David Carstens


Nat Map Antarctic Surveyor 1961 & 1962-63


David Carstens in 2018.

A Carstens family photograph.


David Robert Carstens grew up in Toowoomba and later Warwick to the west of Brisbane.  Between 1940 and about 1946, David’s family lived in Locke Street Warwick.  During that time, future National Mapping surveyors Allan Howard Spowers and Edmond Francis Norman (Ted) Seton (1920-1997) lived nearby.


David’s survey career began in April 1953 when he commenced articles under Warwick based surveyor Robert Harding (Bob) Lacey.  David’s articles were registered with the Surveyors Board of Queensland in August 1953.  However, David’s time under articles was interrupted when Bob Lacey took time away from his practice to serve in Antarctica.


In 1955 Bob Lacey was the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition’s wintering surveyor at Mawson station that was established the year before by Phillip Law and Bob Dovers.  On one task during his 1955 expedition, Lacey and others were the first to venture into the northern part of the massive Prince Charles Mountains that rise to over 10 000 feet some 250 miles south east of Mawson.


The Prince Charles Mountains were first sighted and photographed in 1947 during aerial operations carried out by the United States Navy as part of its Operation Highjump.  The Mountains were subsequently sighted and named by an ANARE overland traverse party in the winter of 1954 that was led by surveyor Bob Dovers.  The Mountains were named for the heir apparent Prince Charles who was born in November 1948.


The leader of Lacey’s 1955 expedition was the officer-in-charge of Mawson, John Mayston Béchervaise.  In the Northern Prince Charles Mountains, Lacey established the initial astrofix positions in the area.  For this journey, Béchervaise, Lacey and the other expeditioners used M29 Weasel tracked amphibious vehicles powered by 6 cylinder Studebaker engines (Manning, 2011).


Between 1955 and 1959 David Carstens completed articles with the firm Jensen and Bowers in Brisbane.  This firm was established in 1908 by Thor Helm Jensen who was a surveyor and engineer.  In one of his projects Jensen developed an estate on land he owned in the area then known as Harper’s Wharf near the confluence of Little Tallebudgera Creek and the Nerang River.  Jensen named his development Surfer’s Paradise.  Jensen Bowers Surveyors and Town Planners continues to operate today.


Between 1957 and 1959, David Carstens worked as a Field Assistant (Survey) with the Commonwealth Department of Works in Brisbane.  The projects with which David was involved included aerodromes, roads, and Commonwealth property constructions.  These projects were undertaken throughout south east Queensland.


David Carstens was registered as an Authorised Surveyor under the provisions of the Land Surveyors Acts 1908-1916 by the Surveyors Board of Queensland in March 1959.  Soon afterwards David joined the Warwick based practice of HA Leonard Consulting Engineers.


David Carstens joined the Division of National Mapping at its Melbourne Rialto Building office in late 1960 as a surveyor for duty in Antarctica.  During his time with National Mapping, David worked under the direction of Tommy Gale (1911-1973) who held a senior surveyor position and was the officer-in-charge of Nat Map’s Antarctic Mapping Branch from 1958 to 1972.


In 1925, D’Arcy Thomas Gale joined the Royal Australian Navy as a cadet midshipman at age 13 years.  In 1945, Lieutenant Commander Gale was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross as commander of HMAS Benalla that carried out hydrographic surveys under repeated enemy attack in the South West Pacific theatre during World War II.  During his 33 year Navy career, Tommy Gale served mainly with the RAN’s Hydrographic Branch.  He retired in July 1958 with the honorary rank of Commander.


In 1958, Dr Phillip Law was the Director of the Australian Antarctic Division then within the Department of External Affairs.  Bruce Lambert was the Director of National Mapping within the Department of National Development.  In that year Law and Lambert entered into an agreement for Nat Map to undertake the mapping of the Australian Antarctic Territory and provide suitable surveyors for field duty with Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.  The agreement was to endure for over 30 years.  It was to fulfil this agreement that Lambert appointed Tommy Gale to head Nat Map’s Antarctic Mapping Branch in 1958 soon after Tommy had retired from the Royal Australian Navy.


David Carstens’ first period of Antarctic survey duty was with Tommy Gale in early 1961.  They departed Melbourne on 5 January 1961 and returned on 22 March 1961.  This travel was onboard the chartered Danish vessel MV Thala Dan that was on her 1960-61 ANARE Voyage 3 under Captain Hans Christian Petersen.  The voyage leader was ANARE Assistant Director Donald Franklin (Don) Styles (1916-1995).


David’s primary task on this voyage was to assist Tommy Gale in carrying out hydrographic surveys of the harbours at both the Mawson and Davis ANARE stations.  Thus much of David’s first Antarctic expedition was ship bound onboard the Thala Dan.


After completing the harbour surveys and other work, the Thala Dan left Mawson on 11 February 1961 to undertake exploration of western Enderby Land.  Voyage leader Don Styles’ intention was to go along the coast to 44° East (Styles, 1964).


Near Kronprins Olav Kyst in Norwegian Territory some 22 miles west of the Australian sector, Styles wanted to fix the position of a rocky outcrop.  This feature was first noticed at the end of an aerial photography run in 1956.  That run was flown by Squadron Leader Douglas Walter (Doug) Leckie (1920-2007) of the RAAF Antarctic Flight (Styles, 1964).


On 13 February 1961 the Thala Dan was stopped by fast ice nearly 16 miles from Leckie’s rocky outcrop on the coast.  It was not prudent to send a trekking party that distance over thin sea ice.  However, the surveyors onboard (Carstens, Gale and Syd Kirby) considered it feasible to undertake an astrofix on the sea ice near the ship and to tie it to a feature on the rocks by triangulation (Styles, 1964).  The astrofix (NMA/S/63) was undertaken on 15 February 1961 by David Carstens with Tommy Gale taking the role of booker (Carstens, 2018).  The reliability of the astrofix with the theodolite on floating sea ice was checked with sextant observations by the Bosun of the Thala Dan (Styles, 1964).


From the astrofix and triangulation, the position of the aerial photograph reference point (a notch near the top of the highest hill on the coast in that area) was found to be 67° 58’20” South 44° 02' 45” East.  This swung the whole coast in that area some 13 miles South East from the position previously estimated and plotted on the maps (Styles, 1964).


Station summary for David Carstens’ NMA/S/63 astrofix in 1961.


David Carstens’ second ANARE assignment was as the wintering surveyor at Mawson in 1962.  David departed Melbourne on 4 January 1962 onboard the newly-built MV Nella Dan that was making her first ANARE voyage.  Don Styles was the voyage leader.  David Carstens returned to Australia (Hobart) on 24 March 1963 onboard the Nella Dan under voyage leader Philip Law.


David’s first task after arriving at Mawson on 25 January 1962 was to carry out a series of Tellurometer measurements with model MRA1 instruments.  This was the first use of electronic distance measuring by ANARE.


On this first task David was assisted by Nat Map’s Bob Goldsworthy (1939-1985) and others.  Tellurometer measurements ceased on 13 February 1962 as Bob Goldsworthy had to return to Australia with the instruments on the Nella Dan the next day.  (The Tellurometers were required back in Australia for other Nat Map priority tasks.)


Between 19 March and 3 May 1962, assisted by glaciologist Ian Landon-Smith and other station personnel, David Carstens undertook a level traverse from the Mawson tide gauge bench mark to a new bench mark at the base of Painted Peak.  On this task David’s party used two Snow Trac light tracked vehicles for transport.


Painted Peak is prominent peak on the northern spur of the North Masson Range in Mac.Robertson Land some 12 miles south of Mawson.  The feature is conspicuous due to its red-brown colouring.


Between 25 August and 30 September 1962, assisted by two other expeditioners, David Carstens undertook a dog sledge journey to the Gustav Bull Mountains some 100 miles east of Mawson.  Here David undertook two astrofix observations to establish the positions of Church Mountain and Mount Rivett.


The principal field work for David Carstens in 1962 was to pioneer a route from Mawson to the Amery Ice Shelf.  This work extended from October 1962 to January 1963.  It was a major overland expedition requiring navigation, route-marking and recording, heighting, glaciology and meteorological recording.  The traverse was into territory not previously visited on the ground (Carstens, 2012).


David Carstens was appointed the field party leader.  The three month trip covered some 1 350 miles.  Travel was with two Caterpillar D4 tractors towing sledges and a caravan, a Snow Trac, plus two dog teams of seven dogs each.


There were eight men in the overall field party: David Carstens (surveyor and leader), Peter Trost, (auroral physicist), Mark Single (diesel mechanic), John Freeman (electrician) and Ted Foley (meteorologist) formed the vehicle team.  The dog team party comprised: Ian Landon-Smith (glaciologist), Kevin Walker (assistant cook) and Ross Harvey (radio operator) (Carstens, 2012).


The traverse route advanced through new areas from near Depot Peak that had been named by surveyor Robert Dovers on 21 December 1954, as his field party had established a depot in the vicinity.  Depot Peak is located at 69° 02’ 06” South 64° 36 02” East, about 150 miles south east of Mawson and about half way to the Amery Ice Shelf.


In the Autumn of 1962, a separate party led by OIC Mike Lucas had travelled from Mawson to establish Depots A and B.  Depot B of 1962 was at Depot Peak (Carstens, 2012).


From Depot Peak, Carstens’ party proceeded successfully some 300 miles onto the Amery Ice Shelf where it set up its final depot as Depot E.  The Caterpillar D4s, sledges and caravan stayed at Depot E.


From Depot E glaciologist Ian Landon-Smith with two companions traversed south along the centre of the Ice Shelf, studying ice movement and measuring ice accumulation by digging pits.  This work was done by dog team.  Also from Depot E David Carstens and two others traversed generally south west in the Snow Trac.  This party examined the junction of the Ice Shelf with the mainland (Carstens, 2012).


A rock feature was found and used by David Carstens as an astrofix site on 8 December 1962.  Located at 69° 46' 19.5" South 68° 59' 43.7" East, the feature was later named as Trost Rocks.  It was named for Peter Trost, a member of Carstens’ field party.  Afterwards Carstens’ Amery Ice Shelf field party returned to Mawson.


Between 24 and 28 January 1963 in company with two other expeditioners David Carstens travelled in a single Snow Trac vehicle to a group of nunataks (exposed rock formations) located at 68° 03’ South 63° 01’ East about 30 miles south east of Mawson.  At one of these nunataks (later named McGrath Nunatak) David carried out an astrofix on 26 January 1963.


The astrofix station was designated NMA/S/69 and the coordinates David determined were 68° 03’ 22’’ South 63° 00’ 38” East.  As David’s astrofix was made on Australia Day, the group of nunataks was later named Anniversary Nunataks.


In recent years, David has kindly provided detailed reports on several of his 1962-63 Antarctic surveying activities for the XNatmap website.


In September 1963, David Carstens left Nat Map in Melbourne and returned to Brisbane.  Here David embarked on what became a 39 year career as a surveyor in Queensland’s electricity industry.  Between 1963 and 1987 David was employed successively by the Southern Electric Authority of Queensland, which from 1977 became the Queensland Electricity Generating Board which in turn became the State Electricity Commission in 1982.


From 1970 to 1987, David served in the role of Chief Surveyor for the industry.  In June 1987, along with many others, David left the electricity industry under voluntary retrenchment arrangements.


David subsequently became an Associate of Consulting Engineers Hill Michael and Associates, an Australian firm that specialised in electricity supply systems.  At Hill Michael and Associates, David was engaged mainly on powerline studies, route selection, mapping, and digitising of powerline locations.  Of interest was the early use of Landsat imagery for planning powerline routes.


In November 1969, David was awarded the Polar Medal for his earlier service as an Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions surveyor at Mawson.


David’s service in Antarctica was also recognised with the naming of Carstens Shoal an almost circular shoal area located at 67° 34' 21" South 62° 51' 09" East.  Carstens Shoal is about 3 kilometres from Béchervaise Island.  It was discovered in February 1961 during the hydrographic survey of Mawson approaches by Tommy Gale ANARE hydrographic surveyor on the MV Thala Dan.  The shoal was named for David Carstens, as surveyor at Mawson in 1962 and for his work on the 1961 hydrographic survey.


David retired from Hill Michael and Associates in 2002.  During his near 50 year career as a professional surveyor David was an active member of the Queensland Division of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia.  He was elected as a Fellow of the Institution and served a term as its President.


David is a Life Member of the ANARE Club (of former Expeditioners) and continues his active interest in the Club.  David is also an active member of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland and is a Past President of the Society.


David and his wife Kathryn continue to reside in suburban Brisbane.


Kathryn Carstens was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her outstanding service to the community and to the ageing, particularly through the Community Care Centre at Annerley.


Kathryn’s community work also had an Antarctic connection.  She organised the Antarctic Wives and Mothers Group in Queensland for a number of years.  This was a help and advice group that mainly supported families of serving Antarctic Expeditioners.  The Group was sponsored by Nel Law (1914-1990) a noted artist, poet and diarist, whose husband Dr Phillip Law AC AO CBE (1912-2010) was an Antarctic Expeditioner and Director of the Australian Antarctic Division from 1949 to1966.  Somewhat fittingly, Kathryn Carstens' award was made on Australian Day 2003; 50 years after David Carstens made his astrofix at Anniversary Nunataks.



Prepared by Laurie McLean in February-March 2018.



Carstens, David Robert (2012), Explorers & Astronomy: Exploration of Antarctica, an article on the Transit of Venus Australia 2012 website, accessed at: https://www.transitofvenus.com.au/Exploration_of_Antarctica.html


Carstens, David Robert (2018), Personal communications.


Division of National Mapping (undated) Astronomical Station Summaries, Antarctica; from a field compendium held by David Carstens.


Geocaching (undated), Harper’s Wharf Geocache Description; accessed from Geocaching website at:



Jensen Bowers (undated), History in the About Us section of the Jensen Bowers website, accessed at: https://jensenbowers.com.au/history/


Manning, John (2018), Personal communications.


Manning, John (2011), Australian Topographic Mapping in Antarctica, paper presented at the Mapping Sciences Institute of Australia 2011 Conference held at the Australian National University Canberra on 28 & 29 March 2011; accessed from the XNatmap website at: https://www.xnatmap.org/adnm/conf_06_11/c11/Paper%2010.pdf


National Archives Australia (undated), Gale, D’Arcy Thomas; in Service Cards for Navy Officers, 1911-1970; Series number A6769; Control symbol Gale D T; Item barcode 5216810. Accessed from search of Service Records on National Archives Australia website at: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/navy.aspx


Styles, Donald Franklin (1964), Narrative Coastal Exploration of Kemp and Enderby Lands, Antarctica; ANARE Reports, Series A, Volume I; Antarctic Division, Department of External Affairs, Melbourne, May 1964. Accessed from the XNatmap website at: http://www.xnatmap.org/daat/docs/Narr_Vol1_72.pdf


Wise, Paul Joseph (2018), Personal communications.