Australia’s Military Map-makers (2000)

Australia’s Military Map-makers (2000)

ISBN 0 19 551343 6

This book tells the story of the Australian Army’s work in the field of mapping. It records the hitherto poorly recognised contribution of the Royal Australian Survey Corps and its predecessor, the Survey Section.

Australia today is a comparatively well-mapped continent, but this position has been achieved only in relatively recent years. Until 1982 the national territory was not completely mapped at a scale that was useful for either defence or development purposes.

The seriousness of a lack of maps was realised in defence circles within a few years after Federation, and from 1907 the Australian Army first took steps to overcome the problem, leading to the formation in 1910 of a small staff of uniformed surveyors who were dedicated full time to producing topographical maps. Recognition of the need for highly accurate operational maps meant that members of the Survey Corps saw active service in World War I in the Middle East and on the Western Front. One Australian surveyor working alone close to enemy lines near Aqaba was alarmed to be surrounded by a band of armed horsemen. Their commander was T. E. Lawrence, who merely demanded to know what the surveyor was doing.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Army maintained its mapping program, and during World War II Survey personnel served on the home front, in the Middle East, and in New Guinea. Until after the war the Army remained the only agency in Australia systematically engaged in topographical mapping. For much of the 1960s, 1970s , and 1980s the Royal Australian Survey Corps was the leading player within Australia (and regularly overseas) in surveying for mapping purposes.

Chris Coulthard-Clark, a leading military historian, relates the Army’s achievement in the field and its contribution to an important but usually unheralded area of national endeavour. He brings the story up to the point in 1996 when the Royal Australian Survey Corps—its key mission effectively accomplished—was disbanded and absorbed within the larger body of Army engineers. This book stands as a tribute to the work of the thousands of men and women who helped to map the Australian continent.


Posted on

September 8, 2000