Field Operations 1957

The program drawn up for 1957 was:

  (i)    Reconnaissance northward from Alice Springs

 (ii)    Beaconing and observing northward from Mt Charlotte - Mt Rodinga

(iii)    Astronomical azimuths on selected lines of the already completed triangulation chains

(iv)    Test and evaluate the Tellurometer and commence measuring program.

It is sufficient at this stage to detail the little that was known about the Tellurometer at that time:

 (a)    It was the invention of the South African equivalent of the Australian CSIRO

 (b)    It used the principle of the speed of radio waves as distinct from the Geodimeter which used the speed of light

 (c)    It was understood to be much more portable, could measure longer distances than the Geodimeter and was suitable for traversing

 (d)    If it proved the maker's claims were accurate, traversing which would be much more economical and faster, could take the place of triangulation.

A new Surveyor Grade 2, A.H. Spowers joined the Division early in 1957, Surveyor Grade 1, B.S. Maddy, resigned and four new field assistants were engaged. While preparations were being made for the main program, A. Spowers took a small party to clear some trig stations in the Wangaratta area.

To implement the 1957 program the following arrangements were made:

  (i)    The reconnaissance would be conducted by H.A. Johnson, Senior Surveyor

 (ii)    The beaconing and observing party would be led by R.A. Ford, Surveyor Grade 1 (Acting). It would go by road to Port Augusta at about the end of March, thence rail to Alice Springs

(iii)    A.H. Spowers, Surveyor Gr. 2 and G. Gracey, Field Assistant (Survey), would form the Astronomical Azimuth observing party. Two field assistants would also be in the party to position and control the required RO lights

(iv)    C.K. Weller, Surveyor Gr. 2, would have charge of the Geodimeter and Tellurometer party.

The main field party arrived in Alice Springs as planned and commenced cairn building on the five stations south of Alice Springs, completing these by Easter. The last hill, Ooraminna was completed in light drizzle and the party headed for Alice Springs and directly towards heavy thunder clouds. The vehicles reached the bitumen road near the aerodrome before the rain got heavy enough to make the road dangerous. Apparently the storm had broken near the town, everything was awash and we saw that unusual sight - the Todd River running a banker.

Beaconing in the MacDonnell Ranges and to Mt Harris - Mt Ewart, was soon completed with the exception of Brinkley Bluff which, because of difficult access, would be beaconed and observed at the same time. The MacDonnell Ranges were overall proving easier of access than the Flinders Ranges had been. This was mainly because the triangulation chain was crossing the MacDonnells rather than following the range as in the Flinders Ranges. Also the higher peaks of the MacDonnells were further west. However several peaks are worth remembering:

·             Mt Laughlin, a solid climb of about two hours.

·             Mt Pfitzner, about the same but it is false crested; on reaching the apparent summit the climber is faced with a steep descent before making the final steep ascent.

·             Mt Hay, a very solid climb of about three hours through thick, high spin­ifex - most unpleasant climbing.

·             Brinkley Bluff, a long trek of some hours through picturesque ravines and gullies before a very steep ascent of nearly an hour.

·             Mt Gillen, a climb of about half an hour with the last twenty feet a cliff-face to be climbed hand over hand. Figure 1 is a photo of the beacon on this picturesque mountain.

Figure 1: Cairn on Mt Gillen, MacDonnell Ranges, near Alice Springs.

The observing parties were now organized; G. Gracey, was with the azimuth party so only three observing parties could be mounted; observers would be R. Ford, W. Sticklan and A. Colvin. In addition G. Cruickshanks would be trained as an observer by R. Ford and R. James would be similarly trained by W. Sticklan.

Observing was completed south of Alice Springs and a combined beaconing - observing party was organised for Brinkley Bluff. An aboriginal stockman with a pack horse was engaged from Jay Creek Settlement, the beaconing material and food were packed on the horse while the observing equipment was carried personally. Figure 2 shows the carrying party ready to leave their vehicles for Brinkley Bluff. Leaving after lunch, the foot of the steep climb was reached before night­fall and a camp made for the night. Next morning the beaconing materiel and observing equipment were back-packed to the summit, the stockman and his horse having returned to Jay Creek, their job now complete. The cairn was nearly finished by lunchtime, the beaconing party then left so as to be able to walk to the vehicles before dark. R. Ford and C. Cruickshanks remained to camp on the summit, complete the cairn and do the observing.

Figure 2: Carrying party ready to leave camp for walk and climb to Brinkley Bluff : R.W, (Bob) James on far right.

It was necessary for the other observers to get in position on Mt Harris and Mt Ewart immediately so that lights could be used on the long lines to Brinkley Bluff both being over sixty miles. Looking into the bright sky to the north from Brinkley Bluff it was possible in the very best part of the observing period, to observe to the vanes on Harris and Ewart and good results were obtained. However looking south is a different proposition therefore to observe Brinkley Bluff from Harris and Ewart lights on Brinkley Bluff were definitely necessary. It was interesting that in the observing results of Brinkley Bluff the means of each evening’s observations to the vanes on Harris and Ewart were very close together, while those to the lights were over one second apart. However the mean of all observations to the lights agreed very well with all of those to the vanes.

During this spell of observing, the Laplace pillar on Anzac Hill was incorporated in the scheme and arrangements were made with NT Lands and Survey to make a level connection to a Commonwealth Railway's bench mark.

Senior Surveyor, H.A. Johnson, returned to Alice Springs and provided access sketches of the stations to the north. Also at this time, A.H. Spowers and the azimuth party arrived; G. Gracey and one Field Assistant joined the observing party while A. Spowers and the other field assistant proceeded north to the Larrimah - Katherine area to do reconnaissance.

Beaconing was completed to the Wauchope area where H.A. Johnson was met. Some assistance was required in this area to prove lines in the evenly heighted ridges. When these stations were finally selected Devils Marbles became the most northerly station of the triangulation chain; this point northward the scheme would be a theodolite and Tellurometer traverse. In fact it would have been impossible to select a continuous triangulation chain over certain sections to the north. Figure 4 shows the triangulation chain Rodinga - Devils Marbles.

(Editor's note for clarification : Heading north from Alice Springs in 1957, the triangulation reached the station at Devils Marbles. Northwards the country looked to be problematic for further triangulation. After the recently arrived Tellurometer was proven in the area (see below) the geodetic work was then continued north by Theodolite/Tellurometer traversing establishing stations NM/G/1-12 with NM/G/12 some 40 kilometres north of Powell Creek. A reconnaissance for further Theodolite/Tellurometer traversing north to Larrimah was undertaken in 1958 with the observing and Tellurometer measuring recommencing in 1959.)

Observing was then undertaken on the Mt Ewart - Devils Marbles section which included Central Mt Stuart. It was a pleasure to do the observations on this important landmark. It was now August but while on Central Mt Stuart the weather was bitterly cold. During this observing period several connections were made to the Stuart Highway Traverse (a high quality ground traverse from Alice Springs to the vicinity of Muckaty Bore. This was measured by the NT Lands and Survey 1945 - 46; immediately prior to joining National Mapping the Chief Topo­graphic Surveyor, G.R.L. Rimington completed a considerable proportion of this traverse). At the conclusion of the Devils Marbles section G. Gracey resigned.

H.A. Johnson returned and provided access sketches of the traverse stations north to the Powell Creek area. For traversing a new technique of station marking would be tried. The station mark would be established and a low circular rock wall some six feet in radius from the station mark would be built. Observations were to be to helios or lights set accurately on line. During the marking of these stations a two leg spur traverse was reconnoitred and marked. It was to connect R602 the northern terminal point of the Stuart Highway Traverse which was also a Laplace station, the observation being done by National Mapping in 1950.

As it would be impossible to name all traverse stations a system of numbering was to be introduced; it would incorporate NM for National Mapping, a letter indicating the State (same as for Aerial Photography) and a serial number. Thus NM/G/1 would indicate this was the first National Mapping station in the Northern Territory. As this numbering system was still awaiting official approval, the traverse stations would temporarily be known by the nearest mile peg number.

It had been apparent that new observing techniques would need to be investigated for theodolite observing on this type of traversing. The following were adopted for this first phase:

  (i)    Two night’s observations would be undertaken at each station.

 (ii)    Lights would be set accurately on line by theodolite.

(iii)    Longer lines would be to heliographs followed by lights. On shorter lines (up to approximately fourteen miles) where lights could be seen in the last period of daylight, heliographs could be dispensed with.

(iv)    Simultaneous reciprocal vertical angles would always be observed. These would be at 1400 hours, to helios and one set each day.

 (v)    A “Check Arc” (in actuality a check “round”) with the theodolite set at a random setting on the RO would always be observed to detect any gross error in the horizontal angle.

(vi)    As many sets as possible would be observed each night with a minimum of four.

G. Cruickshanks and R. James were formed into an observing party as their initial training was complete; they would each do 50% of the observations undertaken by their party.

Figure 3: National Mapping’s first Tellurometer, Wycliffe Sandridge, NT, September 1956 - this was the first Tellurometer to arrive in Australia.

Observing proceeded quite quickly; it was found that unless conditions were particularly difficult at least six sets could be observed each night. Also it was soon decided that unless the means of each night's work were within one second, a further night's observations would be under­taken.

Just as this observing was completed, C.K. Waller arrived with the Tellurometer and all returned to Wycliffe Sandridge for a demonstration of this new equipment. H.A. Johnson and A. Spowers also attended. For those who had seen the heavy Geodimeter and its very cumbersome set up inside an autotent, the Tellurometer was an eye-opener. Particularly impressive was the compara­tively small size of the instrument, the fact that it could be set up as quickly as a theodolite and that it could commence measuring immediately the equipment had warmed up, accepting of course that the similarly sized Remote unit was in position on the distant station and ready to adjust frequency. A photograph of the “Master” Tellurometer at Wycliffe Sandridge is shown in Figure 3.

At the conclusion of the demonstration which had impressed everyone, the following arrangements were made for the balance of the 1957 season:

  (i)    A. Spowers would proceed to Eyre Peninsula and commence the reconnaissance of a traverse from Mt Wudinna, westward as far as possible. This traverse to include side triangles wherever possible.

 (ii)    R. Ford to observe astronomical azimuths on Sigma Octantis along every fourth line along the traverse from Devils Marbles to Powell Creek, teaching A. Colvin in the process.

(iii)    W. Sticklan would take a beaconing party to the Katherine - Larrimah area to mark and clear the nine traverse stations reconnoitred by A. Spowers.

(iv)    On completion of the azimuth program, R. Ford would move to Katherine and organise the observing of that traverse.

 (v)    At the conclusion of the Katherine - Larrimah observations the field party would proceed to Eyre Peninsula to observe as much as possible of the new traverse. However they could leave most of their vehicles in Port Augusta and proceed to Melbourne for one week's leave before commencing this final phase of the year's work.

(vi)    R. Ford would not go to Melbourne but would join A. Spowers on the final stage of the reconnaissance and then organise the beaconing and observing program in anticipation of the field party's return.

(vii)    C.K. Waller would complete measurements in the Devils Marble area, the traverse to Powell Creek, some measurements near Alice Springs and then proceed to Mt Wudinna for the measurement of that traverse.

The azimuth observations were completed without trouble and the party moved to Katherine where they met the beaconing party. No trouble had been experienced, the weather was very hot by now and the clearing work had been arduous. With only nine hills this observing was completed fairly quickly, the only problem being considerable smoke haze.

The field party returned to Alice Springs by road, to Port Augusta by train thence Melbourne by road leaving the heavy vehicles in Port Augusta. R. Ford joined A. Spowers at Ceduna.

The reconnaissance had been completed to the vicinity of Penong, side points had been selected to provide a check on both measurements and the quality of the angular observations. If this was the way to go, the selected traverse seemed an excellent prototype. Further reconnaissance to the west was undertaken, single line traversing was now the only possibility and this with much difficulty. The few hills were all low, evenly heighted and timbered with high mallee. A Commer 4 x 4 three ton truck with a thirty feet wooden reconnaissance tower had been expected but had not yet arrived. Points were selected as far as Colons Spur and tentative points to be tested with the reconnaissance vehicle were selected to the vicinity of the Head of the Bight.

The field party returned from Melbourne at the end of the first week of November and immediately commenced to beacon the hills. This time they were to be beaconed with the usual oregon pole and vanes. As no rock was available in this rather sandy wheat country the poles would be stayed with four lengths of “Unimet”; a circular trench about 12 ft in diameter would be dug around the beacon and the spoil piled around the base of the pole. RM's were to be placed in the circular trench for safety. While this beaconing was in progress opportunity was taken to give individual instruction to A. Spowers in geodetic observing techniques using the Wild T3 theodolite.

Before the beaconing was complete C.K. Waller arrived with the Tellurometer to commence measurements along the traverse; also at about the same time the Commer reconnaissance vehicle arrived. A. Spowers joined the Tellurometer party for experience with that instrument. The measuring was completed before the observing, and the Tellurometer left for the Carrieton Base and then Melbourne.

The field party was organised for observing; as W. Sticklan had resigned on return to Melbourne the main observers would be R. Ford and A. Colvin with assistance from G. Cruickshanks and R. James. With the type of beacon involved both observing and measuring had once again to be done from an eccentric station. Observing went ahead steadily and was completed in time for the field party to arrive back in Melbourne by mid December.

Azimuth Party

A. Spowers and G. Gracey between March and June completed azimuth on ten lines through the already completed triangulation scheme.

Geodimeter and Tellurometer Party

The Geodimeter program was almost entirely confined to the first half of the year prior to the arrival of the Tellurometer:


Benambra Base Line, Victoria


Somerton Base Line, NSW


Friend - Mt Magometon , NSW


Coonamble Astro - Mt Magometon, NSW


Sundown – Moorkaie, NSW


Netallie Hill - Mt Murchison, NSW


Hobart (Tas.)- Measured across Derwent River for new high level bridge

The Tellurometer program, July to December, commenced with familiarization tests of Model MRA-1, Instrument No 11, in the Melbourne area. This was followed by a comprehensive measuring program in the Northern Territory. All lines were measured in the triangulation figures in the Wauchope area followed by sixteen lines of the traverse northward to Powell Creek. Two separate measurements were taken along each line, Master and Remote instruments changing place for the second measurement (In the Model MRA-l, measurements could only be made with the Master instrument).

The main problem encountered in this area was over heating of the crystals. At this time the instrument had no crystal oven, only a dial to indicate when a crystal was overheating and that the measurement should be discontinued. To keep the instrument as cool as possible a swag cover was always erected to provide shade and the side panels of the instrument were removed to allow circulation of the air. In extreme cases wet towels were placed to direct a stream of cool air through the instrument. The manufacturer already had this problem in hand and a modification to install crystal ovens was made at the end of this season's measuring.

Also at this time the old hand powered “whirling” psychrometers were in use. They were rather primitive and required considerable physical effort to keep an even stream of air over the thermometer bulbs. For the next year's work power driven psychrometers were purchased and used henceforth.

Further measurements of all sides of a triangulation figure were under­taken on some primary stations close to Alice Springs, six lines being measured. This was followed by measuring eight lines of traverse between Mt Wudinna and Penong in SA and test measurements at the Carrieton Base before returning to Melbourne about 1 December.


This had been a big year, the following had been completed:

  (i)    Primary triangulation chain extended 350 miles from Mt Charlotte - Mt Rodinga to Devils Marbles, 33 stations observed, 30 beaconed, 77 triangles closed, 0.55 second average misclosure.

 (ii)    A theodolite and Tellurometer traverse of 13 stations and 175 miles north from Devils Marbles to Powell Creek, had been marked, measured and observed. Complete with astronomical azimuths on every fourth line.

(iii)    The clearing, marking and angular work on eight traverse stations in the Katherine - Larrimah area had been completed, distance 100 miles.

(iv)    Fourteen lines in the triangulation figures in the Wauchope area and six lines in a similar figure near Alice Springs had been measured for instrument evaluation purposes.

 (v)    A Tellurometer traverse of eight stations (plus five side stations) from Mt Wudinna to Penong had been beaconed, cleared, observed and measured, distance 200 miles.

(vi)    Two new observers had been trained.

Evaluation of early Tellurometer measuring

After the completion of the first field season of Tellurometer measuring, the Chief Topographic Surveyor, G.R.L. Rimington and C.K. Waller devoted considerable time to research into the results obtained on actual field traversing and on tests carried out at the Carrieton and Benambra bases.

Particular attention was paid to the triangulation figures in the Wauchope area, NT, where all sides in the figures were measured and all horizontal angles observed to first order standards. The results of this research were delivered as a paper, “Trilateration with the Tellurometer” to the Conference of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia, at Brisbane 26 May 1958.

Also at the Chief Topographic Surveyor's direction every opportunity was taken in the future to complete measurements along various base lines and along a selected “test line” which was set up close to Melbourne.

Survey Parties 1957



H.A. Johnson

Alice Springs to Powell Cree k, NT


Aileron to Halls Creek,  NT - WA


Finke to Musgrave Ranges, NT - SA


Kingoonya to Wirrulla, SA

A.H. Spowers

Katherine to Larrimah, NT


Mt Wudinna to Penong, SA

A.H. Spowers & R.A. Ford

Penong to Head of Bight, SA


Azimuth Party (March – June)


A.H. Spowers

Surveyor Grade 2


G. Gracey

Field Assistant (Survey)


D. Hutton

Field Assistant


J. Graham

Field Assistant


Geodimeter, Tellurometer Party


C.K. Waller

Surveyor Grade 2


J. Slama

Field Assistant (Survey)


J. Marshall

Field Assistant


R. Collins

Field Assistant


Observing Party


R.A. Ford

Surveyor Grade 1 (Acting)


A.S. Colvin

Field Assistant (Survey)


W. Sticklan

Field Assistant (Survey)

Excl. Mt Wudinna-Penong

G. Gracey

Field Assistant (Survey)

July - September only

G. Cruickshanks

Field Assistant


R. James

Field Assistant


K. Giulieri

Field Assistant

from September

D. Hutton

Field Assistant

from July

J. Graham

Field Assistant

from September

E. Lewis

Field Assistant


D. Hillis

Field Assistant


S. Phillips

Field Assistant


Figure 4: Triangulation scheme Rodinga - Devils Marbles.

Additional Photos

Heliograph (aka Helio) uses refleceted sunlight as a target

Helio in “duplex” mode (when single mirror unworkable)

Helio on tripod

Helio in operation in Natmap

Cairn Mt Gillen, MacDonnell Ranges, near Alice Springs

Reg Ford on Mt Gillen – Alice Springs centre right

Alice Springs late 50s with old airport below Mt Gillen

Alice Springs (west) late 50s with old railyard

Alice Springs with Underdown’s Alice Springs Hotel top right

ANZAC Hill, Alice Springs (late 50s) south

MRA-1 Telleurometer setup

MRA-1 Telleurometer reflector

MRA-1 Telleurometer

On Central Mount Stuart, NT