Field Operations 1958

The Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) was interested in having First Order control in the Talgarno area (between Port Hedland and Broome WA) by the end of 1959. This was in connection with their “Blue Streak” rocket program. To help achieve this objective they promised support in the way of Field Assistants and vehicles. This was taken into account when arranging the 1958 field program which was:

  (i)    Reconnaissance, Musgrave Ranges, SA - Giles, WA.

 (ii)    Reconnaissance, Giles - Carnegie H.S. WA - including selection of the route for a track to be graded by L. Beadell of WRE (later nicknamed “The Gunbarrel Highway”).

(iii)    Reconnaissance, Carnegie HS - Roy Hill, WA and Mt Anderson - Halls Creek.

H.A. Johnson would complete these tasks.

  (i)    Reconnaissance, Colona Spur - Norseman, WA, selecting tower sites where necessary with the reconnaissance vehicles.

 (ii)    Reconnaissance, Powell Creek - Larrimah.

A.H. Spowers would complete these tasks.

  (i)    Beaconing and observing Finke NT - NT, WA, SA Border area.

 (ii)    Beaconing and observing Aileron NT - Halls Creek, WA.

R.A. Ford would complete these tasks.

  (i)    Beaconing and observing, Penong - Colona Spur, SA.

 (ii)    Beaconing and observing Colona Spur - Madura, WA.

(iii)    Beaconing and observing, Darwin - Katherine, NT.

A.H. Spowers would complete these tasks.

The field party under R.A. Ford left Melbourne in late March calling at WRE Salisbury SA en route where a Morris 4 x 4 truck with driver (R. Campbell) and also a Commer 4 x 4 truck with driver, joined the party; two short wheel base Land Rovers with trailers which were to be driven by our own personnel were also collected. All were equipped with Traeger radios which had crystals for the WRE frequencies. Similar crystals had been purchased for our own radios so we now had good inter-party communication as well as a good channel for telegrams to Melbourne.

Leaving Salisbury the party travelled by road to Kulgera and beaconed twenty-one hills between Finke and the Mann Ranges. These included some very high peaks in the Musgrave Ranges, Mt Woodruffe (the highest mountain in SA), Mt Warrabillinna, Mt Woodward, Mt Davenport and Mt Kintore, all of which were solid climbs.

The Musgrave Ranges in their own way are just as spectacular as the Flinders and MacDonnell Ranges; however they differ in that they rise directly from the plain, thus one can drive to the foot of the mountain from where it is steep climbing all the way.

The old pole in the large cairn on Mt Woodruffe was still in good order with the engraved name still clearly readable; it was brought down and taken to the Surveyor General SA on the way home; it was later exhibited in the Adelaide Museum.

During this period the party had the pleasure of establishing the station mark on Ayers Rock and building our normal cairn with pole and vanes. This was replaced with the current Direction Plaque in 1970.

Also of interest was the establishing of a station mark and cairn on Mt Olga. This spectacular rock can be very dangerous to climb and not a great number of people have attempted it. H.A. Johnson had provided a sketch of the route he had used. The party was only to put in a station mark, clear the odd bushes and improve the existing cairn so that it could be intersected from our primary stations. R. Ford and J. Graham arrived ahead of the main party and climbed to the summit to investigate the route and to ascertain the requirements for the cairn.

Next morning most of the party were able to complete the climb, the old cairn was dismantled (it was not a survey cairn, having been built by those who had climbed Mt Olga), and a station mark was set in the centre. There was a bottle at the site containing the names of some thirty previous climbers, No 1 was the NT Police Trooper McKinnon (in the late 1930's), No 2 J. Bechervaise (in the late 1940's), while Nos 3 and 4 were D.R. Hocking and F.J. McCoy of National Mapping (in 1951).

On the completion of the beaconing, the party was organised for observing westward from Mt Grundy, near Finke. Three observers were available, A. Colvin, G. Cruickshanks and R. Ford. Twenty one hills, mainly of triangu­lation were observed in this phase which was completed in June just as the weather was turning cold and wet. It had been necessary to camp on the summits of some of the peaks as the descent took too long to be safe after dark.

It had been decided before the start of the season that the best time to complete the Aileron - Halls Creek traverse was in the coolest part of the year; the party now proceeded to Alice Springs to put that into effect. Beacons were erected from Mt Gardner to The Granites. The hills in this area were close to the old disused track to The Granites which is some distance from the present graded road through the flat country. The old track was found to be non-existent, the route being defined by a growth of shrubs, mainly Minnaritchie, in the old wheel tracks. Before proceeding further north the observing of this section was completed, some fifteen stations in all. During this period training in observing was commenced for Field Assistants, E. Lewis and J. Graham.

The section, Granites - Halls Creek (Mt Barrett) was now beaconed, very rough country being traversed en route. Observing was done in the reverse direction, some seventeen stations being completed. The only trouble experienced was a shortage of water, the bore at Tanami being in disrepair. As air photo coverage was available of this area, photo identification was completed at each station.

It was now late September and the party returned to the Musgrave Range area to continue westward. The decision to do the northern work between June and September had been the right one. Heavy rain had fallen in the Musgrave Range area during the period, considerably delaying the Tellurometer party who had been unlucky enough to be in the area at that time. However, by now the country was showing the benefit of the downpour, wild flowers abounding.

Beaconing and observing was completed to the line Mt Gosse - Mt Hinkley close to the three State border corner, NT-SA-WA, six stations being involved. All hills in this section were solid climbs.

A solid triangulation chain now extended along the NT-SA border from the vicinity of Kulgera on the Stuart Highway to the WA border; and included Mt Conner and Ayers Rock well to the north. Further rain and heavy thunder­storms were experienced while this work was in progress, probably luckily for the observing party as water was not easy to obtain unless long journeys were under­taken. Figure 3 shows the triangulation diagram.

H.A. Johnson had just completed a reconnaissance west from Mt Hinkley to Mt Talbot near Warburton Mission. It was good triangulation country and he remarked “This will probably be the last triangulation scheme you will observe”. It was decided to beacon this section of the work before the party returned to Melbourne, some eleven stations being involved. The task proved strenuous as the weather was hot and travelling was slow, however the mission was successfully completed and the party returned to Melbourne during November.

The field party under A.H. Spowers left Melbourne in March and completed the reconnaissance from Colona Spur to Norseman, WA fairly quickly now that the two reconnaissance vehicles were available. After completing the difficult area near the Head of the Bight, advantage was taken of the intervisibility across the sea of small “capes” along the cliffy coastline of the Bight. This system was used to cover 200 miles to Wilsons Bluff, close to the SA-WA border. From Wilsons Bluff to Olwolgin Bluff, another 160 miles west, the same system was used along the edge of the inland escarpment. From Olwolgin Bluff to Norseman, tower sites were selected using the reconnaissance vehicle. When this was completed a further reconnaissance was made to select stations on the short traverse needed to connect the station on Colona Spur with the Army Survey Corps station at Ooldea. Figures 1 and 2 show the reconnaissance vehicle with the tower in mobile and reconnaissance positions.

Beaconing and observing now commenced; cairns with pole and vanes being erected on the rocky points while a pole and vanes strutted with “Unimet” was used on the sandy points. Two observing parties were now formed, R. James and H. Couchman being the observers. They completed the observing from Penong to Colona Spur.

At the conclusion of the observing the field party moved to the Darwin area. Here the same observers completed the section of the traverse NM/G/21 (near Darwin) to McDrill Bluff. The Tellurometer measuring of this section was to be done by the NT Lands and Survey Branch.

The reconnaissance to select tower sites between Larrimah and Powell Creek was also completed with the reconnaissance vehicles. As the trees were higher than the 30 ft towers which were to be used, it was necessary to utilise firstly the cleared line of the railway because of its longer straights and then the cleared line of the Stuart Highway. Towers were sighted at the bends and as they are numerous many short lines were necessary, some under a mile. The whole traverse covered 216 miles, and required 48 tower stations.

Figure 1: Reconnaissance tower on Commer truck, mobile position.

Figure 2: Tower erect for reconnaissance; height at eye-level 30 feet

Figure 3: Triangulation scheme Musgrave Ranges & SA – NT Border.

The field party now returned to Eucla and observed between Wilsons Bluff and Olwolgin Bluff. Observing conditions were poor and large swings were noticed in the observations; this was attributed to varying horizontal refraction caused by sudden severe changes in the atmospheric conditions along the coastline.

Geodimeter and Tellurometer

The short 1958 program for the Geodimeter was a series of measurements for the Tasmanian Department of Lands and Survey, undertaken in March.

The measurements were:

Cambridge Base near Hobart

Mt Rumney - Mt Wellington

Waterhouse - Mt Cameron

Lileah - The Nut

Half mile base line, Cressy

After the conclusion of this program all future electronic distance measurements undertaken by the Division were with the various models of the Tellurometer, until the arrival of the Model 8 Geodimeter (Laser) at the end of 1968.

Tellurometer measurements were completed on the following traverses:

NT - SA border   

350 miles

Aileron, NT - Halls Creek, WA.

500 miles

Modifications to the instruments to incorporate a crystal oven had been made. This completely solved the overheating problem of the previous year.

In these early days of experience with the Tellurometer, as two measurements were required along each line, the method adopted was to “swap ends” with the instruments for the second measurement. To save considerable travelling on the long Aileron - Halls Creek traverse it was decided to take one measurement only along each line on the way to Halls Creek and do the other measurement with the instruments reversed, on the way back.

On the outward journey, about half way to Halls Creek the “C” crystal failed, and from then on a short base had to be laid out at each station to enable a rough calculation of the distance to be made as a check against gross error.

C.K. Waller had to return to Melbourne from Halls Creek owing to illness in his family. Surveyor M.A. Nicholas who had recently joined the Division from the Royal Australian Army Survey Corp took over and completed the return measurements.

On return to Melbourne the Tellurometer was taken to Macquarie Island where a theodolite and Tellurometer traverse was completed by Senior Surveyor, J.D Lines, of the Topographic Survey Branch, and M.A. Nicholas.

Reconnaissance, Giles, WA - Carnegie HS, WA.

This important reconnaissance was undertaken by H.A. Johnson to select traverse points west from Mt Talbot, near Warburton Mission and also a route for a track which L. Beadell of the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) would grade to enable good access to be available for the beaconing, observing and Tellurometer parties.

It was a difficult trip to organise, the distance Giles to Carnegie HS being about 420 miles and from Warburton Mission about 300 miles and no water was available along the route. Trevor Reginald Nossiter, Len Beadell, Walter Batchelor MacDougall and R. Smith of WRE joined H.A. Johnson at Giles for this reconnaissance (HA Johnson's report of this work may be found in the Division of National Mapping's 1958 publication titled Reconnaissance Report on Proposed Geodetic Survey : Mt. Harvest to Carnegie Homestead - Ed.).

A good traverse and track route was selected using the low hills available and the route was marked for the grading party which was to complete the track in the spring. The route passed through country which at that time had been rarely visited by Europeans since the early explorers.

The WRE personnel returned to SA via the good roads after reaching Carnegie Homestead and H.A. Johnson continued his reconnaissance to the Carnarvon Range. From there to Roy Hill a feasibility reconnaissance only was made, as it was necessary to proceed with the Derby (Mt Anderson) to Halls Creek reconnaissance, complete this and still leave time to return to the SA-NT border area to reconnoitre the gap in the traverse between Mt Mann and Mt Talbot.

Over the next few years H.A. Johnson was to spend much of his time on reconnaissance in this type of terrain and in the sandridge country to the north. His very informative 27 page article, “Geodetic Surveys through the Australian Sandridges”, in The Australian Surveyor, September 1964 should he read by all who are interested in either geodetic surveys or mapping in remote areas of Australia.


With the Tellurometer and theodolite traverses now taking the place of triangulation the primary survey was pushed ahead very quickly even though a considerable amount of triangulation was incorporated. However with the measuring instrument separate from the beaconing/observing party, some traverses were complete except for measurements.

The following table shows this, but also gives a good picture of the progress being made:

Eucla - Olwolgin Bluff, WA

Traverse (angles only)

 8 stations

160 miles

Finke - NT, SA, WA border

Triangulation & Traverse

29 stations

350 miles

Aileron, NT - Halls Creek, WA


28 stations

500 miles

Darwin – Katherine, NT

Traverse (angles only)

12 stations

200 miles

Field Parties 1958

H.A. Johnson

Senior Surveyor, Reconnaissance


No 1 Party


R.A. Ford

Surveyor, Grade 1 (Acting) Party Leader and observer

A.S. Colvin

Field Assistant (Survey) Observer

G.J. Cruickshanks

Field Assistant (Survey)

J. Graham

Field Assistant

E. Lewis

Field Assistant

B. Stevens

Field Assistant

K. Smith

Field Assistant

D. McDonald

Field Assistant

R. Campbell

Field Assistant WRE


Field Assistant WRE

(stayed short time only)


No 2 Party


A.R. Spowers

Surveyor Grade 2 Party Leader and reconnaissance

R. James

Field Assistant (Survey) Observer

H. Couchman

Field Assistant (Survey) Observer

D. Hutton

Field Assistant

D. McDonald

Field Assistant

J. Nuzzo

Field Assistant

B. Ackermann

Field Assistant WRE

E. Skeen

Field Assistant WRE


Tellurometer Party


C.K. Waller

Surveyor Grade 2


J. Slama

Field Assistant (Survey)


J. Marshall

Field Assistant


R. Collins

Field Assistant


Additional Photos

Reg Ford at Mt Olga

Olgas back to Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Three monoliths – Olgas, Uluru, Conner

Track to the top of Uluru

Mt Conner

Mt Olga (Kata Tjuta)

Uluru (Ayers Rock)

After the rains on top of Uluru (old strip in background)

Remnants of 1958 Uluru cairn

Rare photo as such is now forbidden!

(Courtesy Laurie McLean September 1970)

(Courtesy Laurie McLean September 1970)

Uluru Trig Station Summary

Plaque before installation at Uluru

Google now shows way to the top

Plaque and monument in 1975

Giles circa 1958

 HAJ 100 miles west of Giles circa 1958