Chairman, National Mapping Council of Australia

Australian Cartographic Conference (2nd : 1976 : Adelaide), Section 13, 1-14.


In this paper which is somewhat in the nature of a "swan song" I propose, after brief mention of early mapping activities, to make a general review of the development of topographic map­ping in Australia under the guidance of the National Mapping and then presume upon my years of experience to hazard some predictions on future developments.


I cannot do better than commence with a quotation that I have used before; it is from a note that appeared on an English map of 1750 which showed only so much of the outline of Australia as had been plotted by the early Dutch navigators, but which nevertheless was titled "A complete map of the Southern Con­tinent". The note reads:


"It is impossible to conceive of a country that promises fairer from its situation, than this of Terra Australis; no longer incognita, as this map demonstrates, but the Southern Continent Discovered. It lies precisely in the richest climates of the world. If the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo abound in precious stones and other valu­able commodities; and the Moluccas in spices; New Guinea and the regions behind it must by a parity of reason be as plentifully endowed by nature. If the island of Mad­agascar is so noble and plentiful a country as all authors speak it, and gold, ivory and other commodities are common in the southern part of Africa, from Melinda down to the Cape of Good Hope, and so up again to Cape Gonzalez here are the same latitudes in Carpentaria, New Holland and New Zealand.


If Peru overflows with silver, if all the mountains of Chile are filled with gold, and this precious metal, and stones much more precious are the product of Brazil, this continent enjoys the benefit of the same position and therefore, whoever perfectly discovers and settles it will become infallibly possessed of territories as rich, as fruitful, and as capable of improvement as any that have been hitherto found out, either in the East Indies or the West."


Although some of the conclusions reached in the quotation are somewhat dubious on both logical and scientific grounds, there is considerable truth in the second half of the last paragraph, - the production of topographic maps and thematic maps based hereon are essential processes in perfectly discovering our southern Continent.


Most of the early topographic mapping in Australia was built up from the reports and surveys of explorers supplemented as time went on by the somewhat meagre data collected in the course of cadastral and engineering surveys. There is no doubt that the early surveyors were aware of the desirability of planning development on the basis of good topographic maps but the exigencies of the situation, the non availability of funds and lack of skilled manpower dictated the course of events and top priority had to be given to land surveys.


Systematic topographic mapping may be said to have commenced soon after 1907 when the Defence Forces commenced producing strategic maps and plans and organized a Survey Section in 1910 which subsequently provided personnel for various survey tasks during the 1914-1918 war. These personnel returned and formed the nucleus of small survey sections in various States which produced an average of four 1 inch to 1 mile map sheets per year over the interval between wars. Their earlier map­ping was carried out by planetable but air survey methods were gradually introduced from 1930 onward and in 1936 the first map was compiled entirely from air photos.


On the civilian side, during 1926-39 the Commonwealth Property and Survey Branch of the Department of the Interior produced eleven sheets of the International map of the World. These were derived from all sorts of miscellaneous map material and survey reports. However, up to this time very little syste­matic topographic mapping had been undertaken by any civilian agency.


Under the impact of World War II the absence of a national geo­detic survey and the appalling lack of topographic maps became all too apparent and in order to rectify this situation there was a very large expansion of the Army Survey organization and the assistance of State Lands Departments and other authori­ties was enlisted. This meant that a great number of Austra­lian surveyors, draftsmen and printing personnel became active­ly involved in mapping operations and were in a position to apply these skills to civilian mapping operations when the War was over.


Most importantly, wartime personnel of the Defence Services became familiar with the use of maps and air photographs in operational circumstances. These people learned to appreciate the value of mapping and carried with them, into all phases of civilian life, a favourable disposition toward, and a realisa­tion of, the value of maps for the post war development.


Toward the end of the War the Commonwealth Department of Post War Reconstruction recommended that the geodetic survey and topographic mapping of Australia be undertaken as a basis to future national development. This spurred the Commonwealth Surveyor General in 1945 to organize a conference between the Commonwealth Survey Committee and the State Surveyors General for the purpose of considering the National Survey and Mapping of Australia.


This Conference reported "that a co-ordinated national scheme for the mapping of Australia to meet service and civilian pur­poses is required". It recommended to the respective Commonwealth and State Governments that a National Mapping Council be created with the primary function of co-ordinating mapping on a national basis and of determining standards of accuracy and recommended practices in respect of trigonomet­rical survey, photogrammetry and cartography. It recognized the existing policy of the Defence Services controlling their respective mapping activities and agreed that the Director of National Mapping should be responsible for the co-ordination of the activities of Commonwealth and State authorities in planning and carrying out the national mapping of Australia with full regard to the recommendations of the Council.


The then Prime Minister and State Premiers agreed by exchange of correspondence to the formation of the Council which met for the first time towards the end of 1945 and which since that time has met on thirty three occasions.


Great credit must be given to those Commonwealth and State officers who took part in the formative Conference. There was indeed a fair amount of Commonwealth versus State conflict of the sort that is unfortunately only too familiar in Austra­lia but the stature of those participating was such that they saw the national character of the whole concept and reached unanimous agreement on a set of resolutions that subsequently were endorsed by their respective Governments and led to the formation of a National Mapping Council that has lasted now for thirty years.


Originally, the Commonwealth Surveyor General was Chairman of the Council and was given the additional title of Director of National Mapping. The remaining membership consisted of a representative of the Commonwealth Survey Committee and each of the State Surveyors General.


In 1951 a separate position of Director of National Mapping was created in the Commonwealth Public Service and the Prime Minister and Premiers agreed to this officer taking over as Chairman of the Council with retention of the Commonwealth Surveyor General as a member. The Commonwealth Survey Committee was abolished in 1954 and shortly thereafter the Director of Military Survey and the Hydrographer, RAN were included as Commonwealth Members. In 1973 the Director, Central Mapping Authority took over from the Surveyor General as the New South Wales member of the Council.


From 1954 to 1972 there existed an Advisory Committee on Com­monwealth Mapping consisting of the Permanent Heads of each of the Commonwealth Departments concerned in mapping and a repre­sentative of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia. Co-or­dination between Commonwealth mapping agencies is now effected by direct conferences between the Director, National Mapping and the officers directing the other mapping agencies. Sev­eral States have Mapping Advisory or Co-ordinating Committees.


The operational topographic mapping agencies are, at Common­wealth level, the Division of National Mapping, Department of National Resources; the Royal Australian Survey Corps (Army), Department of Defence; the Australian Survey Office, Department of Administrative Services; the State agencies are New South Wales, Central Mapping Authority; Victoria, Division of Survey and Mapping, Department of Crown Lands and Survey; Queensland, Department of Mapping and Surveying and Office of the Surveyor General; South Australia, Department of Lands; Western Austra­lia, Department of Lands and Surveys; Tasmania, Survey Branch, Lands Department.


The National Mapping Council meets annually and arranges for a Technical Sub Committee to meet in the period between Council meetings. Meetings both of the Council and Sub Committee usually rotate between centres in which mapping organizations are located in order to spread the burden of local administra­tive arrangements and so that members may visit the different operational agencies. From time to time, the Council estab­lishes temporary Working Parties to investigate and report to it on specific technical matters. Normally the Council meet­ings are restricted to the formal membership but at Technical Sub-Committee meetings, while there is only one voting repre­sentative for each Council member, it is usual for several officers to attend from each agency and to invite observers from New Zealand, from Papua New Guinea and, subject to avail­ability of space, from local survey and cartographic educa­tional institutions and from other operational agencies that have a direct interest in mapping.


Summary reports of proceedings are prepared for each meeting and distributed to Council members. However, in order to pre­sent a more general coverage the Director of National Mapping has produced the following publications:


"National Mapping Council - Main Resolutions Adopted During Period 1945-1965".

"National Mapping Council - Resolutions Adopted 1966-1975".


These resolutions cover national programs of geodesy and lev­elling, topographic, hydrographic and bathymetric mapping; the adoption of an Australian Geodetic Datum, of an Australian Height Datum and an Australian Map Grid; national standard specifications, administrative, procedural and financial mat­ters.


For information I have attached descriptions of the Australian Geodetic Datum, the Australian Height Datum and the Australian Map Grid as established by the Council.


On the operational side, the individual survey and mapping or­ganizations of Australia working co-operatively under the guidance of the Council have achieved much in the past 30 years and all are now well established and well equipped. More im­portantly their output is becoming known and appreciated. The Director of National Mapping regularly publishes reports which graphically depict by five year epochs the progress of the Australian Geodetic Survey, the Australian Levelling Survey, air photography, topographic mapping, hydrographic charting and, more recently, bathymetric mapping of the Continental Shelf. The latest publication is titled "Report on Work Completed During the Period 1945-1975".


Examination of this graphical report shows that in the early stages there was a concentration on the quick production of uncontrolled photomaps followed by a complete national cover­age of planimetric maps at 1:250 000 scale based on astro fixes and that during this stage most of the large scale map­ping was concentrated on specific requirements. Concurrently, a start was made on the national geodetic and levelling sur­veys and in turn as these progressed, the systematic contoured topographic mapping of the whole country commenced. This is now well underway and has achieved the progress shown in the accompanying diagram.


The Division of National Mapping and most State mapping organ­izations produce brochures which include index maps showing availability of maps at various scales and the procedures for purchasing copies.


It is a matter for some thought, that a great deal of the mas­sive mineral wealth of Australia was found in the 1950s and 1960s, by exploration based on the use of air photographs in conjunction with photomaps and photo scale planimetric compil­ations. As against this, the more sophisticated techniques now being applied to the discovery of the less obvious mineral deposits are certainly making use of accurate topographic maps, often supported by orthophotomaps.


The progress of the nationwide geodetic and levelling surveys and the adoption of the Australian Map Grid have given the var­ious State survey organizations a basis on which to implement co-ordination (integration) of all survey activity. In most cases this activity is covered by Statute and the results there­of will be of enormous benefit in future survey and mapping ac­tivity and will lead to much more efficient and economic work as time goes on. The nationally uniform survey framework and map grid will be of inestimable benefit in the geocoding of statistical data.


In stating this, it is realised that one State has found it necessary to introduce a special grid co-ordinate system to cope with the integration of surveys but it is hoped that this will never be used as a map reference system. If it is, com­plete chaos could result.


All agencies have basic mapping projects. The Commonwealth ob­jective is to cover the whole of Australia at a scale of 1:100 000 with 20 m contours. National Mapping and Army are undertaking the major part of the work and the States have contributed in varying degree. One half of the country cover­ing the more developed, and the general coastal areas, will within the next few years be covered with standard line maps and a few years later should suffice to see the production of contoured orthophotomaps of the centre. These basic 1:100 000 maps will concurrently be converted into a new edition of 1:250 000 scale maps with 50 m contours. It had originally been planned to complete this project by the end of 1975 but restrictions on funds and manpower and the diversion of Army mapping resources to overseas military aid projects have re­sulted in a slowing down of the whole program.


In addition to its 1:100 000 mapping program, Army undertakes 1:50 000 and 1:25 000 scale mapping of areas that are of in­terest for military training. It is also involved in exten­sive mapping operations in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.


The Division of National Mapping also undertakes topographic mapping, usually at 1:250 000 scale, in Antarctica.


The Australian Survey Office is mapping at scales between 1:2 500 and 1:10 000 within the Australian Capital Territory and is arranging production of maps of other limited areas at similar scales, for special development projects. In some cases orthophotomaps have been produced for project mapping.


All States have their own programs. In New South Wales the whole State has been zoned for mapping at various scales. Much progress has been made with basic mapping at scales from 1:2 000 through to 1:50 000 and Division of National. Mapping 1:100 000 scale orthophotomaps have been used as a base for overprinting cadastral information in the western portion of the State. ,


Victoria has compiled the eastern half of the State at a scale of 1:50 000 for use by the Division of National Mapping in its 1:100 000 mapping program. A start has been made on the map­ping of selected areas for State planning at scales of 1:25 000 and 1:10 000. Contoured orthophotomapping is undertaken at scales between 1:2 500 and 1:10 000. A series of maps at 1:4 800 scale is available over and around the Melbourne metropolitan area and this will eventually be converted to 1:5 000 scale.


Queensland's basic topographic mapping is at 1:25 000 scale with production of some orthophotomaps at 1:10 000 scale. Pro­ject mapping of specific areas is undertaken at scales between 1:750 and 1:15 000. A few maps around Brisbane have been de­rived from larger scale mapping and published at 1:100 000 scale. A very ambitious 1:25 000 scale mapping program is currently under consideration.


South Australia's basic mapping program involves production of topographic line maps at scales ranging from 1:2 500 to 1:50 000 and contoured orthophotomaps at scales of 1:1 000 to 1:10 000. Most of this mapping is concentrated in the south east of the State and very large scale mapping usually covers urban areas. Much of the program is complete and the balance well advanced.


Western Australia undertakes map compilation at scales between 1:2 000 and 1:50 000. It provides compilations of 1:25 000 (more developed areas) and 1:50 000 (rural areas) for the Div­ision of National Mapping's 1:100 000 program. These Topo­graphic maps are published at 1:25 000 scale and combined topographical and cadastral maps at 1:50 000 scale. There is an extensive program of orthophotomapping at scales of between 1:5 000 and 1:25 000. Special large scale project type map­ping is undertaken at 1:2 000 and 1:5 000 scales.


Tasmania which is publishing its standard topographic maps at 1:100 000 scale has compiled at scales of 1:15 840 to 1:25 000 with either 10 or 20 m contours. Compilations are now avail­able of practically the whole of the State. Additionally, project mapping is undertaken as required at scales between 1:500 and 1:10 000.


Based on production figures for recent years the annual output of maps from all agencies is about:


Scale 1:25 000 - 1:100 000

line maps  

300 - 350



100 - 150




Scale 1:2 500 - 1:10 000

line maps  

200 - 250



350 - 400


It should be noted that there may be a degree of overlap in the last set of figures as the available records do not indicate maps that have been produced both as line maps and orthophoto­maps.


Much of the progress achieved to date has been due to the fact that organizations under the direction of Council members have been quick to utilize more advanced equipment as it has become available. This has involved the early adoption of electronic distance measuring techniques (both ground and airborne), the almost universal use of electronic computers, the use of super wide angle air cameras that are admirably suited to Australian conditions, the use of radar terrain profiling equipment which was later replaced by locally developed laser equipment. There has been universal application of photogrammetric methods, and analytical air triangulation has been used by most members.


On the other hand, precision slotted templates have been ex­tensively used for graphical positioning of 1:80 000 scale photography in the process of 1:100 000 scale mapping. This has been done in conjunction with the use of airborne profil­ing for vertical control. In recent years there has been an increasing production of orthophotomaps and quite massive pro­grams of this type of mapping are now underway.


More recently use has been made of geodetic satellites for map­ping control surveys and for the co-relation of all Australian surveys into a worldwide pattern of geodetic control. Satel­lite borne imagery is currently contributing to small scale topographic and land use mapping.


Not only in map making but throughout all graphic arts activity, there is always an on-going development of drawing photographic and printing materials, equipment and technologies, and those responsible for the graphic arts side of map making have kept up-to-date with developments and continually tested and assess­ed their applications to map reproduction.


In the spheres of computer mapping and automated cartography, the Army is pushing on with the development of a fully auto­mated topographic mapping system, the Division of National Mapping has for a number of years operated "Stereomat" equip­ment to automatically produce orthophotomaps and digital ter­rain models from which computer plots of contours are prepared of whole map sheet areas. It is also actively applying com­puter mapping techniques to census, derived and other forms of thematic mapping. Most agencies make use of available auto­matic plotters for the plotting of grids and graticules and control survey data. At least one State is digitising its contours direct from stereoplotters and others are digitising cadastral data. Automatic type selection procedures have been adopted. All are carefully assessing the practical values of applying computer techniques to their compilation and drafting procedures.


The Division of National Mapping and the Army have agreed upon standard practices for recording digitised topographic infor­mation on magnetic tape and these are now being considered by the staff of the various National Mapping Council member or­ganizations with a view to acceptance of a national standard.

The general development of Australian Cartography and its wid­ening scope can be judged from the broad spectrum of papers being presented to this 1976 Conference. What of the future of topographic mapping in relation to these developments?


Through the National Mapping Council we appear to have estab­lished a form of "co-operative Federalism" that some of our current politicians should regard with envy. We have practical arrangements that seem to work well under our local conditions, which minimise duplication of work but permit multilateral de­velopment of equipment and techniques which in themselves are subject to review and assessment via the regular meetings with the National Mapping Council and its Technical Sub Committee. Maybe after 30 years of operation certain things could be tidied up but the first and fundamental resolution of the 1945 Conference still applies and continuing "co-ordinated national schemes for the mapping of Australia" are still required. It cannot be claimed that there has been perfect co-ordination over the past 30 years but, by and large, it has been very good. Nor can it be claimed that there has not been bitter­ness and difficulties along the way, but there is no point in dwelling on these; men of good will, have in the past, and will in the future, make the existing arrangements work to the benefit of their States and Commonwealth Administrations, and for the good of Australia as a whole.


In so far as control surveys are concerned, the biggest change in the future will be in the increasing use of geodetic satel­lite techniques. As with the introduction of most new tech­niques, these will initially be used in conjunction with the others that are currently available, hopefully, in the most practical combination applicable to particular circumstances. However, the ultimate impact of satellite geodesy is likely to be of tremendous significance. Currently, Australia is extremely fortunate in being provided with specific elements of precise ephemeris data by U.S. authorities for certain NAVSAT satellites, but it is essential to develop an independ­ent capacity for the determination of orbital elements of any available and suitable satellites. The National Mapping Coun­cil has recommended this and the Geodetic Branch of the Divis­ion of National Mapping is working towards this end. Initially, this will involve Commonwealth/State co-operative surveys of particular areas within a concentrated time frame.


Laser terrain profiling could advantageously be used in many parts of Australia to provide control that would be adequate for 10 metre contouring. Used judiciously in conjunction with aerial triangulation it may be adequate to control 5 metre con­touring.


In so far as the collection of imagery is concerned, the manu­facturers have provided excellent lenses and photographic mat­erials and these can be expected to improve progressively.


Personally, I would like to see some tests of the ultimate capability of high altitude super wide angle colour photogra­phy, particularly for map revision and land use mapping. Any­thing along these lines that can reduce the high cost of map completion in the field will be beneficial.


The multi spectral imagery being obtained from US LANDSAT sat­ellites is already having an effect on mapping operations. Tests, here and overseas, indicate that in the hands of ex­perts, horizontal map positioning of an average of about 70-80 metre precision is possible. For all practical purposes this is near enough to be accepted for 1:250 000 scale mapping. This precision is about equal to the size of an individual "pixel". A national orthophotomap coverage would provide innumerable control positions that could be applied to this multi spectral imagery. It may well be that the automatic scanning facilities being used in orthophotomapping operations could be adapted to the automatic, computer controlled matching of sat­ellite borne multi spectral imagery for map positioning pur­poses. This combined with a projected future reduction in pixel size to 30 metres may permit development of automated 1:100 000 scale map revision.


Practically the whole of Australia is covered with LANDSAT multi spectral imagery and a wide variety of scientific map users is applying this imagery to meet their own special re­quirements. Consideration is currently being given to the es­tablishment of receiving and processing facilities in Austra­lia. It is essential that map makers keep up with the field.


From a management point of view one of the most important con­siderations must be that of coping with the future map revis­ion problem. For this reason it is extremely important to carefully assess the basic mapping scale for territorial cov­erage and in doing so realise that there is not much point in drawing up a basic mapping program that will take more than 10-15 years to complete. On the other hand, there is scope for more rapid production of revised maps if past traditional forms of presentation are by-passed. For example, a new orthophotomap can be produced fairly rapidly and in conjunction with a composite transparent overlay of contours and stream pattern derived from earlier mapping could be quite adequate for use by scientifically and technologically oriented map users.


Much more use could be made of State Co-ordination Acts and vol­untary action by survey and mapping personnel with or without the use of computer mapping techniques to ensure that all plans and maps of municipal and State authorities are continuously up-dated in respect of new cultural development. Ideally, fac­ilities should be available for providing immediate prints from these plots and cognizance should be taken of the availability of two colour contact printing papers for this purpose. One State is already operating a continuous revision system for its cadastral maps.


Managers of map making agencies are already applying their minds to the introduction of computer and automated mapping systems and many other people who are involved in the use of position­ally significant data are similarly occupied. Really "hard headed" multi-disciplinary cost benefit studies and sound de­cisions are required. These must be directed to particular local objectives and not looked upon as a matter of "keeping up with the Jones" whether the Jones be located in Australia or overseas.


It is extremely important that all these people get together and adopt procedures for recording that will last for many years; on the other hand, it will probably be found cost bene­ficial to change equipment and techniques at 5-10 year inter­vals in order to reap the benefit of technological advances.


The importance is once again stressed of recording all of this data in terms of the Australian Map Grid in order to avoid the confusion that will result from the use of any other map grid. As yet, very few realise how much map co-ordinates will impinge on the administrative, technological and scientific ac­tivities of the community in the application of geocoding systems, to all sorts of statistical data.


I have speculated enough! In conclusion, I trust that this re­view of the past and projection into the future will be useful to you all in the full application of cartography and its de­rivatives to the "perfect discovery" of this "Southern Con­tinent". Although my review of our past 30 years of topo­graphic survey and mapping has been brief, it carries with it a pride in the achievements that have been attained by the map makers of Australia and an appreciation of the opportunity that I have been given of participating therein.


My approach over the past 25 years has been based on the concept that the National Mapping Council constituted a team that was wholly intent on the efficient survey and mapping of Australia and of which I was both leader and servant. I pay warm tribute to those who are, and those who were members of that team and extend that appreciation to all those of their staff and those in the private sector, who have contributed to the magnificent progress we have collectively made towards completion of the task as we have seen it in our time.


To those carrying on, I cannot do more than wish each of them as interesting, exciting and rewarding a career as I have ex­perienced. I have sufficient faith in the prediction of the future developments that I have made herein to leave me no doubt that this wish will come true.





The Australian National Spheroid

a =

6 378 160 m


1/f =


The Johnston Origin


25°56' 54.5515”



133°12' 30.0771”


Spheroidal Height

571.2 metres



All topographic heights shall be expressed in metres and re­ferred to the Australian Height Datum (AHD).


The Australian Height Datum is a surface based on mean sea level adopted in 1971 and described in Special Publication No. 8 pre­pared by the Director of National Mapping on behalf of the Nat­ional Mapping Council, and in which the values of bench marks are published and details of the adjustment set out.


For mainland Australia the datum surface is that which passes through mean sea level at the thirty tide gauges and through points at zero AHD height vertically below the other primary junction points. The levelling network in Tasmania is referred to as the Australian Height Datum, Tasmanian Section.


The adopted height for the ground mark at the Johnston Geodetic Station is 566.300 m.





Universal Transverse Mercator

Geographic Co-ordinates of Origin


Central Meridian of each zone



Equator (0°)




False Northings


10 000 000 metres

False Eastings


500 000 metres

Scale Factor at Central Meridian



Limits of zones and overlaps

The zones are bounded by meridians whose longitudes are multiples of 6° W or E of Greenwich with 1/2° overlaps

Zone numbering


AMG zones are numbered from zone 47 with cen­tral meridian  99° E to zone 58 with central meridian 165° E.

Latitude limits

Equator (0°) to 80° S