Syd Kirkby, MBE AO

Syd was directly involved with Nat Map's Aerodist program from its inception in the early 1960s until the end of 1970. During this period Syd was variously the Aerodist field party leader, the senior surveyor in charge of the program and later the Branch supervising surveyor. During 1963 and 1964 Syd led the early helicopter-borne Aerodist measuring field operations in the Bowen Basin of central Queensland and the Surat Basin in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Between 1965 and 1969 Syd continued to lead Aerodist measuring field operations in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. From 1966 to 1969, Syd also led Aerodist measuring operations over the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea off Queensland.

Sydney Lorrimar Kirkby was born in Perth in 1933 and grew up in Western Australia where he qualified as a surveyor in 1955. In 1954, Syd was engaged as a surveyor-astronomer on the joint Commonwealth-State Great Sandy Desert Expedition that undertook mapping and geology work over an area that included the Canning Stock Route.

Syd joined National Mapping in August 1959 after wintering at Mawson base with an Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1956-57. During the summer of 1956-57, Syd and his companions Bill Bewsher (1924-2012) and Peter Crohn (1925-2000) were the first people ever to see the full extent of the Prince Charles Mountains. These major mountains extend in an arc over 380 km in Mac Robertson Land well to the south of Mawson base and were named in 1956 after HRH Prince Charles. Syd and his two companions were the first people to penetrate the Prince Charles Mountains when they undertook their 1 000-mile or so dog sledging journey that extended over a period of some three months. Syd again wintered in Antarctica in 1960. Syd participated in further Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions during the summer seasons of 1961-62, 1962-63 and 1964-65.

Initially engaged by Nat Map solely as an Antarctic surveyor, Syd became progressively involved in Australian mapping activities from 1961. During 1962, Syd Kirkby formally became a member of Nat Map's Australian operations. From the initial field days of the Aerodist program Syd more than adequately assisted the then senior surveyor Len Turner and relieved Len as field party leader on several occasions. In 1966, Syd became the senior surveyor in charge of Nat Map's Airborne Horizontal Control Section and continued to spend much time running Aerodist field operations.

Around the end of 1969, Syd was promoted to supervising surveyor in charge of the newly created Control Survey Branch that included Aerodist marking and measuring operations as well as the laser airborne terrain profiler operations and other mapping control survey activities. Around early 1971 following Len Turner's move to Canberra, Syd became the supervising surveyor in charge of the recently restructured Topographic Survey Branch that then included most other Melbourne office activities, namely: photogrammetry and the then emerging digital photogrammetry, orthophotomapping, and digital terrain modelling as well as map completion activities, Antarctic mapping activities, and survey and map records. In 1976, Syd became an assistant director responsible for the running of all Nat Map's Victorian office operations. Syd again wintered in Antarctica as the officer in charge at the Mawson station in 1980.

For his service in Antarctica Syd was awarded a Polar Medal in March 1958 and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in January 1966. In 1997, Syd was awarded the Gold Medal of the Australian Geographic Society. In 1999, Syd was nominated by The Australian newspaper as one of the ten greatest Australian adventurers of the 20th century. In 2002, Syd was awarded the John Park Thomson (Founder's) medal by the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia Queensland Branch. Later, in the 2018 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Syd was awarded an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to surveying, particularly in the Antarctic, to polar exploration, research and mapping expeditions, and to professional scientific societies.

Syd retired from National Mapping in October 1984 and now lives at Flaxton in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland.


Source : McLean, Lawrence William (2015), The Aerodist Years : Recollections of the Division of National Mapping’s Airborne Distance Measuring Program, 1963-1974.