Geoscience Australia to stop printing and selling topographic maps from December
By Emilia Terzon and Oliver Gordon
Posted yesterday (3 October 2019) at 1:45pm
Bushwalkers and map sellers say the decision to stop printing and selling topographic maps for Australia will put people's safety at risk and impact on our understanding of remote Australia.
The ABC can reveal the Commonwealth agency that prints and issues the maps, Geoscience Australia, will print its last run on Friday, December 13 this year.
In a world of Google Maps and GPS navigation devices, people simply are not buying them, according to Geoscience Australia chief scientist Dr Steven Hill.
"The demand for printed hardcopy maps has decreased quite rapidly," he said.
"The costs of storing and maintaining those maps, and updating them in a printed form, is becoming increasingly large, so the value proposition is not there in the way that it used to be."
For those who trek through remote Australia, paper maps are still essential, according to Claire Drabsch, a tour guide with Trek Tours Australia.
"The maps are really important for us to have in the field — not only from a safety point of view, but also from an interest point of view and an education point of view for our guests," she said.
Ms Drabsch said tour guides needed the wide perspective of large paper maps to do their jobs.
"You need to be able to see not just what's happening in the next few hundred metres, but what's happening in the whole area around you," she said.
"You don't want to end up at the top of a cliff and then have to walk an extra 3 kilometres around."
The guide, who has more than 10 years of experience hiking in remote places, urged Geoscience Australia to reconsider its decision to stop printing maps.
It is not just those out on trails who are concerned.
Ian Morton runs Melbourne's last paper maps store, and said he regularly had customers of all ages purchasing Geoscience Australia large-scale maps.
Ian Morton sits at a desk with a large world map behind him.
He said many people were realising the limitations of readily available digital maps.
"Younger people are realising that when they look at devices on their phone, quite often it is not a topographic map," he said.
Topographic maps show detail such as elevation and steepness.
The map enthusiast said he thought paper maps were distinct enough from digital maps to remain relevant, and commercially viable.
"People can't get the big picture by looking at their phone," he said.
Dr Hill acknowledged the decision to cease the printing of its maps disappointed some, but said the opportunities of digital mapping technologies were exciting.
"I can appreciate the romantic joy and the pleasure of exploring with your eyes and fingers over the top of a paper map," he said. "That's what I've grown up loving.
"But I must say that whilst I love that, I'm even more excited about what the future holds and how mapping is going to evolve and move forward into the future."
He added: "The thing I really like about it is that we can update the digital products and the user can refine that digital product as the world changes."
All Geoscience Australia maps that are currently printed will be available for free download, and Dr Hill said that those who still wanted to print maps on paper could do so of their own accord.
Dr Hill said he did not believe putting the onus on map users to print their own maps would be an extra burden.
But hiking guide Ms Drabsch questioned whether people could easily access the large, tear-proof paper hardcopy maps are often printed on, particularly in remote Australia.
"Hopefully that's something they're looking at, to make sure that people can still get access to a good quality paper in the right size," she said.
She said the beauty of maps would linger on regardless of whether a government agency continued to print them.
"They are a beautiful thing. I have them on my wall at home."