John Herbert Ely (1939-2023)


Nat Map Electronics Technician


By Laurie McLean April 2023


John Ely at Canberra in April 1987.

Oz Ertok image.


John Ely was a highly respected and greatly admired Senior Technical Officer who made a significant personal contribution to Australia’s national mapping activities between 1965 and 1992.  John was an electronics expert who worked on and operated a wide range of survey equipment including airborne and terrestrial radar-based distance measuring systems; airborne laser-based terrain profiling systems; aerial survey cameras; and satellite-based precise positioning systems as well as digital computer systems, work stations and associated equipment.


John Ely was a softly spoken gentleman with a laconic, layed-back, and easy going manner.  Fellow Nat Mappers recall John as a dedicated, reliable, and resourceful technician with an unflustered and smooth operating style and as just a lovely man.


Early days

John Herbert Ely was born on 16 June 1939 at the Salvation Army Bethesda Hospital in Erin Street Richmond.  Bethesda Hospital operated from 1906 to 1998 and was the first private hospital in Melbourne to offer intermediate patient care.


Bethesda Hospital Erin Street Richmond.

Image from Art Deco and Modernism Society of Australia Inc. web site.



John was the first of the 2 children born to Herbert Henry (Bert) Ely (1903‑1993) and his wife Eileen Annie Ely née Maher (1915-2001).  John’s younger sibling was his brother Lachlan Charles Ely (1944-2015).  Bert Ely and Eileen Maher married in Victoria during 1938.


By no later than 1941, Bert and Eileen Ely resided at 15 Sharp Street Northcote where Bert worked as a cabinet maker and later as a carpenter while Eileen was engaged in home duties.  Bert Ely worked for the then Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board at the Preston tram workshops.  The Ely home in Sharp Street was a double-front, iron-roofed, weatherboard bungalow that is still standing although the original block has been subdivided with another dwelling now at the rear.


After Bert Ely retired, he and Eileen moved to Yarram in South Gippsland.  On electoral rolls for 1972 and 1977 they were listed as residing at 55 Union Street Yarram.  Bert and Eileen later returned to Melbourne.  On a 1980 electoral roll they were listed as residing at 34 Deakin Street Mitcham.


Recent image of John Ely’s childhood home at Northcote.

Google streetview image (edited) taken in January 2019.


Bert Ely’s World War II service

At Caulfield on 15 December 1941, at age 38 years, John Ely’s father Herbert Henry Ely enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force.  As a Tramways employee, Bert Ely had to obtain a reserved occupation release before he could enlist.  At the time of enlistment, Bert Ely was residing at 15 Sharp Street Northcote with his wife Eileen and 2-year old son John.  Eileen was Bert’s nominated next-of-kin.


Bert Ely served mainly as a Sapper, Service Number VX68110, in the Royal Australian Engineers and although in the Australian Imperial Force he did not serve overseas.  In the Army, Bert Ely was graded as a tradesman carpenter and was posted to various units and locations in Victoria including Melbourne, Bendigo, Watsonia, Moriac, and Queenscliff as well as Albury and Cowra in New South Wales.  Between 11 March and 17 July 1942, Bert acted as a Corporal.  He later acted as a Sergeant (from 11 October 1942 to 21 February 1943).  Between 18 August 1945 and 6 December 1945, Bert served with 11 Maintenance Platoon, Royal Australian Engineers in the Northern Territory, including a short period at Darwin.


Bert Ely was discharged from the Australian Imperial Force in Victoria with the rank of Sapper on 8 January 1946 after giving 1 486 days of wartime service.


VX68110 Sapper HH Ely Army recruitment photograph 1941.

Edited image from war service record held by National Archives Australia.


More on John Ely’s parents and grandparents

John Ely’s father, Herbert Henry Ely was born on 21 February 1903 in Melbourne.  Bert Ely died on 26 August 1993 at the Yarra Junction Hospital, he was 90 years of age.  Bert’s remains were interred on 31 August 1993 in the Upper Yarra Public Cemetery at Wesburn; in the Morton Thomas section, grave number 510.


John Ely’s father, Herbert Henry Ely was the second of the 7 children born to Herbert Alfred Ely (1874-1963) and his wife Lillian May Ely née Hosie (1878‑1970).  Herbert Alfred Ely and Lillian Hosie married in Victoria in 1900.  Herbert Alfred Ely was born at Andersons Creek (now Warrandyte) and died at the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.  Lillian May Hosie was born at Fitzroy and died at Malvern.  Herbert Alfred and Lillian May Ely’s 7 children are listed in Appendix A.


John Ely’s mother, Eileen Annie Ely (née Maher) was born at West Alberton in South Gippsland during 1915 and died at the Box Hill Hospital on 26 February 2001; circa 85 years of age.  Eileen Ely’s remains were interred in the Upper Yarra Public Cemetery at Wesburn on 1 March 2001.


Eileen Annie Maher was the second of the 4 children born to Timothy Maher (1865-1938) and his wife Caroline Edith Maher née Harrap (1893-1979).  The 4 children are listed in Appendix A.  Tim Maher and Caroline Harrap married on 15 September 1913 at St John’s Congregational Church in Surrey Hills, Reverend John Barton officiated.


Timothy Maher was born at Richmond and died on 14 April 1938 at circa 72 years of age; his remains were buried in the Yarram New Cemetery.  Caroline Edith Harrap was born in 1893 at Jack River (about 9 kilometres west of Yarram).  The then Caroline Vansittart died on 30 December 1979 at Merlynston; she was 86 years of age.  Caroline’s cremated remains were interred in the Fawkner Memorial Park Cemetery on 2 January 1980, 6th Ave Cross of Roses Border Positions, Garden Bed B, Position 90.


Tim Maher and Caroline Maher separated on Christmas Day 1921 and on 26 February 1932 Caroline was granted a divorce due to Tim’s wilful desertion.  Caroline was given custody of the 2 younger children; John Ely’s mother Eileen and her older sister Kathleen were then no longer living with their parents.


In Victoria in 1932, John Ely’s maternal grandmother Caroline Edith Harrap married Lachlan MacKinnon (1881‑1945).  In Victoria on 11 January 1947, Caroline Edith MacKinnon married Jesse Bernard Vansittart (1893-1961).


Growing up at Northcote and formal education

John Ely and his younger brother Lach grew-up in the family home at 15 Sharp Street Northcote.  In 1945, John Ely commenced his formal education at the Westgarth State School (No 4177) in Basting Street Northcote about 150 metres from the family home.  Presumably, younger brother Lach later attended Westgarth State School.  (This school opened in 1924.  The original red brick building was demolished in the 1990s and new buildings were erected at the rear of the site in Brooke Street with the facility now called the Westgarth Primary School.)


After school in his younger days, John Ely would make deliveries on his bicycle for a local chemist shop.


Westgarth State School.

Image from Westgarth Primary School web site.


Royal Melbourne Technical College 1955-1959

In 1955, John commenced an apprenticeship course as a radio and television technician at the then Royal Melbourne Technical College.  Here John studied under renowned College principal Ronald Reay MacKay (1905-1963) who was previously the head of the College’s Radio School.  John Ely graduated as a radio technician at the end of 1959; about the time the College was renamed the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.


One of John’s fellow students at Melbourne Tech was Kevin Burke.  Kevin later worked as a Field Assistant and Technical Officer with Nat Map (from March 1962 to December 1965) and was the first Nat Map technician to work on the then new Aerodist system equipment.  In 1975, Kevin and his wife Gwen moved to New Zealand.  One of Kevin’s siblings, older brother Ed also worked with Nat Map (from 1961 to 1989); becoming a Senior Technical Officer.


Early employment 1960-1964

Between 1960 and 1964 John was engaged as a technician on television servicing and repair work with the electrical retailer JP Aarons Pty Ltd.  John was based from Aarons’ premises in Errol Street North Melbourne.


In 1964 John joined the then Trans Australian Airlines as a technician working mainly on aircraft weather radar.  Then one of Australia’s 2 major domestic airlines, TAA had been established by the Australian National Airways Commission and commenced flying operations in October 1946.  It was renamed Australian Airlines in 1986 and merged with Qantas in September 1992.


Marriage to Lynette Panther 1961

John Ely married Lynette Panther at Footscray on 18 November 1961.  There was 1 child from John and Lynette’s marriage, daughter Susan Jane Ely who was born in 1962.  However, the marriage did not endure and John and Lynette Ely divorced in 1968.


Division of National Mapping 1965-1992

In May 1965, John Ely commenced duty as a Field Assistant with the Geodetic Survey Branch that was based at the Division of National Mapping’s Melbourne office.  Nat Map’s Melbourne office was then located in the Rialto Building at 497 Collins Street, towards the western edge of the central business district.  The Gothic style Rialto and adjoining Winfield House buildings were designed by Melbourne-born architect and politician William Pitt (1855-1918) and built during 1890-1891 by contractors William Comely and Thomas Henry Gwillam (1855-1930).  Both buildings were classified by the National Trust in 1973 and are now part of the Intercontinental Melbourne Hotel.


The Rialto Building at 497 Collins Street Melbourne circa 1977.

XNatmap image from Eric MacGibbon.


John was to serve with Nat Map and its successor organisation, the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group for nearly 27 years and during that time rose to the level of Senior Technical Officer (Engineering) Grade 2.  Towards the end of John’s time with the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group, the Commonwealth Public Service was restructured so that administrative, technical, and professional streams were brought onto common pay levels.  Under this broadbanding initiative, John Ely became a Technical Officer, Level 4.


Geodetic surveys 1965

As mentioned earlier, around May 1965, John Ely joined Nat Map’s Geodetic Survey Branch as a Field Assistant.  That year John worked in a geodetic field survey party of up to 14 men under Senior Surveyor Orest Jacovlavich (Bob) Bobroff (1922‑2013).  Other members of that field party included Ed Burke, Bob Goldsworthy (1938-1985), Eddy Ainscow (1928-2002) and Dave Yates.  The survey party was in the field from May until mid-December 1965.


This field survey party undertook first order geodetic traverses using Wild T3 theodolites to measure angles and Tellurometers to measure distances.  The field survey party operated in Western Australia and South Australia as part of Nat Map’s contribution to establishing Australia’s initial precise national survey network and the Australian Geodetic Datum (1966).  The initial survey traverse of about 300 kilometres was in the Gibson Desert from Gary Junction (about 720 kilometres, direct, south-east of Port Hedland) to Young Range (about 540 kilometres north-east of Wiluna).  The field party then undertook a survey traverse of about 420 kilometres across the Great Victoria Desert from Neale Junction (about 300 kilometres north-east of Rawlinna on the Trans Australia Rail Line to Voakes Hill in South Australia (about 160 kilometres east of the Western Australia border and about 400 kilometres west of Coober Pedy).


Later that year after completing the geodetic traverses, John worked with the other field party members on the construction of the Johnston Geodetic Station in the Northern Territory under party leader Bob Bobroff.  John and Ed Burke occupied the Mt Cavenagh survey station to make the theodolite and Tellurometer survey connection to the Johnston Geodetic Station; another survey connection was made from Mt Cecil.


The Johnston Geodetic Station (or Johnston Origin) was to be the origin for the 1966 Australian Geodetic Datum.  The station was named for Frederick Marshall Johnston (1885-1963), a former Commonwealth Surveyor-General, the first Director of National Mapping and the inaugural Chairman of the National Mapping Council.  This survey station is located on a small hill in the southern Northern Territory near Mount Cavenagh Homestead, about 3 kilometres west of the Stuart Highway and about 6 kilometres north of the South Australia border.


John Ely in the field in 1965.

(Edited) XNatmap image from OJ Bobroff.


As shown in the images below, the Johnston Geodetic Station comprised a steel‑vaned beacon on a 4.3 metre steel centre pole.  Owing to its significance, a large cairn was erected.  To achieve a good appearance, suitable thin, flat stone was brought some distance by vehicle to veneer the surface of the cairn.  The veneer of thin stone was attached with cement in a similar manner to tiling.  Some 21 bags of cement, together with sufficient sand to make a 3 to 1 mixture, plus the necessary water were carried up the hill; as was the rock for the veneer surface and a good deal of the filling rock for the centre of the cairn.  In the hot weather it was heavy going for the field party members.  The work on the Johnston Geodetic Station was completed in late November 1965.


John Ely (left) at the Johnston Geodetic Station in November 1965 with Bill Sutherland and Eddy Ainscow on cairn.

Survey equipment from left: signal lamp, Tellurometer, and theodolite in observing screen.

XNatmap image.


Johnston Origin with Mount Cavenagh Homestead in the background July 2012.

Laurie McLean image.


On the return journey to Melbourne, the Nat Map field party connected the Smithfield Wild BC-4 ballistic camera site to the surrounding primary geodetic survey network.  The Smithfield ballistic camera site was about 30 kilometres north of Adelaide and was part of a world-wide network of ground stations used to determine precise orbits of satellites in the early United States doppler navigation and communication satellite system.


Aerodist years 1966-1974

Between 1963 and 1974, Nat Map used the South African manufactured Aerodist airborne radar-based distance measuring system on a major program to establish horizontal ground control for photogrammetric map compilation for the 1:100 000 scale National Topographic Map Series; for more information on this program please see Appendix B.


John Ely worked with the Aerodist measuring program in the field from 1966 to 1974.  John started in Aerodist as a Field Assistant but is best remembered as a leading electronics technician and airborne master measuring equipment operator.  In the Rialto Building office workshop during the off-seasons, John was involved with the maintenance, overhaul, and refurbishment of Aerodist equipment as well as other duties.


John worked with the Aerodist measuring party in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  John also worked on all Aerodist offshore measuring surveys in Queensland (1966, 1968, 1969 and 1971) as well as on the offshore surveys from Onslow and Port Hedland in Western Australia in 1973.  John was not involved in Aerodist field operations in 1970.


During John Ely’s time with Aerodist field operations from 1966, the Aerodist master measuring units and ancillary equipment were mounted in a high-wing twin-engine Rockwell Grand Commander 680FL aircraft (VH-EXZ) chartered from Executive Air Services Pty Ltd that was based at Melbourne’s Essendon airport.  John was to spend many, many hours operating this equipment over the years until the completion of Aerodist measuring operations in 1974.


John Ely’s 1966-1974 Aerodist field operations – some snippets

1966: Aerodist measuring field survey party leaders were Surveyors Syd Kirkby and Con Veenstra.  Measuring operations commenced from Broken Hill on 28 March 1966 and continued around Cobar and then from Hay by late April 1966.  Around that time, John Ely operated an Aerodist remote unit with Surveyor Rom Vassil from survey station NM/C/40 beside the Sturt Highway about 64 kilometres east of Hay.


In early May 1966, the Aerodist centre party was based at Rockhampton, then briefly from Proserpine and Ayr.  In early June 1966, the centre party operated from Emerald and between 18 and 28 June 1966, it was again based from Rockhampton.  In mid-July, the centre party was based from Roma and then from Theodore, then Monto and later from Bundaberg.


John Ely (left) with Ed Burke at Rockhampton in 1966 during Aerodist field operations.

XNatmap image from Ed Burke.


John Ely took part in the initial offshore Aerodist survey that was conducted over Great Barrier Reef waters from 16 September to 5 October 1966.  This survey connected Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Service survey stations on islands between Bundaberg and Proserpine to the mainland first order geodetic survey network.  Some 40 Aerodist lines were measured.  Several vessels, including the RAN’s HMAS Paluma (a coastal surveying vessel of 208 tons displacement and about 37.8 metres overall length) as well as locally hired boats and a yacht were used to position the offshore Aerodist remote parties.


After completion of the offshore work, operations continued from Mackay and Charters Towers.  The 1966 Aerodist measuring operations were curtailed at Hughenden following the death of Field Assistant Russell Tappy on 27 October 1966, from internal injuries he sustained in a road accident the previous day.  At Hughenden on 28 October 1966, John Ely was one of the pall bearers at Russell Tappy’s funeral.


1967: Surveyors Syd Kirkby and Con Veenstra were again the field party leaders for the Aerodist measuring operations that commenced at Richmond in Queensland on 30 May 1967.  Later the centre party operated from Julia Creek and Mt Isa.  This was the first field season in which remote parties were positioned by helicopter, namely a Fairchild Hiller FH-1100 light turbine (VH‑UTZ) chartered from the Sydney-based Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd with pilot George Treatt (1934-2015).  The helicopter operated from early July until mid-October 1967.


During this period, the centre party was based at Calvert Hills Station on the Barkly Tableland and then from Brunette Downs, Anthony Lagoon and Borroloola.  By 23 August 1967, the centre party was based at Daly Waters and a few days later moved to Elliott before returning to Daly Waters on 8 September 1967.  From 25 September 1967, the centre party operated from Katherine.  From around 24 October 1967, the centre party operated from Camooweal in Queensland.  After completing measuring operations from Camooweal, the Aerodist field party headed south and on 18 November 1967, commenced measuring activities in south-west New South Wales and Victoria.  The 1967 Aerodist field season ended at Kerang on 30 November 1967.


During 1967, John Ely’s younger brother Lach Ely worked with the Aerodist measuring party.  Later, Lach established and operated his own successful electrical equipment manufacturing business.


1968: The Aerodist measuring party operated in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and Queensland.  Again Surveyors Syd Kirkby and Con Veenstra were the field party leaders.  Measuring operations commenced on 17 April 1967, around Griffith in the NSW Riverina area and later from Bourke.  The Aerodist party then moved to Timber Creek in the Northern Territory where measuring commenced on 20 May 1968.  The field party moved to Victoria River Downs in early June 1968.  The centre party later operated from Kununurra, Limbunya, Hooker Creek and Tennant Creek.


During the measuring operations over the Tanami Desert from these bases, helicopter support was again provided by a Fairchild Hiller FH-1100 light turbine helicopter (VH-UTZ) chartered from Sydney-based Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd.


During late October and November 1968, Aerodist offshore work continued in Great Barrier Reef waters off central Queensland.  Royal Australian Navy minesweepers, HMAS Hawk and HMAS Gull, transported Aerodist measuring remote sub-parties to the offshore features.


On 31 October 1968, a Fairchild Hiller FH-1100 turbine helicopter (VH-UHE) was flown by Harvey Else OAM (1928-2022) from Gladstone to Rockhampton and then via Keppel Island to High Peak Island.  This flight was to position John Ely onto survey mark C060 on High Peak Island in the Coral Sea about 160 kilometres north of Rockhampton.  Here John operated an Aerodist remote unit.  The High Peak Island survey mark was on the top of a feature that rose abruptly some 725 feet from the sea.  The aircraft had to balance, under power, on one skid while John unloaded his equipment.


For much of the 1968 Aerodist Great Barrier Reef survey, the centre party was based at Rockhampton.  The 2 RAN minesweepers tied-up at the Mackay sugar wharf at the end of November 1968 after disembarking the Nat Map sub-parties at the conclusion of the survey.


1969: Aerodist measuring operations commenced from Bourke and then moved to Tibooburra towards the end of May 1969.  During the year the field party leaders were again Surveyors Syd Kirkby and Con Veenstra.  The centre party was later based at Jundah, Bedourie, Windorah, Winton, Longreach, Camooweal, and Charters Towers.  Surveyor John Manning joined the field party at Camooweal and remained until the end of the season.  There was no helicopter support during the 1969 Aerodist measuring operations.


The 1969 Aerodist measuring operations over Great Barrier Reef waters commenced from Townsville in early September 1969 and concluded in mid‑October 1969.  The centre party was based at Townsville and Mackay.  That year, 10 offshore control stations were connected by Aerodist measurements to the existing survey network.  Some of these stations were up to 500 kilometres off the coast.  Several of the Aerodist lines were over 300 kilometres in length.


The Royal Australian Navy minesweepers HMAS Hawk and HMAS Gull as well as a fishing trawler were used to transport the offshore remote parties.  The minesweepers began embarking Nat Map personnel and equipment at Townsville around 4 September 1969.  At the end of the survey, at least one of the minesweepers disembarked Nat Map personnel at Townsville over the weekend of 17 October-20 October 1969.


During the centre party’s time at Townsville, Carol Rennie was able to visit John Ely.


1970: John Ely was not involved in Aerodist field operations this year as he was engaged with the inception of Nat Map’s WREMAPS1 airborne laser terrain profiling system.


1971: During this year, Aerodist measuring operations were undertaken over Central New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Western Queensland, and Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea waters.  The 1971 field party leaders were Surveyors Con Veenstra, John Manning, and Frank Johnston.  Helicopter support was provided by a Hughes 500 369HS aircraft (VH-UHO) chartered from Sydney-based Helicopter Utilities.  During this helicopter contract the 2 pilots were Harvey Else and Brian Harriss.


Aerodist measuring operations commenced from Dubbo in early May 1971 and later re-started over the Tanami and Northern Gibson Deserts from the Rabbit Flat roadhouse on 17 June 1971.  Afterwards, during measurements over the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert, the centre party was based at Halls Creek, Christmas Creek Homestead (now Wankatjunka), and Balgo Mission (now the Wirrimanu community).  At the end of August 1971, the Aerodist field party travelled via Rabbit Flat and Alice Springs to Camooweal that was the centre party base for measuring operations over the southern part of the Barkly Tableland.  Around 17 September 1971, Aerodist party vehicles commenced the journey to Cairns to prepare for offshore measuring operations.


The 1971 offshore operations extended from Cairns to Daru and out to Willis Island.  These operations were supported by Department of Transport Navaids vessels principally MV Cape Pillar under Captain Gordon Maxwell and also MV Cape Moreton.  Owing to crew change requirements the MV Cape Moreton was later replaced by the MV Cape Don.  Each of these 2 000 ton vessels was equipped with a Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) as well as a launch.  These smaller vessels greatly assisted the Nat Map station establishment and remote parties with landings on the various reefs and islets.


The Aerodist measuring operations over the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea and Torres Strait were undertaken from 28 September 1971 to 26 October 1971.  The centre party was based at Cairns from 23 September until 12 October 1971.  It was then based from Cooktown until 19 October 1971 when the measuring aircraft moved base to Horn Island.  VH-EXZ flew out of Horn Island until 27 October 1971.  During flying from Horn Island, centre party personnel were accommodated on nearby Thursday Island.  They commuted to the airstrip on Horn Island by boat.  A piston-engine Bell 47J2-A helicopter (VH-THH) supported positioning of the Aerodist remote unit party on Cape York and a Cessna 402 light twin engine fixed-wing aeroplane was used to position an Aerodist remote and Tellurometer survey party on to Lizard Island.


Initially, John Ely undertook Aerodist remote unit and other survey operations on the ground at offshore cays and islets.  Later, John was attached to the centre party as a master measuring equipment operator in the measuring aircraft VH‑EXZ with pilots Arthur Johnson and Graham Galliott.


John Ely operating an Aerodist remote unit at Chilcott Islet (NM/OS/10) in the Coral Sea on 30 September 1971.

XNatmap image by Dave Abreu.


During the 1971, Aerodist offshore survey, Carol Ely was able to join her husband John at the centre party base locations at Cairns, Cooktown, and Thursday Island.  On the evening of 26 October 1971, Carol and John Ely and other Aerodist field party members were invited onboard the MV Cape Pillar by her master Captain Gordon Maxwell and Nat Map Senior Surveyor Con Veenstra for a formal end-of-survey function.  Cape Pillar was then moored off Thursday Island and departed for Cairns the next morning.


MV Cape Pillar one of the 3 Department of Transport Navaids vessels used during the 1971 Aerodist offshore survey.

An XNatmap image.


1972: The measuring of 517 Aerodist lines in Western Australia during the 1972 field season concluded the original Aerodist program.  However, further Aerodist work on supplementary control projects continued in 1973 and 1974.  The 1972 measuring operations were over the Nullarbor Plain, and the Great Victoria, Gibson, and Great Sandy Deserts as well as more settled areas west of Kalgoorlie.  John Ely worked as a master measuring unit operator during the early part of this field season that extended from March to December 1972.  John was based at the John Eyre roadhouse and motel at Caiguna on the western end of the Nullarbor Plain section of the Eyre Highway and later at Rawlinna on the Trans-Australia train line to the north of Caiguna.  John left the Aerodist party from Kalgoorlie about 15 May 1972.


The Aerodist centre party was based at Caiguna from 6 April to 27 April 1972.  Measuring operations using vehicle-based remote parties commenced on 8 April 1972.  At the end of April 1972, the centre party shifted base to Rawlinna.  (Afterwards, measuring operations continued from various bases until late November 1972.)


Most of the 1972 measuring program was supported by 2 Hughes 500 369HS helicopters (initially VH-BLN and VH-BLO) chartered from Jayrow Helicopters Pty Ltd based at Melbourne’s Moorabbin airport.  Helicopter support commenced from a camp at survey control station R199 north of Rawlinna on about 5 May 1972 (and concluded from Forrest about 11 November 1972).


On 15 May 1972, the Aerodist party regrouped in Kalgoorlie.  Here Peter Langhorne relieved Frank Johnston as field party leader.  About 2 June 1972, the centre party moved its base to Laverton and continued measuring to the east.  Around 24 June 1972, the centre party moved to a camp at Featherstonhaugh airstrip (about 480 kilometres north-east of Laverton).  Later centre party bases were at: Wiluna, Balfour Downs Homestead, Kidson Field airstrip (in the northern Gibson Desert about 680 kilometres south-east of Wallal Downs on the Indian Ocean coast between Broome and Port Hedland), Blyth airstrip (about 75 kilometres directly west of Warburton Mission and about 550 kilometres by road north-east of Laverton), Forest (on the Trans-Australia train line about 85 kilometres west of the South Australia border), and finally again at Kalgoorlie.


1973: Aerodist measuring operations this year were over parts of New South Wales and Victoria and later off the Western Australia coast.  The initial measuring area extended from around Wagga Wagga to Hillston and Wentworth, then around Swan Hill, Mildura, Hopetoun, Ouyen, Horsham, and Hamilton) and to Mount Gambier in South Australia.  Aerodist measuring preparations and flight testing commenced at Deniliquin on 18 May 1973.  Measuring operations commenced on 21 May 1973.  The centre party was then based at Hay from 4 June 1973 and later from Swan Hill, Mildura and Horsham.  The measuring field party leaders were Surveyors Peter Langhorne and Frank Johnston.


John Ely was involved at the start of the 1973 Aerodist measuring operations from Deniliquin.  Carol Ely was able to visit John there on the weekend; travelling in the family’s MGA roadster.  (John eventually sold the MGA around 2022.)


Later in 1973, John Ely was involved in Aerodist measuring off Western Australia with party leader Peter Langhorne.  The centre party was based mainly at Onslow from 11 August to 20 September 1973 except during 13 to 17 September when it flew out of Port Hedland.  The pilot of aircraft VH‑EXZ during these operations was John Harvey.


During these operations, John Ely was involved in the measuring of 8 Aerodist photo trilateration points that fixed the positions of several offshore features, namely: Tryal Rocks, Geographe Shoals, Little Turtle Islet, North Turtle Island, and Bedout Island.  To achieve these fixes, 3 Aerodist remote units were positioned on survey points with known coordinates.  The measuring aircraft measured to each of these remote units simultaneously as it flew over and photographed each of the offshore features that needed to have its position fixed.  The offshore features were photographed with the on-board 70 mm Vinten reconnaissance camera.  The simultaneous 3-way measuring allowed the position of the aircraft and the centre of the photographs taken to be determined.


1974: After a long-delayed start, the final Aerodist measuring operations, over the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, commenced from Wyndham on 2 October 1974.  The centre party was based there from 11 September 1974.  The 1974 field party leader was Peter Langhorne and John Ely was the initial Aerodist technician and master equipment operator; John was relieved by Terry Mulholland on 10 October 1974, a few days before the centre party moved to Halls Creek.  The final line in the Nat Map Aerodist program was measured from Derby on 2 November 1974.


While based at Wyndham, Aerodist centre party members were accommodated in the hotel near the airport, about 21 kilometres from the main Wyndham settlement.  Carol Ely was able to join her husband there for a short period.  Unfortunately, Carol was badly bruised when the MacRobertson Miller Airlines minibus was involved in a road traffic accident when transiting Carol and other passengers from Wyndham to the Kununurra airport for her return airflight to Melbourne.


Permanent appointment to the Commonwealth Public Service 1967

Like most Nat Map field staff, John Ely commenced duty (in 1965) on a temporary appointment.  In October 1967, John was permanently appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service in the then Department of National Development as a Technical Officer, Grade 1 (Fourth Division).


John’s permanent appointment was promulgated on page 5640 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, Issue No 88 on 12 October 1967.  The appointments of several other Nat Mappers were also promulgated in that issue of the Gazette, namely: Peter Langhorne, Andrew Porteous, Ed Burke, Terry Douglas, Jeffrey Fox, Paul McCormack (1938-2009), and Terry Mulholland (1935-2013).


Away from Nat Map 1968

Early in 1968, John Ely left Nat Map for a few months but resumed duty with Nat Map on 11 October 1968.  During at least some of this time, John worked as a commercial kangaroo shooter including in the North Bourke area around the Darling River in north-western New South Wales.  During this time John also returned to radio and television servicing, based in the Box Hill area.


Permanent re-appointment to Commonwealth Public Service 1970

John Ely was permanently re-appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service on 9 April 1970 as a Technical Officer, Grade 1 in the Department of National Development.  John’s re-appointment was promulgated on page 2238 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, Issue No 24 on 9 April 1970.


On page 2291 of the same issue of the Gazette, John Ely was promoted to Technical Officer, Grade 2 (Fourth Division), Position No 35, in the Terrain Profile Surveys Section of Nat Map’s Control Survey Branch.  In this position John’s nominal responsibilities were to operate optical-electronic terrain profiling equipment and assist in the direction of the aircraft during survey flights anywhere in Australia, to carry out the more difficult field maintenance and major bench overhauls of the equipment, and to carry out the reduction of survey data.


WREMAPS1 laser terrain profiler 1970-1980

Between 1970 and 1980, National Mapping deployed its WREMAPS1 airborne laser terrain profiling system to provide photogrammetric vertical control for the plotting of certain map sheets (generally in areas of low relief) in the 1:100 000 scale National Topographic Map Series.  The system was also used for special projects surveys including a micro-wave telecommunications link in North Queensland and for the Royal Australian Survey Corps in South Australia.


During its decade of operation, Nat Map’s WREMAPS1 airborne laser terrain profiling system was used to fly over 250 000 kilometres of laser terrain profiles.  Over 100 000 vertical control height points were manually extracted from these profiles.  These height points were used as the vertical control for the photogrammetric plotting of some 2.7 million square kilometres of map coverage in the National Topographic Map Series which at a scale of 1:100 000 depicted contours at 20-metre vertical intervals.  This mapping coverage was over about 35 per cent of the Australian mainland; further details are provided in Appendix C.


In early1970, John worked with Senior Surveyor Rom Vassil (1930-2021) for some months on the WREMAPS1 laser terrain profiler at the Weapons Research Establishment in Adelaide.  Here John was involved in acceptance testing, initial aircraft installation, operational testing and training on the system’s operations and maintenance procedures.  Nat Map operated the WREMAPS1 laser system until 1980 and John Ely was involved with laser terrain profiler field operations and maintenance from time-to-time during 1970-1975.


Between 1970 and 1975, the laser system was mounted in a Rockwell Aero Commander 680FL fixed-wing aircraft (VH‑EXP) on charter from Executive Air Services Pty Ltd based at Melbourne’s Essendon airport.  This aircraft was used to carry the laser terrain profiling system and ancillary equipment until the end of the 1975 field season.  During 1976, the laser system was mounted in Nat Map’s Nomad N22B-25 aircraft VH-DNM.


During 1970, John Ely was engaged in laser terrain profiler field operations from aircraft (VH-EXP) bases at Broken Hill and Dubbo in New South WalesOther members of the field survey party that year included: Syd Kirkby, Rom Vassil, and Terry Mulholland.  On 18 August 1970, the first production line in the laser terrain profiler program was flown in the Broken Hill area by Rom Vassil, John Ely and Terry Mulholland.


John was again engaged in laser terrain profiler field operations during 1971 when the  measuring aircraft (VH-EXP) was based at Mildura in Victoria; Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Yuendumu Aboriginal Community, and Warrabri Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory, and Charters Towers in Queensland.  Other members of the field survey party in 1971 included: Rom Vassil, Norm Edwards, Simon Cowling, Des Fahey, Adrian Wright (1944‑2008), and Graeme Lawrence.  Around mid-June 1971, John Ely flew home to Melbourne from Alice Springs; a major personal consideration then being to prepare for his forthcoming marriage to Carol Rennie.


John Ely was next engaged in laser terrain profiler field operations during 1975 when aircraft VH-EXP operated from Oodnadatta in South Australia, and from Alice Springs, Vaughan Springs Homestead, and Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the Northern Territory.  Other members of the field survey party that year included: Paul Wise, Ozcan Ertok (1929-2022), Andrew Christie, Ian Graham (1955‑2009), Donald Sutherland, Ross Chisolm, Reg Kearns, and Tony Maginn.


Refuelling the laser aircraft, Rockwell Aero Commander 680FL (VH-EXP), at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in 1975.

An XNatmap image.


Antarctica summer expedition 1970-1971

During the summer of 1970-71 John Ely undertook geodetic survey operations (theodolite and Tellurometer traversing) in the Prince Charles Mountains as a member of an Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.  As well as John Ely, other Nat Map members of the survey party were Surveyors John Manning and Norm Edwards (1946-2017).  The expedition departed Melbourne onboard the MV Nella Dan on 12 December 1970 and arrived at Mawson base on 28 December 1970.  Nella Dan returned to Melbourne with the expeditioners on 16 March 1971.


MV Nella Dan at Mawson ice edge in November 1981.

 Image by Dr Robert Ricker, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Library.


Named in 1956, for the then heir apparent now King Charles III, the Prince Charles Mountains are a major group of mountains in Mac Robertson Land, Antarctica.  They include the Athos Range, the Porthos Range, and the Aramis Range.  The highest peak is Mount Menzies (about 3 230 metres).  Other prominent peaks are Mount Izabelle (1 220 metres) and Mount Stinear (about 1 950 metres).  The Prince Charles Mountains and other scattered peaks form an arc about 420 kilometres long extending from the vicinity of Mount Starlight in the north to Goodspeed Nunataks in the south.


To support the 1970-71 summer expedition including the Prince Charles Mountains work, the Moorabbin-based Jayrow Helicopters provided 3 Hughes 500 369HS helicopters (VH-BLN, VH-BLO and VH-SFS).  Helicopter flying was undertaken from 28 December 1970 with a total of over 282 helicopter hours being flown.  A Pilatus Porter fixed-wing aircraft (VH-FSB) provided by the Essendon-based Forrester Stephen also supported the expedition.  Between 29 December 1970 and 25 February 1971, VH-FSB flew about 127 hours.  The helicopter pilots were Vic Barkell (1925-1995), Howard Bosse, and Cliff Dohle (1935-2009).  The helicopter engineers were Dave King and Eckhardt Schneider.  The fixed-wing pilot was Doug Leckie OBE AFC (1920-2007).


On 10 February, Ian Holmes had fallen down a crevasse on Gotley Glacier at Heard Island and broken a leg.  Ian was a Field Assistant with a French‑Australian expedition that was placed on the island by the MV Gallieni.  To rescue Ian, the MV Nella Dan had to proceed at full speed from Davis on 15 February 1971 to Mawson base, collect pilots Vic Barkell and Cliff Dohle together with engineer Eckhardt Schneider and 2 of the Hughes 500 helicopters and proceed to Heard Island; a distance of about 3 000 kilometres.  Nella Dan arrived at Heard Island on 21 February 1971.  Ian Holmes was trapped in a tent on Gotley Glacier for some 11 days.


On 21 February, Holmes was winched out of the crevasse by Eckhardt Schneider from Cliff Dohle’s hovering helicopter (VH-BLN).  The winch was a makeshift device that prevented access to the aircraft cabin.  Holmes was then carried under that aircraft to a safe landing area where he was transferred to Vic Barkell’s aircraft (VH-BLO).  Thanks to this extraordinary rescue effort Ian Holmes was safely returned to Australia via Mawson base onboard the MV Nella Dan.  The vessel departed Mawson on 3 March 1971 and berthed in Melbourne on 16 March 1971.


Ely Nunatak - recognition for 1971 Antarctic service

In recognition of his contributions to the success of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions’ 1971 Prince Charles Mountains survey, a geographic feature in the Prince Charles Mountains was named for John Ely.  Ely Nunatak is an attractive, small, dark-coloured nunatak about 7 kilometres north of Mount Izabelle in Mac Robertson Land and is located at 72° 07' 46" South 66° 29' 24" East (official name ID 1761).  The position of Ely Nunatak was determined by theodolite intersections from geodetic survey stations during the 1971 Expedition.  (A nunatak, from the Inuit nunataq, is a feature (glacial island) that protrudes from an ice field.)


Location of Ely Nunatak.

Google satellite images annotated by Paul Wise.


Marriage to Carol Rennie 1971

During August-September 1967, while working with the Aerodist measuring field party at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory, John Ely met Carol Rennie an attractive young Librarian from Melbourne.  Carol was then on a road trip through Brisbane to Darwin with her friend Prue Newberry; they were travelling in a Ford Anglia 105E 2-door sedan.  John kept in contact with Carol over the following months.


On 19 August 1971, John Ely and Carol Rennie married in the Church of England at Elsternwick.  Carol was the younger daughter of Stanley Denham Rennie (1907-1998) and his wife Dorothy Agnes (Dorrie) Rennie née Caldwell (1906-1969).  The Rennie family then resided at 23 Severn Street Balwyn North and Stanley Rennie was employed as an engineer.  Carol’s older sibling was her sister Rae; who later married Noel Alfred Nuebecker (1935-2017).


John and Carol Ely at Mitcham circa 1972.

Edited image from Carol Ely.


Initially, John and Carol Ely resided in an upper level apartment at 27 Ewart Street Malvern.  In the mid-1970s, John and Carol moved to a rural property beside Cannibal Creek in Government Road (later Tynong North Road) at Tynong North, about 45 kilometres east of Dandenong.  They rebuilt there after their first house was destroyed by fire in 1992.  After her wedding, Carol undertook further tertiary studies at La Trobe University and in 1978 was awarded the Degree of Bachelor of Economics.


Promotion to Senior Technical Officer 1973

In February 1973, John Ely was promoted to Senior Technical Officer (Engineering), Grade 1 (Fourth Division), Position No 34, in the Terrain Profile Surveys Section of the Control Survey Branch.  This promotion was promulgated on page 116, of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, Issue No 22 on 22 February 1973.  In this position, John was responsible for operating and maintaining laser terrain profiling equipment on airborne survey operations, directing major overhauls of equipment and devising and effecting modifications and testing procedures which involved liaising with staff of the Weapons Research Establishment.


While John was formally in the Terrain Profile Surveys Section, he continued to be involved in Aerodist operations in the field and in maintaining and overhauling Aerodist equipment in the Rialto Building office workshop until Aerodist field operations concluded in November 1974.


Learjet photography 1976

In 1976, John Ely was involved with the initial Nat Map high altitude aerial photography program using a Wild RC10 aerial survey camera, serial number1336, mounted in a Gates Learjet 25C aircraft (VH-TNN) chartered from Stilwell Aviation.  Prior to the RC10 camera being installed in the Learjet, John organised the purchase of a roll and tip gyroscope that he then connected to the camera.  This device helped to stabilise the camera so it was in a level attitude each time the film was exposed.


John was a member of the first Nat Map field party at the start of the high altitude aerial photography program, along with party leader Surveyor Peter Langhorne and Technical Officer (Surveying) Bob Smith.  The program commenced in late July 1976 with Learjet VH‑TNN based at Broome in Western Australia from where it operated over the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.  For more detail on the program please see Appendix D.


Ellery House Dandenong 1977-1992

In April 1977, John Ely moved with the rest of Nat Map’s Melbourne office staff from the Rialto Building to newly-built premises at Ellery House in 280 Thomas Street Dandenong; about 30 kilometres south-east of Melbourne CBD.  Ellery House was named for Robert Lewis John Ellery (1827-1908) who was an astronomer and director of the Williamstown observatory for 42 years.  Ellery conducted a geodetic survey of Victoria from 1858 to 1874.


John was to spend the final 15 years of his Nat Map career based at Ellery House in Dandenong.  Among his duties at Ellery House, John and his fellow electronics technicians were involved in the maintenance, servicing and repair of various items of technical equipment in the Dandenong office.  This equipment included: JMR Doppler satellite receivers, the Digital PDP 1140 computer that ran Nat Map’s digital mapping system, numerous computer workstations, photographic laboratory equipment, the Wild RC10 aerial survey camera; and the Hilger and Watts goniometer used for aerial survey camera calibrations.


John Ely headed Nat Map’s electronics workshop on the 7th floor at Ellery House and as well as his various technical duties, John directed, controlled and supervised the following technical staff (Technical Officers-Engineering): Terry Mulholland, Ozcan Ertok, Andrew Christie, Arnold Visser, and Donald Sutherland.  All of these staff had joined Nat Map at the Rialto Building office.


Ellery House, 280 Thomas Street Dandenong circa 1977.

XNatmap image.


University studies 1979-1985

Between 1979 and 1985 John undertook a course of part-time tertiary study in psychology and biology at Monash University’s Clayton campus.  On 22 May 1985, John was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts at a ceremony in the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University.


Australian Surveying and Land Information Group 1987-1992

The Division of National Mapping ceased as a unique Commonwealth Government organisation in July 1987.  Under Commonwealth Government administrative arrangements that were gazetted on 24 July 1987, Division of National Mapping functions were undertaken within the Department of Administrative Services by the subsequently formed Surveying and Land Information Group.


The Group was later renamed the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group and included former Australian Survey Office functions.  These administrative arrangements followed the double dissolution Federal elections that were held on 11 July 1987 and saw the re-election of the Australian Labor Party federal government under Prime Minister Robert James Lee Hawke (1929-2019).


John Ely remained with AUSLIG, based at Dandenong, until his Public Service retirement in March 1992.


John Ely in the electronics workshop at Ellery House in August 1987.

XNatmap image by Oz Ertok.


PRAM III-LAPS laser airborne profiling system 1984-1990

After previously researching options to develop the capability to plot contours at 10‑metre vertical intervals for 1: 50 000 scale map compilation, Nat Map acquired a new PRAM III laser measuring unit from Associated Controls and Communications Inc of Cambridge, Massachusetts during 1984‑1985.  This PRAM III unit was integrated with components from the earlier WREMAPS1 laser profiler into a compact terrain profiling system.  The integration was undertaken by Nat Map’s electronics technicians led by John Ely.  The system operated in Nat Map’s Cessna 421C Golden Eagle fixed‑wing aircraft (VH‑DRB).  The system later became known as the Laser Airborne Profiling System (LAPS).


John Ely was also involved with the PRAM III system initial testing and with the aircraft installation.  Between 19 April and 10 May 1985, John was a member of the Nat Map field party that undertook the initial PRAM III field operations in Cessna VH-DRB based from Townsville with pilot Harry Baker.


Nat Map’s Cessna 421 (VH-DRB) in later CW configuration (with winglets).

(Edited) image from Harry Baker.


In 1987, LAPS was contracted to the Canadian firm McElhanney Group Ltd for terrain profiling work in Indonesia under a Canadian-Indonesian governments resource evaluation project.  Under this project, in 1989, McElhanney Geosurveys Ltd used LAPS to obtain vertical mapping control over Kalimantan (the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo) and the island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes).  LAPS was installed in a survey aircraft in Indonesia and during 1989 John Ely undertook a period of field duty in Sulawesi.


Award for Excellence 1990

On 11 July 1990, Harvey Jacka AM, Executive General Manager of the Property Services Program of the Department of Administrative Services, presented Ian Stuart Graham (1955-2009), Technical Officer (Surveying) Grade 2, and John Ely with Award for Excellence certificates for their contributions to the development of LAPS.  In accepting their awards, both John and Ian noted these awards reflected the work of all the staff members involved with the LAPS development.


Ian Graham (left) and John Ely in July 1990 with awards for excellence for the development of the Laser Airborne Profiling System.

(Edited) XNatmap image.


Public Service retirement 1992

John retired from AUSLIG as a Technical Officer (Level 4) on 11 March 1992.  John was then 52 years of age and left AUSLIG on a redundancy package under the provisions of Section 76 W of the Public Service Act.  (John’s retirement was promulgated on page 1340 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, Issue PS 13, of 2 April 1992.)


Post-retirement at Tynong North

John Ely was to enjoy over 31 years in semi-retirement after leaving the Commonwealth Public Service in early 1992.  Together with Carol, John continued to reside at rural Tynong North to the east of Melbourne.  After the Public Service, John decided he would work on his own terms and not for a formal employer.  Instead, he pursued various activities including online trading in second-hand goods, mainly technical or electronic equipment; repairing or servicing electronic or similar equipment, mainly in his local area but for many years he serviced the microfiche readers at the State Library Victoria in Swanston Street Melbourne.  Some of John’s online trading was undertaken after purchasing disposal goods from the Grays Australia auction company following leads provided by Nat Map colleague Garry Burriss.



In recent years John received treatment for myeloma which he had tolerated reasonably well.  Sadly, on the night of 9 April 2023, John had a bad turn at home and was quickly conveyed to the Casey Hospital at Berwick where he passed away.  John was 83 years of age.  John is survived by Carol, his beloved wife of over 51 years and by his daughter Susan (from his previous marriage) and her husband Brendan Lakic, by grandchildren Luke and Megan, and by great granddaughter Olivia.


A service to celebrate John’s life was held at the David W Bull Funeral Home in Pakenham on 19 April 2023; it commenced at 10:30 am.  The service was conducted by Bronwyn Bithell, a Salvation Army Envoy.  Eulogies and tributes for John were given by Ms Bithell, Carol Ely, John Manning, and John Ely’s son-in-law Brendan Lakic.  About 60 family members and friends attended John’s funeral service; including Nat Mappers Diana Vlahovich, John Manning, Michael Lloyd, Graeme Lawrence, Brian Shaddick and his wife Jan, Peter Salkowski and his wife Colleen, Andrew Christie and his wife Marion, Garry Burriss, Russell Hughes, and Laurie McLean.  Afterwards John’s remains were privately cremated.


Former Nat Mappers who knew, worked with, and admired John Ely during his 27 years or so with Nat Map extend their sincere sympathies for their sad loss to Carol and other members of John’s family.





During the research and preparation of this tribute article the following people generously provided assistance:

·       Carol Ely, John Ely’s wife of nearly 52 years.

·       Paul Wise OAM, former Nat Map Senior Surveyor and founder, operator, and editor-in-chief of the XNatmap web site.

·       Much of the discussion of John Ely’s time and activities with National Mapping was drawn from articles already posted on the XNatmap web site.


The author gratefully acknowledges the kind assistance provided by each of these people.





Appendix A


Children of Herbert Alfred and Lillian May Ely

·       Dorothy Elizabeth Ely (1901-1984) born Richmond, died Coburg; in Victoria in 1926 married Robert Emmett Dempsey (1897-1975)

·       Herbert Henry Ely (1903-1993), born 21 February 1903 in Melbourne, died 26 August 1993 at Yarra Junction Hospital

·       Elsie Margaret Ely (1905-1991) born at Warburton, died 10 September 1991 in Launceston; in South Australia in 1928 married Louis Henry Gordon Johnston (1904-1987)

·       William Charles Ely (1907-1996), born 28 July 1907 at Warburton, died 24 November 1996 (Springvale Crematorium); in Victoria in 1942 married Violet May Jennings (1919‑1985)

·       Charlotte Lillian Ely (1909-2004), born 31 December 1909 at Warburton, died 1 March 2004 (Fawkner Cemetery); in Victoria in 1934 married George Francis Conisbee (1904-1963)

·       Alfred Keith Ely (1914-2010) born 8 March 1914 at Northcote, died 16 July 2010 at Barmera in the South Australia Riverland area; in Victoria in 1941 married Joyce Lillian Hoskins (1914-2002) who died in South Australia on 17 October 2002 (Centennial Park Cemetery)

·       Jean Mavis Ely (1921-1923), died Northcote.


Timothy and Caroline Maher’s children

·       Kathleen Ellen born West Alberton 1914-1979

·       Eileen Annie born West Alberton 1915-2001

·       Deborah Edith born Yarram 1917-2001

·       John Osborne born Yarram 30 August 1919-1988.



Appendix B


National Mapping’s Aerodist program 1963-1974

In 1963, National Mapping employed Aerodist, a South African made airborne microwave electronic distance measuring technology.  Aerodist was a secondary radar system.  Nat Map used Aerodist on a major program to establish horizontal ground control for photogrammetric map compilation for the 1:100 000 scale National Topographic Map Series.  The Aerodist measuring program was to operate over 12 field seasons.  The initial Aerodist lines were measured in Queensland’s Bowen Basin in 1963.  The final Aerodist line was measured in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in early November 1974.  During this program, the Aerodist system was used to measure some 3 020 survey lines that fixed the positions of some 485 survey control stations over more than 50 per cent of the Australian mainland.  Aerodist was also used in offshore areas in Queensland and Western Australia; see diagram below.


The Aerodist system allowed dynamic slope distances from 2 ground transponder (or remote) stations to be measured by the master equipment in an aircraft that would fly between the two ground stations.  Typically, the Aerodist ground remote stations were established in braced quadrilaterals at 1° of latitude and longitude intersections within a surrounding geodetic survey network.  Usually 8 lines were measured from each Aerodist ground station to adjoining ground stations; see second diagram below.  In the more remote areas, a helicopter was used to position the Aerodist remote operator parties from base camps on to the ground stations where these 2 people would camp out for most of the week.


By using these measured slope distances, as well as the known aircraft antenna separation distance, the height of the ground stations, the height of the remote instrument in relation to the ground station, the aircraft height at the line crossing point, and by taking meteorological observations to calculate atmospheric refraction, a sea level distance between the two ground stations could be determined.  The slope distances between the Aerodist stations were recorded on paper charts in the measuring aircraft.


The Rockwell Grand Commander 680FL (VH-EXZ) that was used as the Aerodist measuring aircraft from 1966 to 1974.

XNatmap image.


Final National Mapping Aerodist Blocks which indicate the extent of the Aerodist measuring program between 1963 and 1974.


A typical Aerodist one degree braced quadrilateral (diagram by Harvey Else, 1972).


Aerodist master measuring equipment in Grand Commander VH-EXZ circa 1966.  John Ely spent much of his Aerodist field time operating and maintaining this equipment.

An XNatmap image.


In 1963, each Aerodist line was normally measured with 5 useable runs.  However, in 1964 and all subsequent field seasons, for each Aerodist line a minimum of 7 good runs (that allowed distances to be extracted) would usually be flown.  The integrity of the run was determined by the quality of the traces that recorded the measurements on to the paper chart.  Often more than 7 runs were needed to obtain 7 good ones.


A sample extract of an Aerodist chart with subsequent hand annotations to extract slope distances.

XNatmap image.




Appendix C


Nat Map’s Airborne Laser Terrain Profiling operations 1970-1980

Between 1970 and 1980, National Mapping deployed its initial Airborne Laser Terrain Profiling system to provide photogrammetric vertical control for the plotting of certain map sheets (in areas of low relief) in the 1:100 000 scale National Topographic Map Series.  The system was also used for special projects surveys including a micro-wave telecommunications link in North Queensland and for the Royal Australian Survey Corps in South Australia.


The system deployed on this program was known as WREMAPS 1 and was developed by the Commonwealth Government’s Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury to the north of Adelaide to meet the Division of National Mapping’s defined operational requirements.  The system comprised a laser distance measuring sub-system, a barometric reference unit to establish the height datum, a special continuous‑strip 70 mm camera to record the track flown by the laser, gyroscopes to sense the attitude of the aircraft, and associated support equipment, including a paper roll chart recorder for capturing the relevant data.


WREMAPS1 laser terrain profiler mounted in Nat Map’s Nomad aircraft (VH-DNM).

(Edited) image from Harry Baker.


Between 1970 and 1975, the laser terrain profiling system was mounted in a twin-engine, high-wing Rockwell Aero Commander 680FL (VH‑EXP) chartered from Executive Air Services Pty Ltd based at Melbourne’s Essendon airport.  From 1977 to 1980, the system was mounted in Nat Map’s own aircraft, then a turboprop, twin-engine, high-wing Nomad N22B-25 (VH‑DNM).


During its decade of operation, National Mapping’s WREMAPS 1 Airborne Laser Terrain Profiling system was used to fly over 250 000 kilometres of laser terrain profiles.  Over 100 000 vertical control height points were manually extracted from these profiles.  These height points were used as the vertical control for the photogrammetric plotting of some 2.7 million square kilometres of map coverage in the National Topographic Map Series which at a scale of 1:100 000 depicted contours at 20-metre vertical intervals.  This mapping coverage was over about 35 per cent of the Australian mainland, as shown on the map below.


Aircraft bases used for laser terrain profiling operations between 1970 and 1980 and area covered by Nat Map’s laser profiling.  Diagonal shading depicts map sheets with standard east‑west terrain profiles and vertical stripes depict map sheets with non‑standard north-south profiling.  Map annotated by Paul Wise.




Appendix D


High Altitude Mapping Photography Program 1976-1981


The Nat Map high altitude mapping photography program, using a Gates Learjet 25C aircraft, commenced in 1976 using a Wild RC10 aerial survey camera (serial number 1336) fitted with an 88mm super wide angle lens.  The initial objective of the high altitude aerial photography program was to fly pin‑point photography at about 13 700 metres above the terrain so that each photo frame would cover the area of a 1:50 000 scale map sheet at a photo scale of about 1:151 000.  Also the aircraft flight lines were on a north to south orientation to minimise the effect of shadow.


However, in the thin air at this altitude and with the force and direction of the jet stream winds, the aircraft could not provide a stable platform.  Accordingly, its inertial navigation system would cause the aircraft to spiral excessively to reach the planned photo capture points.  The initial 1976 camera operations crew comprised: Peter Langhorne, John Ely and Bob Smith.  In 1977 and 1978, the aircraft was again flown along north-south flight lines but at an altitude of 12 500 metres to provide a photo scale of 1:136 000.


From 1979 to 1981 (inclusive), the photography was flown at 7 620 metres on east–west flight lines at a nominal scale of 1:80 000.  During this period, some photography was captured using a 152 mm lens on the RC10 camera.  Also, some photography was captured on Kodak 2443 false colour infrared film stock.


The aircraft used during this 6-year program was a Gates Learjet 25C (VH‑TNN) with a door mounted camera pod.  The speed and range of this aircraft made it an ideal platform for aerial photography as it could readily travel to areas where weather conditions were suitable for aerial photography operations.  It was chartered from Melbourne based Stillwell Aviation.  Pilots included: Bob Scrivener, Dave Foster, Nina Plummer, Neville Balding, Pete Fisher and Col Vincent.


The Gates Learjet VH-TNN operated with a pilot and co-pilot.  The Learjet was weight limited when taking off with pilots, Nat Map flight crew, aerial survey camera and required fuel load.  Generally this limitation meant the Nat Map flight crew was limited initially to 3 persons namely: the party leader, a photography line navigator (the pilot remained legally responsible for overall aircraft navigation) and the aerial camera operator.  In later years where longer flight lines were required, a Nat Map flight crew of only two people was used.


The Learjet was chartered annually and operated within a strict budget which necessarily constrained the period of operation.  In the early years of Learjet operations, due to such budget constraints, the separate party leader was responsible for decisions such as when to fly or not fly due to cloud or whether to move the aircraft’s operational base to avoid clouded flight areas.  Party leaders were: Surveyors Peter Langhorne, Paul Wise, Rod Menzies and Dave Hocking.  Photography line navigators were: Ed Burke and Joe McRae (who were also the party leaders in later years of operation).  Camera operators were: Bob Smith, Bill Stuchbery and Bill Nagel.  In the initial year of operation (1976), John Ely a senior technical officer was also in the field in case of any camera systems failure.  Also in 1976 only, two separate ground crews were deployed to monitor weather conditions within the area of photography operations in the Great Sandy, Gibson and Great Victoria Deserts of Western Australia.  The ground crews were: Laurie McLean with Tony Maginn and Reg Kearns with Ian Graham.


Gates Learjet 25C VH-TNN showing camera mounting pod at base of doorway.

XNatmap image.


Nat Map’s Wild RC10 aerial survey camera mounted in Learjet VH-TNN.

XNatmap image.


1:250 000 scale map sheet areas captured during the 1976-1981 Nat Map aerial photography program.

XNatmap diagram prepared by Paul Wise.