Laplace Astronomical Observations

The Laplace field parties operated from Canberra with only minimal direction from the Supervising Surveyor, Geodetic Survey Branch. Therefore only when a Laplace party's programme coincided with that, of a geodetic field party, has mention been made of their activities. G.J. Cruickshanks and A. Roelse, while with the Melbourne office, did some Laplace observing. Hopefully a history of this section's field activities, which began with the Wild T4 in 1950, will be compiled from the records held in the Central Office, Queanbeyan.


A few lucky people from the Geodetic Survey Branch were able to be on short summer surveys in Antarctica. However as these activities were not controlled by Geodetic Survey Branch no details will be supplied. A history of Antarctic surveys should be compiled.

Vehicles used by the Geodetic Survey Branch

No attempt has been made to spell out year by year the exact composition of the vehicular strength of each field party; the following is a list of the various types used:

Land Rover, Short Wheel Base

This vehicle was used on geodetic surveys from 1952 to 1957. Equipped with a strong wartime jeep two wheel trailer it was a very versatile vehicle which had done a very good job on the astronomical observation field work; however it soon proved too small for the amount of equipment that was required in geodetic work.

The Land Rover had a small water tank of about 16‑20 gallons capacity and a 20 gallon petrol drum was fitted in the trailer. Some of the later SWB Land Rovers had a 16‑20 gallon petrol tank fitted as well as the water tank.

Morris four wheel drive army type 1 ton truck

This was a British Army standard design vehicle, also seen in Australia under the Austin name. In reality it was about a 1½ ton vehicle. It was used on geodetic surveys from 1952 until 1958. It was a good strong vehicle but prone to rear differential trouble. Unfortunately it was an “in between” size, rather too large and high off the ground to be a good observer’s vehicle and too small to be solely a supply vehicle.

Commer four wheel drive army type 3 ton truck

This was a British Army wartime designed vehicle, probably nearer 5 ton capacity than 3. It was a very sturdy vehicle used between 1956 and 1959 with success and was only superseded then because no spare parts were available. For a period two of these vehicles were fitted with wooden reconnaissance towers and used to select the tower sites along the Eyre Highway SA and WA and along the Stuart Highway between Mataranka and Powell Creek, NT.

Land Rover, Long Wheel Base Series 1 and 2

These vehicles replaced the short wheel base model and trailer in 1957. They were fitted with an auxiliary petrol tank of about 30 gallons and a water tank of 20 gallons capacity. These proved a good reliable observers vehicle but were still a little small and their range in remote areas was too short thus necessitating close liaison with a supply vehicle. The Series 1 was used from 1957 until 1961 and the few Series 2 which came into use, from 1960 - 62.

International four wheel drive, approximate 1½ ton utility

The first of these vehicles, the AA120 came into use in the Geodetic Survey Branch in 1960. At last we had an ideal sized vehicle with a robust 6 cylinder engine. They were fitted with two fourteen gallon petrol tanks plus an auxiliary tank of 60 gallons and a water tank of 40 gallons. This gave then a marvellous range so that close support from heavy supply vehicles was no longer necessary.

However like most new models they had many teething troubles. The AA120 was a normal road utility to which the four wheel drive front-end had been added. Once used off the roads in rough terrain the weaknesses began to show; the shock absorbers twisted off, body welds broke and chassis bolts continually loosened. The front end soon gave trouble also the front shackle plates and pins, and by the end of the field season wheel “shimmer” always developed. In addition the knuckle joints were too weak, and after a rough season were likely to tear away at the top king pin aperture. Owing to the design this meant shipping in a complete new front end at great cost, both for the part and its transportation. With a Land Rover or Bedford it would have meant only unbolting the last six inches of the axle housing which contains the knuckle joint and then bolting on the new part. After this the king pins could be inserted, the wheel reassembled.

This model had two other faults; it could be engaged in two wheel drive low ratio and the rear driving axles were weak. Inexperienced drivers thus often attempted to drive out of boggy situations in low ratio with only the rear wheels engaged. Often the strain was too much for the week rear axles, causing breakages.

The AB120 introduced in 1962 was a considerable improvement, in particular the transfer box was altered to prevent low ratio being engaged in two wheel drive, unfortunately the knuckle joint weakness was not rectified. However the AA120 and the AB120 were the vehicles which did practically all the long desert trips during the first order traversing and were easily the best vehicles for the various tasks required by National Mapping in this remote country. With tyres at very low pressure, using second gear low ratio, very few sandridges could not be crossed if the crossing point was carefully selected.

The AB130 became available in 1966, this had heavy duty front and rear ends from the 3 ton four wheel drive truck and solved the knuckle joint problem. Few of these vehicles were produced as their track was too wide for the existing body.

The C1300 became available in 1967. This time the body was made to incorporate the heavy front and rear ends and the resulting vehicle was used for the balance of the time the Geodetic Survey Branch operated from Melbourne. It had taken a long time but now International had produced a vehicle which suited most of National Mapping’s field operations.

Bedford, cabin over engine, 5 ton truck

This vehicle replaced the Commer truck in 1960. It was a 6 cylinder 0HV vehicle and a fairly good performer. Like most vehicles used for our purposes it had certain well known faults:

(i)      Being of British design and also cabin over engine, the driver found it to be very comfortable on a cold winters day in Melbourne; at almost any other time the badly ventilated cabin was stiflingly hot, almost unbearably so, in the far north during the hot months.

(ii)     The front springs were not well designed and gave considerable trouble with broken leaves and centre bolts. This particularly applied to the early models which had a very heavy winch overhanging the front end. The winch was not ordered on later models with consequent improvement in the casualty rate of front spring leaves and centre bolts.

(iii)   The centre bolts in the rear springs were of too light a design and periodically broke in very rough going.

However, taken overall, if points (ii) and (iii) were watched these vehicles gave good service in very remote areas and often carried enormous loads of petrol and water deep into the desert areas.

Besides the vehicles mentioned a two wheel drive International Panel Van was used for the early Geodimeter during the period 1954‑57. Some details of this vehicle were given in Chapter 4.

Other vehicles were the unsuccessful Bombardiers mentioned in Chapter 14, and the Ferguson tractor, Chapter 18. It is a pity the Geodetic Survey Branch did not have this vehicle in 1966, and that it was not given the chance of proving itself on a track making job completely free of other operations.

Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) assistance in field operations

Vehicles and drivers

From 1957 until 1968, National Mapping Geodetic Survey parties were provided with some assistance from WRE, Salisbury SA, in the form of vehicles and drivers.

These were from their Engineering Reconnaissance Section. Mr Trevor Nossiter was the officer in charge, followed later by Mr Arthur Segnit. In the busy, early years of this co‑operation when preparations were being made to launch the “Blue Streak” rocket, up to 6 vehicles and drivers were supplied.

Short wheel base Land Rovers with trailers and fitted with Transceiver Radios, four wheel drive Commer and later Bedford 5 ton supply trucks were the vehicles in use. One four wheel drive Morris 1½ ton was in use during 1957 only.

This support was most valuable to National Mapping and obviously speeded up the survey considerably as it would probably have been most difficult for the Division to obtain the extra staff, vehicles and finance to operate them.

Track grading

They also provided assistance with track grading. L. Beadell graded the track from Giles to Carnegie Homestead along the route reconnoitred by H.A. Johnson.

He also graded the following tracks on routes selected by National Mapping and supplied to WRE in the form of 1:1 000 000 scale maps which had been plotted with the selected route.

Young Range - Well 35, WA

Windy Corner ‑ Talawana Homestead, WA

Jupiter Well along O.J. Bobroff’s wheeltracks to Well 35, WA,

Well 35 along R.A. Ford’s wheeltracks to the telephone line N.W. of Callawa, WA

Neale Junction WA – Vokes (*) Hill, SA  (* - the correct spelling is Voakes)

Other tracks graded by L. Beadell for WRE purposes which were used by National Mapping geodetic survey parties:

Mt Kintore - Emu, SA

Papunya area NT - Jupiter Well, WA

Giles ‑ Sandy Blight Junction, WA

Mt Davies ‑ Mt Kintore / Emu track, SA

Vokes (*) Hill - north edge of Nullarbor Plain, SA

WRE ‑ Geodetic Survey Party communications

Probably WRE's assistance was greatest in the area of communications. In its early years National Mapping could not persuade the PMG’s Department to provide it with a short wave frequency for inter party communication. Consequently the only scrappy inter‑party conversations which could be held were on the local Royal Flying Doctor frequency. This could only be with the agreement of the RFDS operator and for a few minutes before the telegram session, and if the local homesteads were not using the frequency for the same purpose. Thus one could often not get through at all when some vital re‑arrangement of sub‑party programmes was necessary.

WRE had two frequencies which they used regularly with their own personnel and a comparatively powerful transmitter (5BW) at Woomera; also a teleprinter hook-up to Salisbury near Adelaide.

National Mapping survey parties were able to use this channel for sending their official telegrams; this saved considerable time waiting for one's “turn” on the RFDS network.

WRE also let the survey parties use these frequencies, for inter party communication, and the morning call each day enabled the party leader to check on the previous days results upon which depended the deployment of the sub‑parties for the next 24 hours. These frequencies were also used for communication while adjusting lights and arranging simultaneous reciprocal vertical angle and azimuth observations.

Short-wave Radio Transceivers used by National Mapping on the Geodetic Survey


This transceiver was used by the astronomical observing parties 1949-53 for telegram traffic through the Royal Flying Doctor Service and gave good service. It was a war time set and still technically quite satisfactory in 1953. However it had a number of faults which did not fit in with geodetic survey requirements:

(i)      Large and cumbersome, transmitter, receiver and speaker each in separate cases when space was of prime concern in the small Land Rovers.

(ii)     Designed for use in fixed positions or in ships or launches rather than in vehicles.

(iii)   Early in the geodetic survey maintenance became a problem, continuous travelling on corrugated roads during 4 years service was now causing continuous breaking of soldered wiring joints.

Traeger 51MA

This set came into use in 1956 and was a true portable. It was quite small compared to the 3BZ and gave good service up to the early 1960's. A modification which boosted the power output was made to these sets for their last few years of service. If care was taken in calculating the correct aerial length these sets were capable of working at quite long ranges.

Traeger 59M10

Few of these sets were purchased; it was only about the same power as the “boosted” 51MA sets and was almost immediately superseded by the TM2.

Traeger TM2

This was a very good set and was probably the one most widely used during the geodetic surveys. It was a part valve, part transistorized set, was a little smaller than the 51MA and more powerful. The set was also used in Papua New Guinea as a ground station. It was most successful in very difficult conditions for radio transmission and reception.

Traeger TM3

This fully transistorized set followed too closely the TM2. As the Geodetic Survey Branch had just replaced many of the 51MA sets with the TM2 it was more economical to continue this practise for a time as complete sets of new transmitting coils to fit the TM3 were also required. Thus few TM3 sets were purchased by the Geodetic Survey Branch while it remained in Melbourne. It was quite a good set but not greatly superior to the TM2 except in the saving of power consumption on the transmitting side.

Overall it can be said that all these Traeger sets gave good service during the era in which they were the latest set available; they were used extensively for telegram traffic on the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and also through WRE, as well as for inter party communication.

V.H.F. Transceiver

For the early triangulation the Pye “Reporter” VHF transceiver was purchased in 1953 for line of sight communication. This was the same set as was then used extensively by taxis and gave outstanding line of sight reception ‑ nothing National Mapping has used since has been better.

It was also used by the Geodimeter party from 1954 to 1957, however with the introduction of the Tellurometer with inbuilt VFH communication, the need for a separate VHF set almost lapsed. This meant that when the Pye “Reporter” sets became uneconomical to repair, they were not replaced.


Landrover SWB S1 1950 NT

Landrover SWB S1 1950 NT (Note older transport system)

Landrover SWB S1 late mid-50s

Morris 4x4 1ton crossing the “Hamilton” SA 1956

Commer C58673 on Baro heighting operations NT

Commer C58673 (rear vehicle) with Astrofix party Qld

Landrover LWB S1 1961 convoy with Inter AA120 & Bedford

Landrover LWB S1 1961 with canvas canopy WA

Landrover LWB S2 1962 with canvas canopy Vic

Landrover LWB S2A 1972 with rigid canopy WA

International AA120 1962 WA

International AA120s

International AB120 refuelling from onbaord tanks WA

International AB120 1965 SA

Bedford, cabin over engine, 5 ton truck 1961 WA

Bedford late 1960s


AWA Teleradio 3BZ

AWA Teleradio 3BZ in Landrover (Operator: Dave Hocking)

Portable transceiver built by the Radio Section, Department of the Interior 1949-52

DofI portable transceiver setup for time check

National Mapping Traeger TM3 showing removeable tuning crystals

Traeger Radio TM3


Fully portable Pye “Reporter” VHF Transceiver