Poolawanna : 1:250 000 Gravity Survey Levels



(Original report hand-written (in his favoured pale blue ink) by HA (Bill) Johnson and signed on 28 September 1970)

(Preserved by Col Kimber/John Knight XNATMAP, Canberra and transcribed for easier reading below)

Editor’s Note : Poeppel’s Corner spelling by HAJ is correctly called today Poeppel Corner and points like Gidyea Hill, Narrow Neck, Larrys, Beal etc are not shown on today’s topo maps probably because they could not be accurately identified.

Additional photos courtesy Laurie McLean, Lawrie O’Connor, Ed Burke, Harry Baker & John R Porter




In accordance with instructions to check the BMR heighting on Poolawanna 1:250,000 sheet I [HAJ] worked down interviewing property owners passed on route regarding current map revision to the western end of the seismic line in the Dalhousie sheet near Alka-Seltzer Bore and then traversed this seismic line as it crosses the Poolawanna sheet near its northern edge from 455744 to 619767 near Poeppel’s Corner, commencing 20 August 70 and completing 8 September 70 near Birdsville.





With small chance of positive recognition without visitation of some distant ridge, across such a welter of sandridges of varying heights, many lower ones being masked behind higher, theodolite ranging seemed ruled out. Also the rough going made travelling too slow to get far field and to return in time to give a worthwhile check, without a local barometric base.


This was mentioned in discussion with Mr R.A. Robinson of the Cartographic Branch and that the check would therefore be confined to a mile or two of the seismic line until the lakes in the eastern section of the sheet were reached and it was possible to examine and re-establish for heights some of the early triangulation in that area by theodolite rays.


Central Australia is usually very stable and regular in its mid-year diurnal waves but during the period of the survey there was considerable weather disturbance in southern Australia its affects penetrating to lower central parts and that there were big and sometimes fast movements and changes along the route.


However by watching these movements and by frequent checks sometimes returning over some short routes for comparisons it is thought most heights are within 10 feet.


In all instances the work commenced and returned on benchmarks using provisional values of the recent levelling contract.


Battery 9 of three altimeters, just serviced prior to this survey, was carried using means of all three instruments wherever read.


Readings were taken at the point indicated on the original sheet sent, marked Sheet 1, and in relation to the benchmark positions as shown on Sheet 2. No time was spent in checking the BM positions since it is understood these have all been plotted from spot photography.


In every instance the barometer checks were made in the most likely area, usually the most level and lowest part of a flat, where it seemed a helicopter pilot would wish to land.


A few extra readings have been taken along the seismic track on the tops of some of the higher ridges and immediately below in the flats to give a quick indication of their heights, though the contract level values would give a more accurate profile. However, this party would be likely to use any close saddles in preference to heading directly along the line, which often crossed the highest crest of a ridge with cornice of loose, steep-falling drift.


With the theodolite, occupations were made of the highest point of each old triangulation site visited. By compass, the theodolite was set to the approximate true bearing sufficiently near to establish the distant ridges or hills used, then connected to the nearest minute from the readings on the old triangulation diagram on some distinctive distant station. Vertical angles were read to ground level on the observed stations, sometimes moving a few minutes off the original true bearing to point on the highest part seen.


On the ground without photographs at some ridges, there can seem a somewhat indefinite situation of merging, terraced, parallel ridges, so on all except Gidyea Hill (which was too far from a suitable lake) of the six old sites occupied, horizontal rays were taken to various inlets, capes, or points, or tangential to such points, with vertical angles to the shoreline, usually with its distinct salt edge.


These rays served the purpose of trying to locate the standpoint as accurately as possible on the map sheet, and also of putting heights to the shoreline. The single ray verticals were corrected for Index Error and for a C&R factor – distances were scaled as closely as possible on the map.


Six of the old triangulation sites were visited in the following order, Gidyea, Fisher, Narrow Neck, Pillan, Larry, Henry. At Henry the new concrete pillar at Poeppel’s Corner was easily seen 1½ miles away, the height bought up by single ray this short distance, then by reciprocal rays through the other occupied points down to Narrow Neck, with rays read to the adjoining sites, Wattle, Hart, Beal etc [From original trigonometrical plans the positions of all these points have been plotted on the map (Jordan, 2013); the high sandhill just west of Poeppel corner was named by Poeppel as Henry Hill after his Chainman].





-By Barometer


Though some values are close, generally it seems that BMR heights range from two high (up to 30 feet near the eastern portion of the track) to too low by about the same amount on the eastern side.


These discrepancies may arise perhaps from different runs on different days. That BMR value of the 50 feet, taken near 598768 (Natmap’s reading 103ft in a likely looking Gidyea flat) may be a transcription error.


-SA Land’s Department


Although it is not usual to check heights established along a Tellurometer traverse, presumably by a repeated simultaneous vertical angles observed at optimum conditions, by barometer, such a check from a close control, may not be out of place on a fairly long traverse.


The altimeter battery values are within 8 feet of the SA Land’s values at all except T4/503, where there is a 17 feet discrepancy – Land’s 314 feet, Natmap’s barometer 297 feet. Although there was some movement in the altimeters at the time it was not excessive. Perhaps the contract levelling party levelled to this new station in passing, or the Natmap astronomical party re-read verticals, which could clarify the value.


-By T2 Theodolite


Conditions were so poor and peculiar at the first old station site visited, Gidyea Hill, that it was decided, with a sand-plume smoking off the ridge, to spend the time travelling instead of waiting for improvement. Better values are always obtained in vertical work, also, if a hill shape can be seen and not continuous running water, nor even worse, as on this occasion, a vague blur in the binoculars disappearing under magnification in the theodolite. It was re-occupied three days later, on my return.


Subsequent conditions seemed reasonably satisfactory for all this short distanced verticals, and a C&R factor derived of 0.00450 for feet and used for rays to the adjacent stations and to the lake surfaces. As a check, heights between reciprocal stations and have been worked out as single rays as well as reciprocal.




To help assess the value or accuracy rather, of the BMR heights, the following may be worth considering.


Looking at this lake system, the many separate lakes seem close enough to suggest being originally part of a single lake (into which the sandridges have developed and encroached), and that they would have a common level. Allowing that each has become its own entity in level, and being top-dressed from surrounding sandridges at different rates, through which dressing the salt and gypsum must work (and it does not appear to work very high up at the lake edges), one might suspect that even from the limited catchment of the ridges surrounding each lake, that there would be enough water on such a generally southward slope as the barometer heights would indicate on some of the longer lakes (within themselves that is) to cut deep channels, and unless there were quick leakage by drainage, then deep pools would form at the southern end, long lasting, also.


For instance, enough water poured out of each of the very small extent of three watercourse shown near 602755 to float or wash numerous branches and several 5” thick by 24” long logs from the adjacent on-shore Gidyea patch, 300 yards out from the lake edge (others might well be further), but no deep channel was cut into the salt lake proper, which suggests that sufficient water was available to float them out there, and reasonably still water too, which should either have been at a great depth at the southern end (say nearly 20 feet deep since the top of northern end where the seismic line crosses is about 60ft elevation, with the southern height 28) or else rushing southwards fast enough to cut a very deep channel, but no such channel was visible on that or any other lake crossed, the surfaces of which all seemed generally level in any direction, except for a few inches of unevenness one finds on most salt lakes, as though the salt water wells up and rise out in a continuous process to form its distinct florescences, and through which occasional shallow, indefinite channels of several inches deep meander from time to time and disappear.


It was found that this crust of sand and gypsum crystals surmounted by its salt top layer, after compaction by the wheels, ranged from about 2 or 4 inches on the north end of the long lake running down to Narrow Neck, to 15 or 16 inches near its southern end, and also seemed damper in these deeper wheel tracks which were cut into it. Similarly the tracks cut deeper when going down the lake on the west of Pillan Hill, from 4 inches on the north end to 8 inches near Pillan, but even 15 inches is negligible compared with the calls that the BMR barometer heights indicate.


The Natmap barometer heights on the seismic track across the northern ends of these lakes indicate a steady fall to the east, and these should be verified from the contract 3rd Order levelling profile.


By the time of the non-simultaneous reciprocal rays reached Narrow Neck, there could be 10 feet error from Poeppel’s Corner, though two checks give some hope for better results.


(a)        the heights put on the higher of the Approdinna Attora Knolls (or what are thought to be) by barometer from a close benchmark under fairly steady conditions, and also by reciprocal rays through two routes to Gidyea, thence to the Knolls differ by 2 feet only.


(b)        allowing for errors of position in plotting the standpoints at Fisher and Narrow Neck and in scaling to the shoreline, both exercises on 1:250,000 scale and remembering a scale error of 200 yards on a 30 foot depression gives 5ft error in height, the shoreline heights from north of Fisher to south of Narrow Neck are not very different. Also it is mentioned, the BMR heights on this lake surface are close in themselves over a wide space of runs, and averaging say only 12 to 15 feet lower than the theodolite values.


All the above may be quite unimportant in what was required in the investigation of the Poolawanna helicopter levels, but if of importance then it is suggested a more accurate plot at photo scale be made of the rays to the lake’s edges, so that not only the position of the old stations be more accurately established, but that more accurate scaled distances may be applied in working out these shore heights, since, say an error of 200 yards (about 1/40th of an inch) north and south will make the northern shore heights differ from southern shore heights by about 10 feet or 30’ angles, from the same station.


If the above is of small import then my time spent in examination in this sector of both helicopter and my heighting, and in writing it up, and of others in perhaps reading it, is regretted; if of some moment, however, even more is regretted that it did not occur to me in the field to carry heights down the shoreline of this very long lake just west of Larrys Hill by occupation of Hart, Wattle and several other points further south, right to its southern inlets and capes.


Re-reading the above, I am suddenly reminded of the many times in traversing a smooth stretch of lake surface the wheels might suddenly sink say from an 8 inch track to 12 or 14 inches into the crust of soft, heavy going of fine blown sand and small gypsum crystals under the thin salt covering (and my heart never failed to sink with them, no matter how often), then in a yard or so rise back to 8 or 9 inches. Four or five times I went back and dug these out with my shovel to see what was below – it was the same soft crust but thicker over hardening gypsum crystals. Perhaps these were underground channels with the uneven surface underneath covered by an even-sloping top surface. Nature shouldn't find it is too difficult I suppose, not by the way she was filling in my 15 inch deep tracks round the long finger of sandridge she was forming and pushing into the lake near Narrow Neck, when I was returning in them 24 hours later. Still removal of such water at the southern end by drainage would need to be fast and complete, because salty water and salty springs are so often associated with frightful, bottomless muck and quicksand.





-WRE Emplaced Benchmarks




These marks consisted of presumably 10’ brass rod with some small amount of concrete around it lower down, in a loose concrete collar surmounted by a numbered SA Land’s Department plaque. A galvanised star picket and a flimsy semi-circular iron dropper both emplaced firmly enough on those tested and are surrounded by circular trench and mound with dimensions as shown [in the above sketch].


They are placed fairly regularly at 3 miles apart, and are mostly in remarkably good condition in the circumstances, though several are completely drifted in.


These latter would have been better sited ¼ mile short or long of their present position, as a few others have been.


Eastwards from Poeppel’s Corner, the benchmarks were sometimes sited near one of the old mile posts, both being enclosed by the trench and mound.


The WRE party made a good job of this marking.


-SA Land’s Department marking 1963


The ½” galvanised piping used for this survey marking is not very conspicuous, nor in keeping with what should be expected from this organisation and its early marking history.


With all the advantages of a new track at the time of the survey in 1963, superior piping or better still, easily carried angle iron, which could be bolted together to form a 2” or 3” square section to carry even a 12” or 18” square target of four vanes, would have been a small but important matter, and could have been driven just as readily.


That this flimsy bare ½” pipe was thoughtfully chosen to avoid scour which a pole several inches wider and carrying a 12” or 18” target 7 or 8 feet high, it might have started, sounds pour reasoning at best, nor does it explain the absence of some conspicuous circular trenches round reference marks which could have been placed at most stations, in firm, near-by flats.


-SA Survey Department 1880


On only two, Narrow Neck and Pillan, of the six old triangulation stations visited, were any remains found of the old beacons. These remains indicated much lighter timber than usually used on triangulation in those days, and are seen on other sandridges elsewhere, and the words “brush pile” on several points on the old pastoral plan of this area might indicate this old survey was more to control the camel sketching of those days, or the chainage along the border.


Any shallow held structure on these ridges would quickly collapse, and be buried and unburied a number of times most likely, as the scours and drifts form and disappear with the growing of Cane-grass, Acacias, bushes, and as they die or grow, along the tops and sides. The general top of most sandridges is quite stable, however much it may scour and build up in drifts in places along it.


The Queensland-South Australian border eastwards from Poeppel's Corner is magnificently marked with almost every Gidyea mile-post standing 2’-6” to 4’-6” above the ground, squared at the top and with a chiselled mileage usually readable, still standing and looking good for another 90 years at least, if unmolested. Doubtless the Queensland-NT border marking is of the same high standard.



Terrain, Flora, Fauna


Every morning from west to east, if without a track, the Simpson appears more formidable than our western deserts. There are less stakes in the Simpson and less sand-filled spinifex (this season anyway) but the scouring and rough going in some places seems worse, and without apparent differing cause in conditions within a few miles of each other. The western slopes in the Simpson do not give much trouble to a probably tyred vehicle, but the eastern slopes are notoriously steeper and often higher than either slope of most western desert sandridges.


Some firm sandy loamy flats with limestone nodules, possibly holding water for a short time after heavy rain, were crossed in the western part of the sheet, but these were quite different from the long lakes in the east, with their salt and gypsum content, and which have been described.


Near the lakes the sand seemed softer and more powdery, pink rather than red, as though gypsum were in it and fine silt blown from the lakes. On various occasions along the line it was thought the going was becoming much easier only to meet some very big and soft drifts on the crests, or else to strike the several mile sections of lower, closer, broken and very scoured ridges. Some of the wider spaced and biggest ridges were easiest to climb, certainly from the west, and comprised of clearly coarser sand.


Going SSE along the Gidyea flat after leaving the seismic line and down to Gidyea Hill, exposed limestone was frequently seen before the lake proper began. It is thought the native wells marked on the pastoral plan were probably soaks located in similar limestone country.


Approaching the Eyre or Mulligan, the flats were subject to flood-out, coolabahs, giant saltbush, and occasional Bauhinias, mostly taking the place of Gidyea or near it.


Perhaps it was the drought conditions with no spinifex in flower or in husk to hide stakes or to become sand-filled, which gave the impression of less stakes, which seemed so, however, with the country more open. Occasional Hakea (needle bush), quite a number of Dodonaea, a very little saltbush in several places, not a lot of spinifex, various Acacias of about 8-10 feet, mostly in flower on the ridges, but few other flowers, made up most of the vegetation. Travelling till too dark too continue there was usually plenty of firewood, wherever one stopped, if one looked around - only just on several occasions.


When the Gidyea flats were met about 565763, saltbush and last year’s dry herbage were usually associated with it. Gidyea is considered the best firewood in the centre – it is steady and slow burning and very hot. Few young Gidyeas are seen – the ones growing are usually gnarled and give the appearance of great age, which seemingly does not belie them. I have seen their stumps, cut in the early 1870s, along parts of the original Overland Telegraph line, and there are many such solid stumps along the Queensland-SA border. There is also a 20ft high Gidyea flourishing with the dead stumps of limb on line which was axed in 1880, irrefutable proof that it is 90 years old, and it probably looked little different in size then. In the meantime it has withstood some great droughts. Some of these old warriors might well be hundreds of years old. Mr George Chippendale in the Forestry Division would be aware of this no doubt but might be interested in seeing the photograph of this tree.


There must be many dingoes in the Simpson Desert, from their frequent tracks. One young female accompanied me more than 80 miles, down to Narrow Neck and back, coming within a few yards of me, eating the food I gave it, wandering around the truck and fire, and coming running in the mornings when I turned on the light and got the fire blazing. She was with me for nearly four days and left near Larrys Hill and I was sorry and glad, as I would not have liked it to have followed me out to get herself killed.


They do no harm out there, nor possibly in cattle country either, attacking only a weak calf almost exclusively, which the mother is too weak also to defend, as one cattleman has mentioned – a weak calf, which will further weaken the mother until she goes down and both cow and calf are lost for certain, and where without the calf, the mother might survive.


There were a few rabbits and occasional ground-sitting hawks, and a few larks.


Camel tracks were on many ridges and flats, but only once, east of Poeppel's, did I see any, when 10 full grown ones came trotting over a rise, to stop about 200 yards away, watch me for 5 minutes then wheel around and move off nobly and magnificently in their smooth, effortless trot, like something out of the Arabian Nights.



The Seismic Track and Going in General


The seismic track which has been so valuable for our survey operations was bulldozed by French petroleum in 1963, and continues to give good give proof after 7 years of what could so advantageously and profitably have been the method of access for National Mapping control in preference to the costly helicopter, which leaves nothing to help future visits, and any other aspect of control.


Going over everything in its path without deflecting except for the 5° bend, it is still a very useful track indeed, though with some initial small detours to avoid some of the worst tops and drifts, it would be in more useful shape. It is beginning in places to scour and drift (most still negotiable) and recent vehicles have found it necessary to make these detours themselves, often through rough going.


At Camp 9 the seismic track, leading off NNW, was inspected and was still very useful. From a small rise crossing the flat it was traversing, the track was easily discernible by naked eye 1½ miles on. These tracks should be shown as tracks with the suggested notation “Seismic 1963” in their network.


Near Poeppel's Corner the seismic track changes from 78°MB to 75°, continue to about 13½ miles then turns NNW up the flats etc, as marked on the Cooper Creek ICAO.


It seems in better shape (that part inspected) than the one across Poolawanna, but then it seemed to me that the going was a good deal easier east of Poeppel’s, probably because there seemed less scouring, though some of the eastern sandridge slopes were gigantic, but are mostly of one definite ridge and cleaner formed.


The seismic line crosses the border about 184 MP, on a lake, and on the eastern side of this lake, the wheel tracks of the Tellurometer survey, the benchmarking and the levelling vehicles leave the seismic line on their own route close to the border, the mileposts which are noticed as they are passed. Even without the bulldozed track, this going is fairly easy, though several very fine, soft sand, big ridges were found very loose in the heat of the day.


It was found advisable to select a new track up several of these, wherever they had been any turning and churning.


There is a slightly firmer crust on an undisturbed ridge, compacted possibly by the previous rains however long before. Broken and stirred up it is just so much more loose drift. Most sandridges (except the great 50 feet or more very steep slopes) are readily enough negotiated if an uncluttered run can be made at them.


It is advisable to look at the top of a sandridge, if any run at all is necessary, in case there is a waiting, very steep fall over the crest, which may put sudden strain on the transmission and chassis as the angle of slope changes by as much as 270°, and may ditch the vehicle in a narrow V-shaped scour where it cannot move, or put it on a dangerous unexpected side slope easily overturning it, as it slides sideways without rudder.


Where a sharp, steep fall must be made (and this is frequent enough), and it has been gauged by inspection, the vehicle should come up with sufficient speed to fall over the top, crushing down the sharp angle of fall slowly as the angles of climb and descent change. If there is not sufficient momentum to let a vehicle get over and start pointing downhill on the occasional drift which has a steep fall both sides, a vehicle can sit perched on its petrol tanks, propeller shaft etc, with no drive in either forward or back wheels until sufficient sand is removed to let it creak down again on its springs and wheels. Coming sliding down the sides of some of the steep 100 feet high slopes is as thrilling at times as driving an aeroplane.


A vehicle can make crossings of the bad ridges (where a scour perhaps prevents sufficient initial speed) with little enough strain on the transmission if it is de-clutched while it still has momentum, immediately it is seen it is unlikely to make the grade, so that it can roll to a halt without drive - and is not de-clutched at the last moment to prevent stall, but still with the whole vehicle shuddering with tremendous transmission strain of an instant, grabbing stop.


The International C1300 truck did the typical job one has learnt to expect from these splendid vehicles. At the end of the first 24 miles of the seismic track at the western end, along which part the sandridges were loamed over to get the oil rig along, the Dunlop road tread 9.00x16 by 10 ply tyres were lowered from 30lbs (which allow crossings of wide sandy creeks, and present full tread to stones and stakes in cross-country going) to 20lbs in the rear, 17lbs in the front – they could have been dropped to 15lbs, without risk at low speeds, but it was unnecessary. As they were, there appeared no bulge in the front and not much in the rear. With 8.25x16 by 10 ply tyres going up the Canning, the pressures were 11 front and 12 rear.


These 9.00x16 tyres give more clearance than 8.25 and all National Mapping Internationals could advantageously be shod with them instead of 8.25. There is no sign of wheel wobble after 20,000 miles with them on this truck.


If National Mapping had extensive work in the Simpson then Michelin Sahara 9.00x16 tyres on C1300’s and a bulldozer would be a go-anywhere proposition. As a private geologist once remarked, when I was gathering truck information and ask if the seismic line had been cleared, “Yes, only the Government can afford to take their vehicles and machinery across country as they do, without a track”.


For much cross-country going, it is well to remember that tyres more than most things about a vehicle govern its performance, and for special projects Sahara 9.00x16 and Dunlop Stabilia (which in the 12.00x16 size it is understood is available, and if it will fit our rims and mudguards) are well worthy of consideration. Even with its low-profile (lowering our clearance) the 10.00x16 Stabilia could be valuable – its tread is wide and square-walled.


The Bedfords still fitted with 11.00x20 are useless in sand, which a C1300 with 8.25 tyres negotiates readily in high ratio.


These Bedfords should have at least a tyre about 13.00x20, which is available, and would save costly differentials.


From the small amount of information I have heard and from observation of the trucks over the ridges, it would seem that Mr F McCoy and his party had just completed a very creditable survey, along with their International, which fitted with Sahara 9.00x16 tyres (which I had stored in the hope they would some day be used in a manner they were intended to be and not ruined in poor stake going) not only walked over these sandridges, but dragged an ailing 30cwt Landrover over the tougher ones.


Nor can the work of the contract levelling party under GJC Gibson be unmentioned. It is hoped this closes satisfactorily and the rates of payment were satisfactory, for this seems a truly remarkable performance by this party, which walked it twice and drove it once up and over and down and back again, these often gigantic, and, to them surely, seemingly limitless, serried ridges of sliding, red sand.


Finally, if anyone is still around, perhaps he may care to look through the T2 set on the crest of Larry Hill, almost surely named after that old, spare man with the faded blue eyes walking past the cadet years ago in the Lands and Survey Office – LA [Larry] Wells, the last of the explorers – or walk with me, as the sun is setting, northwards from Poeppel’s Corner half a mile or so along the line looking at the cut Gidyea stumps, the line on which Larry Wells was the cadet for two years over its full-length, or next morning gaze unbelieving at the first mile post met, or clamber up the eastern slope of a great ridge, remembering 90 years ago several men step-chained up it and hundreds of other such ridges out there, or trudge across this lake arm and northwards near the edge of the sandridged finger pointing into the lake passing, between its detached finger-nail and then south warily probing every few yards with the ¼” rod into the deepening crust before committing the vehicle, waiting and ready, and thinking of that other man ahead on the plotting, great beast, with the cleverly evolved soft, spreading pads which let it move over heavy going at such regular pace, timing and plotting its route so painstakingly and accurately, as he rounded that very same point most probably, and disappeared into its same stinging, swirling, eddying, formless smoke, on part of just another day's work.





With few enough permanent and/or identifiable points on Poolawanna, as on most heavily sandridged sheets, it seems that those available are of increased importance. The following are suggested:


-    The benchmarks be numbered.


-    Plot the rays read to the capes and inlets (at photo scale) from the standpoints, so that the positions of Pillan and Narrow Neck can be accurately located on the compilation and more accurate lake edge heights calculated, also. If the old triangulation is then calculated on its old data or with some scale factor possibly, and using these points as identified, the other sited hills should be capable of accurate enough plotting (and possible identification) to be indicated and named without any asterisk of doubt, over all the old network.


-    It is possible some block of old sketching was misplaced on the compilation of the pastoral plan, and Lake Tamblyn and the two knolls Approdinna Attora (strong, distinctive rises, where there are so few) are miss-plotted. An examination of the photographs should clarify this.


-    Plot with asterisk the positions of the old native wells, and names. They would be sanded over now, but that such existed may be of use to someone in the years to come, as well as preserving the original geography and history.


-    If the Gidyea belt is fairly well defined its boundary could be of help for location purposes, perhaps by a dotted line and an annotation “Approximate edge of Gidyea Belt”. As one approached the first appearance of a flat, Gidyea-studded, was quite arresting.


-    Plot all seismic lines as dotted tracks (which have been plotted on the Poolawanna Sheet 2), with the annotation “Seismic Tracks 1964”, or as appropriate. These locations were obtained from examination of BMR subsidy plans and files in 1969. A note stating such tracks may not be exactly located, and all are eroding or disappearing will help others to assess their value to themselves, whether on the ground or in the air.


-    The small watercourses running into the lake on the west of Larrys Hill let me locate my position at once as I passed my way to Pillan, 300 yards from the shore trying to seek the best going, and noted for my starting point later for Larrys Hill. All are important and valuable in the field.


-    Retain all the old nomenclature shown on the old Pastoral Plan - the unnamed “Bush Piles” excepted.





Not included as not with this document – Ed.



Signed :

HA Johnson

Surveyor Class 1

28 Sep 70




Monochrome Photos taken (August-September 1970) by HAJ and included with above report with his captions


Remains of Charlotte Waters Repeater Station recently opened when John Forrest arrived from the west in 1873. The walls were removed and used in the building of New Crown Homestead about 1951 or thereabouts.


Monument near Birdsville Hotel erected by Geosurveys to commemorate Madigan's arrival there after his crossing of the Simpson Desert.

Old SA survey buggy (*) drawn by two horses, usually with driver, surveyor, cadet in the front seat, and axemen and a chainman behind, and instruments etc; used up until about 1929. [* In Sprigg (2001), this buggy was found at the local rubbish dump and said to have originally belonged to a local pioneering family].


Purni Bore, drilled by French Petroleum, and small grassy edged lake it has formed since about 1962 or 63.


Good stock water but very irony to the taste. There are great excretions or scale forming over it looking like a red rusty boiler scale, which it probably is in composition and method of manufacture.


Typical benchmark in normal sandy flat with more than usual spinifex, not in flower or seed.


Benchmark in firm soil, easily dug, in not very common flat covered with the limestone nodules. Both (sites) on the western half of the Poolawanna sheet.


SA Land’s Department Tellurometer traverse mark of ½” galvanised iron pipe 7ft above and 4ft below surface.

With binoculars on a warm day they can be picked up about 1½ miles off.

Barometer box and plaster theodolite footings.

French Petroleum seismic track bulldozed from near Alka Seltzer bore (Dalhousie map sheet) to Poeppel's Corner in 1963. It is eroding now in places with scours and drifts, but is still very valuable survey access.

Looking eastwards from the top of a big and high sandridge. 8ft Acacia and Cane-grass.


Typical high, big sandridges though these photographs give no sense of height and steepness of either side. Only on the ridges was a little herbage, very little seen in flower. All Acacias were flowering on the ridges wherever met.


Both of these ridges have the fairly usual short section of flattish top and the sharp drift falls which form along portions of the top - small sandridge plume.


Typical high ridge with not uncommon stable sloping terrace falling part of the way down the eastern side, before meeting the normal steep slope nearer the bottom.


Very steep slopes on both sides of this drift and probably formed by strong opposite wind changes in a short period. The slopes on both photos are much steeper than they look, and if the truck’s momentum is not right on the top of such a lower crest, it can just sit there without drive in the wheels. Not very common.

Even in this early morning when the wind had not risen, this sharply defined ridge was smoking, rippling, forming and reforming, like something alive, as it was of course.


Looking north towards the lake over the old beacon remains on Narrow Neck Hill. 8ft high Acacia and Cane-grass.


Looking south towards the lake over the beacon remains on Narrow Neck Hill over very old gnarly Acacia 6ft high.

This hill is a wide flattish top. The corner post butts of this, probably not very robust beacon initially, were still embedded and the remains were left undisturbed.


The remains of the old, properly not over rugged beacon initially, on Pillan Hill. The structure would very likely help scouring, although other nearby parts of the ridge were scoured deeply enough too un-beaconed assisted. These tops obviously scour out (very deeply in places, but usually not much more than a few feet) build up and continue both processes, and in most instances, it would seem these tops continue in their location as tops.


No footings were found and the remains were roughly wired together. They will possibly scour out and all fall over. But equally possible the sand might build up and nearly cover them.


Returning in some selected good going between salty topped softer patches near the northern end of the lake between Larrys and Pillan Hills. Dingo pads in the foreground. Also for those still convulsed, the tyre, over the cabin, has no rim.


Returning in some earlier not such good going round the long finger of sandridge, pushing into the lake near Narrow Neck Hill. Even where the tracks cut in 12 to 14 inches deep it was possible to return in much of them in 3rd gear 2 wheel drive.


Scours in the compacted sand of some of the lower and closer ribs of ridges, which were always the roughest going.


The remains of an Acacia, which would probably have been 8-10 feet high, before it was trimmed down in 1880, on line, over quite a high sandridge, and giving some idea of the general stability of most ridges, and probably most parts of ridges.


Poeppel's Corner with new concrete post erected by SA Department of Lands in 1968. The original post, it is understood, is in Geosurvey’s office in Adelaide.


About ¼ mile from Poeppel's Corner looking northwards along the line through the Gidyea with stump cut in 1880 in the foreground. [Arrow indicates pillar at Poeppel Corner].


184 MP on the Queensland-South Australian border about 2½ miles east of Poeppel's Corner and BM 6873 with circular trench and mound and star picket.


183 mile post Queensland-South Australian border. About 3½ miles east of Poeppel's Corner. Emplaced 1880.

Mile Posts are of Gidyea, well emplaced, 2’6’’ to 4'6" out of the ground, shrunk to 6-7 inches diameter, with the top 12 inches squared to 4½ to 5 inches and mostly with the mileage chiselled on the eastern face, readable still. Almost all the mile posts are still solidly standing.[184 MP as above].


“Let us now praise famous men,

Men of little showing,

For their work continueth,

And their work continueth,

Greater than their knowing’.  Kipling.

[183 MP as above]


Gidyea 20ft high, 10” trunk at 4ft above ground. The two cut lower stumps pointing across the line were lopped in 1880. The branch on the ground probably broke off in a storm from the broken bough on the right. It has weathered many savage droughts, just over these 90 years alone.


Gidyea flat and outcropping limestone near Gidyea Hill. Also my girlfriend, “Gidyea”, whom I found waiting nonchalantly by the back wheel as I turned after alighting, not too interested in a dry biscuit when we were having lunch. She accompanied me for 3 days and 80 miles and is the only dingo I have ever heard give two distinct barks as she dropped down on her forepaws in the manner domestic dogs do when they play with one, on several occasions.




Map showing Locations




Lawrence Allen Wells


Lawrence Allen (Larry) Wells

(as HAJ would have probably known him around the Lands and Survey Office, Adelaide)


On June 30, 1880, South Australian Government Surveyor Augustus Poeppel commenced a survey west, from Haddon Corner along the 26th parallel, to the calculated position of the 138th meridian. The total distance of 186 miles 49 chains was traversed by the end of 1880. The required location came right in the middle of an extensive, dry salt lake, and Poeppel erected a solitary post (see below) here in a region devoid of trees or stone. It is known as Poeppel Corner.


Due to drought conditions and the difficulty of obtaining water to carry the traverse further, Poeppel was recalled to Adelaide in March 1881. A new longitude for Adelaide and an accurate triangulation by WH Cornish enabled the position of Carloowattie [correct spelling today] Hill, 31km to the south-east of Birdsville and 2km north of the parallel to be established precisely. The 138th meridian was now calculated to be 94 miles 65 chains 40 links west of Carloowattie Hill’s longitude.


In December 1883, Lawrence Allen Wells, as Poeppel’s assistant, accompanied Poeppel and Cornish as far as Farina. Wells was then instructed to take the party and rechain the line from below Carloowattie Hill to the “Corner”. This was the first official duty of Wells in command at 23 years of age.


In heat and drought his party first travelled towards the south-western corner of Queensland, 330 miles distant, where he established his main depot north of Alton Downs near the Queensland boundary early in January 1884. Wells then set out on the line and made satisfactory progress until he crossed the Mulligan and was faced with the 57 miles of waterless sand ridges which covered the section from there to Poeppel Corner.


On reaching the corner, Wells was then nine days without water for his camel and with only two days’ supply left in the kegs. One of the party was also ill and unable to walk. Wells then walked with his camel for 12 miles over the heavy sands in great heat, before he met pack camels with the water.


Wells’ party returned to the main depot safely, where Wells met up with Poeppel who then summarised all the work and reported their findings to Surveyor General Goyder. It was agreed in April 1884, that the position of the original post erected by Poeppel in 1880 was now 15 chains 75 links [1575 links with 1 link being 0.2011m totalling 316.8m] too far west.


Surveyor General Goyder then communicated agreement for the post to be moved to the east and for Poeppel and assistant Wells to turn north to establish the border along the 138th meridian then between South Australia and Queensland. Wells subsequently led five other major expeditions into central and western Australia.



Augustus Poeppel


South Australian Government Surveyor Augustus Poeppel


Surveyor Augustus Poeppel worked for the South Australian Government leading survey parties which marked the South Australian border between New South Wales and Queensland (at that time the Northern Territory was the Northern Territory of South Australia). In 1880 his survey party (which included Wells mentioned above) established the intersection of the border between todays South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. This point became known as Poeppel Corner.


To mark the intersection, Poeppel had used camels to drag a 7 foot long, 10 inch diameter coolabah (Eucalyptus microtheca) post 57 miles westwards across high sand ridges from the channels of the Mulligan River. He adzed the post [see photographs below] on three sides, into which he chiselled deeply: 'Queensland', 'Northern Territory' and 'South Australia'.


The large coolabah strainer post, brought up with such difficulty by Augustus Poeppel was found by Mr. E.A. Colson, of Bloods Creek, on his visit to the corner in 1936. It had withstood the ravages of 57 years with little deterioration. However, by 1962 it had fallen over and was buried when Reg Sprigg found it on his way to Birdsville from the west. His Geosurvey’s team constructed a new “marker” from a 44-gallon drum filled with 20 gallons of water and holding a long steel pipe (stabilised with guy wires) with circular vanes at the top ‘so as to be seen for miles’ (Sprigg, 2001 and letter below).


Geosurvey’s party “marker” (original post can just be seen to left of drum and pipe)


Copy of Sprigg’s letter to Surveyor General of SA regarding the “Post” – courtesy Bill Haylock


Poeppel’s post was initially donated by Geosurveys of Australia Ltd to the Art Gallery of SA and later transferred to the Historical Relics Collection. In contrast, Reg Sprigg’s “marker” lasted only a couple of years. It was there in 1963 when the Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) seismic survey party came through but by Reg’s return in 1964 it had gone!



Protective measures at Poeppel Corner in the 1980s

Courtesy John R. Porter, former Surveyor General (1987 – 1992), South Australian Department of Lands.


Mr William (Bill) Haylock, former Chief Geodetic Surveyor, Department of Lands, SA, was at Poeppel Corner in 1963, 68, 69 & 87. Bill provided further detail on the later history of the marking of Poeppel Corner:…“A new corner post was established at Poeppel Corner in 1968. The forty-four gallon drum left by Sprigg was removed and found to have been carefully positioned over the butt of Poeppel’s original post. The centre of the butt was ‘fixed’ so that after its removal the new post could be precisely centred. The new post consisted of a concrete water pipe, about one-foot in diameter and standing five feet high. A specially designed plaque was concreted into the top of the post. Then in 1986, a tourist who had recently visited Poeppel Corner contacted me and said that the area around the Post was being eroded by Tourists; visitors were apparently doing the round trip - 3 States in less than a minute - in their vehicles and churning up the area! The then Deputy Surveyor General, John Porter, decided to go and have a look. I accompanied him taking some shade cloth and star fencing droppers (pickets). Four ‘wings’ of shade cloth were placed radiating out from the post. This we thought would keep the vehicles away and perhaps build up the drift around the mark. Also dead trees were placed across the vehicle tracks. A steel box on a pole was erected nearby. It contained sheets on the brief history of the corner written about 1987 [see below]”. 


Poeppel Corner is today marked with the concrete pillar and bronze plaque as described above (refer photographs below).


In mid-2016 the photograph shown below came to light. The photograph was taken by helicopter pilot Harvey Else at Poeppel Corner after he had flown the plaque and passengers there from Birdsville. The photograph of the plaque, lying on the ground, was taken on 29 July 1968 as confirmed by his log book entry. On 25 August 1968, this plaque was incorporated into the current monument at Poeppel Corner.


At the time the helicopter was on charter to National Mapping who were using it to undertake Ground Marking for Aerodist operations. The field party leader was Surveyor John Madden.



Photograph of the plaque, later emplaced to monument Poeppel Corner, on the ground at Poeppel Corner on 29 July 1968 (courtesy Harvey Else).


From his papers, Bill Haylock was able to say that Department of Lands, South Australia, Supervising Surveyor Peter Simmons took all the marking material to Poeppel Corner; at that time Peter was Bill’s superior.


After taking on petrol and water at Birdsville, Peter drove south along the eastern side of the Simpson Desert until he found, from aerial photographs, a corridor along the sand hills. This route required that he only need cross a few sandhills. Back then, east to west vehicle travel was difficult as owing to the sandhill’s formation by westerly winds, the eastern side of the sandhills was usually very steep.


For whatever reason, Peter did not have the plaque and after leaving the materials at the Corner returned to Birdsville to collect the plaque which was delivered by airfreight. In a cooperative arrangement with Natmap, the plaque was flown by helicopter out to the Corner, accompanied by Peter and Natmap’s John Madden. Natmap and the Geodetic Section of the Lands Department had a close relationship because of the contract work the Lands Department had undertaken for Natmap.


After being photographed by Harvey Else the plaque was left on top of Sprigg’s 1962 drum, as described above. The helicopter with both passengers then returned to Birdsville, leaving the plaque to be found by Bill Haylock’s field party a few weeks later.


Identify the error in the sign at Poeppel Corner?

(The Dept. of Environment and Heritage S.A. estimate around 10,000 visitors annually to the Simpson Desert –

so everyone just accepts what they read – or perhaps do not recall what a ‘link’ is?)


Poeppel’s Corner Post in Migration Museum Collection, circa 1880

Wood dimensions H: 1430, C: 675 mm




Replica Post

at Poeppel Corner 2009

(Courtesy Laurie Mclean)

Poeppel's Corner Post is a dark wooden post, roughly triangular in shape.

Very defined grain. Hollowed through the centre - top half cut into three straight sides, round wide belt left on two sides at centre and cut into triangle below this.

Round holes through lower section at two points.

Large crack with broken out section on Northern Territory side. Smaller crack on South Australia side. Chunk out of the top on Queensland side.

Small rectangular wooden plate fixed to top of the South Australian side.

White print reads, “POEPPEL'S CORNER POST. A Corner Post erected in 1880 to mark the junction of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Gift of the Surveyor-General, 1963”.

Each side has the name of a state or territory cut into it. The capital letters run vertically down the post.

On the South Australia side there are additional entries written horizontally beneath the arrow – “LAT:26/ LON:138”.




A Brief History of Poeppel Corner

The monument at Poeppel Corner marks the State Borders between Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

The original monument was a post marking the western extremity of the Queensland-South Australian Province Boundary. The post was placed by Augustus Poeppel, South Australian Government Surveyor, at the intersection of Latitude 260 South and Longitude 1380 East just after Christmas Day 1880. The surveyed distance along the 26th Latitude placed the mark in a glistening white salt lake lying between two large sandhills. Poeppel named this lake, Lake Poeppel. The prominent red sandhill to the west was called Henry Hill after Poeppel's chainman.

The post was 2 metres long and 25 centimetres in diameter, and adzed on 3 sides. Deeply chiseled into the wood were the words "Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia" together with "Lat. 260 south, Long. 1380 east and Var. 4040' East. (Var. meaning Magnet Variation). The post, a trunk of a coolibah tree, was carried across the desert by camel from the Mulligan River 90 kilometres to the east.

Soon after the post was placed a newly determined longitude for Adelaide, together with triangulation from the south by surveyor W.H. Cornish, enabled Poeppel Corner to be fixed more accurately. In the course of the triangulation survey much of the 26th Latitude border was remeasured. In difficult country up to 1.1 metres excess per kilometre was found and the post was eventually moved east 316.8 metres to its present position.

In 1883 Mr. Poeppel returned to the post and commenced the survey of the border between Queensland and Northern Territory, north along Longitude 1380 east. He was relieved at Sandringham station by Mr. John Carruthers, South Australian Government Surveyor who completed the survey to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1886.

A portion of the border between the Northern Territory and South Australia which is across the Simpson Desert immediately to the west of Poeppel Corner has not been surveyed.

The next known person to visit the corner was Mr. E.A. Colson of Blood Creek Station on the western side of the Simpson Desert. In 1936 with an Aborigine and using camels as transport he crossed the desert to Birdsville, the first known white man to complete the crossing. He attached to the post a tin plate with his initials stamped on it. Mr. Colson returned to Blood Creek by recrossing the desert.

During the search for oil in 1962, geologist, Mr. R. Sprigg of Geosurveys crossed the desert. This was the first time motor vehicles had been used as transport. His party visited the corner and found the post had broken off just below ground level due to rot. He marked the position of the stump of the post with a 44 gallon drum. The chiseled markings were still visible on the post so Mr. Sprigg brought it back to Adelaide and deposited it in the State Archives. He also reported the situation to the Surveyor-General.

In 1963 during work for the Geodetic Survey of Australia a party from the South Australian Department of Lands, including surveyors W. Haylock and W.T. Randle visited the corner. It was decided after this visit that a better monument should identify the State Borders.


An opportunity to erect the monument did not arise until 1968. Another survey party from the Department of Lands led by surveyor W. Haylock visited the corner during a topographical survey for the production of maps at a scale of 1:100 000. A small part of the original post was found and the current monument was placed in the same position on the 28th August.

The position of the Poeppel Corner monument calculated from the present Geodetic survey of Australia is Latitude 25°59'54" Longitude 137°59 52".


B.H. Bridges



(circa 1987)






Additional photographs


Wagon at Birdsville in 1968 : courtesy Ed Burke

Plaque on restored wagon 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean


Restored wagon 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean (acquisition described in Sprigg, 2001)


Purni Bore 2009 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

Purni Bore Wetlands 2012 : courtesy Lawrie O’Connor

The French Petroleum Company first drilled Purni Bore in the Simpson Desert as a stratigraphic well in 1963. When oil exploration activities ceased, the 1880 metre deep bore was capped and sealed. Eventually corrosion let the well run free at some 18 litres per second (and 85ºC) forming an artificial wetland but jeopardising the capacity of the Great Artesian Basin. In 1987 a compromise resulted in the flow being minimised allowing the wetland environment to provide an oasis for desert species.


Poeppel Corner plaque 2009 : courtesy Laurie Mclean


Poeppel replica post (actual pillar in background) 2009 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

1982 aerial view of Poeppel Corner with edge of Lake Poeppel visible : courtesy Harry Baker

The ‘white object’ just this side and close to the Post was the steel box on a pole (now gone) that held copies (above) of A brief history of Poeppel Corner by Bridges, Bryan Howard (1987), Surveyor General (1978-1987), South Australian Department of Lands – recovery marks and indicator posts can be made out

French Line in 1982 west across lakes : courtesy Harry Baker


Approdinna Attora Knolls (larger & southernmost of two) 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

Smaller Approdinna Attora Knoll (north from larger) 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean


Approdinna Attora Knolls vehicle stop 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean


From Approdinna Attora Knoll west to Lake Tamblyn 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

Dalhousie (Ruins) 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean


Dalhousie (Ruins) 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

DELHI/SANTOS/WMC, 11/77, Macumba No1 Well 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean

‘Lone Gum’ on Erabena Track 2012 : courtesy Laurie Mclean



Charlotte Waters Repeater Station (as described by Todd in 1884) originally had 8 rooms, a stone tank (9,000 gallons – remains shown in photo) in the courtyard, a blacksmith's shop, a cartshed and harness room, a paddock and stockyard and a large water tank with capacity to hold 20,000 gallons. The buildings were constructed with white sandstone rubble laid with a local clay mortar and faced with lime. The roof frames were erected of pit sawn bush timber.








Goyder, George Woodroffe (1883) Instructions for a boundary survey issued by the Surveyor General, G.W. Goyder, 11 December 1883, PRG 143, State Library of South Australia (this document bears a reference, 'Crown Lands and Immigration. 1883 No. 2395.' Poeppel's name in pencil appears at the head, the instructions are not written by Goyder, but probably by a clerk, as Goyder handwrites additional instructions at the end and clearly initials them).


Haylock, William (2012 & 2016) Former Chief Geodetic Surveyor, South Australian Department of Lands, personal communication.


Jordan, Christopher (2013) Supervising Technical Officer, Lands Services Group, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure SA, personal communication.


Lands Department Research Note 1324/136 (1956) GRG 35/584/136, State Records of South Australia.


Office of the Surveyor General of South Australia (1884) General Drawing Room correspondence file GRG 35/245 no. 483 of 1884, Lands Services Group, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, SA.


Poeppel, Augustus (1880) Report on the Province Boundary Survey, PRG 143, State Library of South Australia (this report is in Poeppel’s own handwriting but is incomplete as it only describes 13 of the 19 chords of the 26th Parallel survey).


Porter, John Reginald (2012) Surveyor General (1987 – 1992), South Australian Department of Lands, personal communication.


Sprigg, Griselda and Maclean, Rod (2001), Dune is a four letter word, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, reprinted 2012.


Steele, Wilfred & Christopher (1978) To the Great Gulf : The Surveys and Explorations of L. A. Wells, Lynton Publications, Blackwood, SA.


Wells, Lawrence Allen (undated) The Northern Territory and Queensland Border Survey Expedition - 1883/6, Lands Services Group, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, SA.