on the Second Series of the AAR in 1961

By the mid 1960s regional resources mapping became a well established task following Prime Ministerial approval to an approach for such work by the Premier of Queensland. This work resulted in publication of the Fitzroy Region, Queensland, Resources Series (1965 to 1969) and the Burdekin-Townsville Region Resources Series (1970-1973). Concurrent with the development of regional resources mapping was the advent in 1963 of water resources mapping, primarily to service the needs of the Australian Water Resources Council and the Section's own atlas and regional water mapping requirements. This task has continued through to the present.

To cope with the expanding and more diversified work load, the sub-section was upgraded to the Geographic Section as part of the newly established Water, Power and Geographic Branch in the late 1960s. Three sub-sections were created covering atlas, regional and water mapping and the number of establishment positions was increased slightly. At the same time, the head of the section was upgraded from a Class 8 position to the present level of Senior Executive Officer, Class 10 - a position then answerable directly to the Senior Assistant Secretary, WP & G Branch.

In the early 1970s the Geographic Section became part of the Water and Electricity Division of NatDev and, with the completion of the AAR Second Series in sight, planning began for the third Series through creation of the National Atlas Advisory Committee which was appointed on 15 December 1970 by the then Minister for National Development, R.W. Swartz. With the change of government in 1972, the Water and Electricity Division was split up - Water (including very briefly the Geographic Section) to the Department of Environment; and Electricity (including Geographic Section soon thereafter) to the Department of Minerals and Energy. The Geographic Section remained in the Electricity Division until formally transferred to the Division of National Mapping on 19 July 1973. From the time of transfer to National Mapping until the implementation of the 1977 reorganisation, the Branch Head was answerable directly to the Director.

The National Atlas Advisory Committee submitted its recommendations for the Third Series of the AAR to the Minister (R.F.X. Connor) in December 1973. In his letter of 30 October 1974 to the Chairman of the Committee (Professor A. Tweedie), the Minister advised that he had instructed the Department to proceed with preparatory work on the Third. Series so production and publication could begin as soon as additional staff could be appointed. This proposal for extra staff - both geographers and cartographers - to work on Australia's national atlas has never been implemented, though the Third Series has continued, albeit, at a much reduced pace than originally envisaged.

In the 1977 reorganisation the Geographic Section became a Branch within the Cartographic Group. The Branch Head (Class 10) became answerable to the Chief Executive Officer, Cartography, Class 11 and was given the local designation of Chief Geographer, in line with the titles of Chief Cartographer for the heads of the other two branches that make up the Cartographic Group. Formal sub-sections were abolished to permit greater flexibility in the deployment of staff on the ever-increasing range of tasks carried out by the Branch. The structure of the Geographic Branch has remained basically unchanged since 1977.

Offshore Boundaries and General Branch

The Offshore Boundaries and General Branch, established in 1983, evolved out of the Offshore Boundaries Section of the current Survey Group. Initially set up in 1977 the Section was to provide survey and mapping advice on the delimination of offshore boundaries; determine and describe boundaries in accordance with international and national legislation; and, to confer and liaise with international and government authorities on matters concerning these boundaries. Additional functions were added in 1979 and consisted of the planning and co-ordination of Antarctic series mapping; developing remote sensing techniques for series mapping in the Antarctic and the great Barrier Reef; and, liaising on Antarctic Treaty matters.

The Section was upgraded to a Branch in 1983 with the additional responsibilities of the provision of secretariat services to the National Mapping Council and its related technical committees, and the Commonwealth Co-ordinating Group on Mapping, Charting and Surveying (CCGMCS). The Branch head was upgraded to a Surveyor Class 3, responsible directly to the Director.

Systems Development Branch

Computers have been in use in the Division for data processing since 1962. Development of computer literacy and its applications were basically ad hoc developments carried out either at the operational level or by a small ADP Application Section.

In the 1970s it was realised that due to the increasing relationship between development of new systems and computer applications that the previous arrangements were causing the Division to fall behind advances in technology. In addition, the diverting of operational resources to ADP development and the heavy demand on existing resources was having an adverse affect on production and development of advanced mapping methods.

A System Development Branch, (SDB), headed by a Surveyor Class 3 responsible directly to the Director, was established in 1977 incorporating the previous small ADP applications Section. This was a realistic means of providing the continuity and detailed examination of advances without major disruption to the productive areas. The Branch consisted of the existing ADP application Section and two Research Co-ordination and Special Projects Sections. The functions of the latter sections were the investigation and developmental work, while the ADP section was to provide the computer applications and programming support to the operational areas.

Restrictions on resources combined with the emphasis on productivity has resulted in the reduction of the research function and the concentration of the remaining resources on service activities. Keeping abreast of recent advances in technology has, therefore, taken a background role in the Branch and emphasis has moved once again back to the operational areas to maintain their knowledge of new developments and to initiate new programs.

As in geodesy this retreat from the Division's former role of a leader in advanced mapping has seen some NMC members take a higher profile than the Division, especially in the role of topographic mapping. However, the Division continues to lead in areas of geographic information and thematic mapping but with the increasing demand for this information in digital form the Division must take positive steps towards maintaining this national leadership role.

The role of SDB has evolved, therefore, as a service branch providing advice on hardware and software purchase, preparing specifications and evaluating tenders, and providing software support to the main operational branches.

Planning and Co-Ordination Branch

The Planning and Co-ordination Branch, established in 1977, was designed to provide direct support to Senior Divisional management in the planning and review of progress and resources. The establishment of the Branch brought together under one manager, a number of functions that previously were spread throughout the Division and responsible to various operational branches.

The Branch's role is one of administration and day-to-day management. Tasks initially included were those of staff development and production control, although the latter function being one of monitoring past performance rather than program planning and review. Once again, resource restraints resulted in these sections being phased out in favour of operational branches. Today the functions are administration and general services; the sale, promotion and distribution of mapping information; the provision of information in response to written and counter enquiries concerning all aspects of mapping, aerial photography, copyright and pricing policy; and, the recruitment of retailers and promotion of products including mounting of displays. The provision of secretarial services to the National Mapping Council and the SCAR Working Group on Geodesy and Cartography, also a function of the Branch, were handed over in 1983 to the new Offshore Boundaries and General Branch.