This is Neville Stonehouse

About Neville Peter Stonehouse (1938-2008)

Nat Map 1970-1971

9 Juliet Tango this is Neville Stonehouse came loud and clear over the Aerodist centre party radio about the middle of the day.  It was mid-August 1970 and Nat Map’s Aerodist field party was measuring lines in the Tanami Desert in what was designated as Aerodist Block 17 to the north-west of Alice Springs.  Both the Aerodist centre party and the helicopter support camp were then located on the Willowra pastoral lease.

The Willowra lease covered an area of about 5,000 square kilometres along the Lander River bordering on the Tanami Desert about 330 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.  It was also the home of a number of Warlpiri Aboriginal people who have since been granted freehold title to their land.  Willowra is now known as the Wirliyajarrayi community. 

In 1970 Nat Mappers were camped at the Willowra homestead.  Here the station manager and his wife had kindly allowed the field party to use the vacant head stockman’s house; a substantial low set Besser block building.  The centre party caravan, a mobile workshop-office was parked nearby with the field party’s high frequency Traeger TM3 radio transceiver.  As usual the transceiver was operating on frequency 6815 MHz.

At the time Neville’s initial radio call was received, the party leader and other centre party members were out on the job measuring Aerodist lines in the measuring aircraft.  This aircraft was a Rockwell Grand Commander 680FL with registration and radio call sign VH-EXZ.  The pilot was George Rickey.  The Aerodist remote party positioning helicopter was also working away from the Willowra base.  This aircraft was a Hughes 500 VH-BLO with pilot Cliff Dohle.

A day or so before Neville’s initial radio call, Nat Map’s technical officer Carl McMaster had driven from Willowra to Alice Springs in the centre party personnel transport vehicle, Land Rover station wagon ZSM 866.  Here Carl was catching an airline flight back to Melbourne.

9 Juliet Tango this is Neville Stonehouse was promptly repeated, again in a loud and clear voice.  The reason the call needed to be repeated was simply because the Nat Mappers manning the centre party radio at the time (Norm Hawker and Laurie McLean) had never heard of Neville Stonehouse.  Thus they had taken a few seconds to absorb the situation.  Yes, 9 Juliet Tango was the correct centre party radio call sign.  But who was Neville Stonehouse?  He was not a known Nat Mapper nor was Neville Stonehouse a proper radio call sign.

The radio traffic then went something like this:

Neville Stonehouse this is 9 Juliet Tango go ahead.

9 Juliet Tango I’m now at Ti Tree roadhouse, where do I go from here?

Neville Stonehouse where are you heading for?

9 Juliet Tango I have to go to Willowra homestead.  When he gave me the keys to the Land Rover station wagon, Carl McMaster said I should drive northwards on the Stuart Highway towards Tennant Creek for about 120 miles.  When I reached Ti Tree roadhouse I was to stop and call 9 Juliet Tango on the radio and get the directions to Willowra.

Okay Neville, keep going north on the highway for another 10 miles then look for the sign on your left to Anningie and Willowra.  It is a dirt road and Willowra in past Anningie homestead.  Willowra is about 80 miles on from the turnoff on the highway.  If you are unsure about the track around Anningie call at the homestead there and ask for the way to Willowra.

Thank you 9 Juliet Tango I’ll get going again.

Clearly some people in the Aerodist field party had been expecting a new arrival but this had somehow not been passed all the way down the intra-party communications line to all who needed to know.  About two hours later Neville Stonehouse arrived safely at Willowra homestead to start his career as a National Mapping field assistant.

By so doing, Neville had passed a number of important workplace tests.  He had managed to traverse 330 kilometres in central Australia by himself in a vehicle with which he was not familiar.  He had managed to rig up the two-way radio aerial and effectively carry out an important radio conversation with minimal prior instruction.  And he had arrived safely on site with his vehicle intact.

Of course this was back at the start of the 1970s when Nat Map’s staff training and field-staff induction procedures were fairly rudimentary.  Certainly they were not to the more prescriptive standards required for today’s workplace health and safety procedures for remote area activities.

And of course Neville was from a different background to that of most other Nat Map field staff.  Generally, Nat Map field assistants had backgrounds as tradesmen, truck drivers and other more physically oriented pursuits.  But Neville was from The Arts; his long term calling was as an actor.  This was the calling that Neville had prior to Nat Map and it was the one to which he returned after his two field seasons sabbatical in the bush.

Early Life

Neville Peter Stonehouse was born about 1938. He was an only child who grew up near Garvoc, a rural village in the dairy farming country of western Victoria on the Princes Highway between Terang and Warrnambool and about 200 kilometres south-west of Melbourne. In the mid-1960s, Neville left the family farm to try his luck in the big city-Melbourne.  As a lonely child, Neville used to invent imaginary characters so he thought that in Melbourne he would try to find avenues for self-expression through an acting career.

Neville managed to obtain some work in the props department at television station GTV Channel 9.  Later he worked at Crawford Productions.  This company had been founded in 1945 by brother and sister Hector and Dorothy Crawford and initially worked on radio entertainment.  Crawford Productions went on to become one of the pioneers of Australian produced television drama.  Neville also worked with the Melbourne Theatre Company.  After about four years in the big smoke, Neville was starting to feel somewhat hemmed-in.  He then sought a position with National Mapping as way of getting out into the bush.

National Mapping Aerodist Field Party 1970-1971

Neville Stonehouse worked with the Commonwealth Government’s Division of National Mapping Aerodist measuring field party as a field assistant in 1970 and 1971.  Here Neville’s principal role was as an Aerodist remote unit operator’s assistant.  Much of the remote unit work in Neville’s time was helicopter based.

During normal helicopter supported operations, remote parties would be positioned from a helicopter camp to a survey control station on a Monday and remain there for a few days or so until moved by helicopter to the next control station.  If lucky they may have transited through the helicopter camp and topped up their food and water supplies during the week.  Otherwise some limited amounts food and water would be put on the helicopter for them when being shifted direct from station to station.  Generally but not always remote parties were returned to camp for a rest day on Sunday.  Only then could the remote party members have a shower and wash their clothes.  This fairly rough living would go on for the duration of the helicopter contract which could be for several months.

The function of a remote party was to operate an Aerodist microwave transponder (or remote unit) on the ground at survey control stations in remote areas of Australia.  The remote units were used to measure distances to an aircraft as it flew between two such remote stations.  By this means the latitudes and longitudes of the numerous survey stations could be determined.  The stations thus coordinated were later used to control aerial photography used in preparing the 1:100,000 scale national topographic map series.

During his two field seasons with Nat Map Neville Stonehouse worked through large sections of outback Australia: the Tanami Desert, Central Australia, the Barkly Tableland, western Queensland, north-west and central New South Wales, the Great Sandy Desert, out of Cairns in Far North Queensland and around Springsure in central Queensland.  He worked through towns and locations that included Alice Springs, Willowra (now the Wirliyajarrayi community), Yuendumu Aboriginal community, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Docker River Aboriginal community (now Kaltukatjara), Tennant Creek, Camooweal, Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Charleville, Broken Hill, Dubbo, Rabbit Flat roadhouse, Balgo Mission (now the Wirrimanu community), Halls Creek, Cairns and Springsure.

Stuck in the Desert

On Tuesday 27 July 1971, Neville Stonehouse and fellow Nat Mapper Ted Graham formed an Aerodist remote party that was lifted out from a helicopter base camp at survey control station NM/F/366.  This survey station was located in the northern Great Sandy Desert about 120 kilometres south of the Christmas Creek homestead (now Wangkatjungka) in Western Australia.  The remote party was positioned by helicopter on to survey control station NM/F/367 located near Lake Ronnel about 55 kilometres north of the helicopter base camp.  The helicopter became unserviceable later that day.  Owing to vehicle access difficulties in reaching NM/F/367, it was decided to leave Neville and Ted in position there until the helicopter was again available. 

Apart from undertaking the necessary Aerodist line measuring and maintaining a radio communications watch, Ted and Neville were to be stuck at NM/F/367 for an unknown period of time.  Accordingly, they carefully rationed their fairly meagre supplies of water and food.  To conserve water they did not drink during the day and sought the shelter of the limited shade available to reduce personal energy use.  Two gallons of water were kept in a separate container in case more extreme survival measures became necessary.  Neville and Ted were lifted back to the base camp on Friday 30 July 1971 when the helicopter was again serviceable.  Much of the two gallons from the emergency water supply was consumed as they loaded the helicopter.

Clearing Survey Control Stations October 1971

In early October 1971, Neville worked briefly with the Aerodist field party clearing survey lines from the South Saddle control station on Saddle Mountain near Kuranda to the north-west of Cairns.  Later with Brian Shaddick (Nat Map 1970-1972) Neville carried out further survey control station clearing in the Springsure area of central Queensland.  Here Neville experienced two rather unfortunate incidents.  These incidents involved a dingo pup and a tree felling accident.

While in the Springsure area Neville became attached to a young dingo pup he happened to see.  Neville acquired the animal with a view to taking it home as a pet.  Sadly he lost the pup while still in the Springsure area.  However, his love of the dingo as Australia’s native dog led Neville to later become involved with the late Bruce Jacobs’ Chewton Dingo Farm.  This farm aimed to maintain pure genetic strains of dingoes.  Sometime after Bruce Jacobs’ death in 2004, the operation was renamed the Dingo Conservation Centre.

A short time later Neville and Brian Shaddick were clearing trees at survey stations around Springsure to ensure there were clear lines of site for future survey observations.  Through some miscalculation of the direction of fall for one tree he was bringing down, Neville found himself in the wrong place at the critical time.  He couldn’t get out of the way in time and got hit by the tree as it fell.  Afterwards Neville felt pretty groggy and Brian immediately drove him to the Springsure Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.  Fortunately Neville was not seriously injured and was soon back at work a little sore but with no lasting ill effects; a lucky escape indeed.

After National Mapping

Neville Stonehouse left National Mapping soon after the end of the 1971 field season. The following year he married his sweetheart Mariebeth (Beth). Neville studied acting at college while taking small acting roles and Beth worked as a ballet teacher. In 1972, Neville and Beth resided in a unit at Camberwell but later moved to a house in Springvale Road Donvale. Later Neville tired of the theatre and big city life. As an escape, in the late 1970s, Neville and Beth initially made their home in Sackville Street Port Fairy; a coastal town on the Princes Highway about 60 kilometres west of Garvoc. However, in the early 1980s they settled in the old central Victorian mining town of Chewton on the outskirts of Castlemaine. Here Beth ran a local ballet school.  Neville was able to participate in various pursuits.  In 1988, Neville tried his luck in the Great Camel Race from Ayers Rock (Uluru) via Alice Springs to the Queensland Gold Coast.  The race was over some three months.  However, Neville only lasted three weeks. 

After the Great Camel Race Neville was very impressed with these animals and thought he would get one of his own.  He eventually owned seven camels and would ride on a camel around Chewton and Castlemaine.

In May 1990 Neville had a magazine style interview with Peter Davis of The Canberra Times newspaper.  Here he talked of working with Nat Map some 20 years earlier.  In the article Neville was quoted as recalling his time with Nat Map where he was a one man advance party; a remote man dropped by helicopter into the middle of nowhere to set up ground equipment for aerial surveillance then whisked off to another location.  Nat Mappers will see three possibilities here: Neville was mis-quoted; he was somewhat confused; or he was being a little theatrical.  (Non-Nat Map readers should recall the passage above about Aerodist remote operations.)  It was while with Nat Map that Neville said he developed his love of camels.

The Actor

Neville Stonehouse the actor was well regarded for the character roles he played in Australian television and film productions over a period of some 25 years.  The roles Neville played included:

·       decoy Bill Short in the Crawford Productions’ police drams Division 4 in 1969

·       a dealer in dolls in Ron Beck’s The Long Arm police drama on ATV Channel 0 in 1970

·       Bob Hooper in Crawford Productions’ police drama Matlock Police in 1971

·       a crewman with a sign in Crawford Productions’ soap opera The Box in 1975

·       McBean in Homestead Films’ Victorian gold rush era adventure Cash and Company in 1975

·       Ken Turner in the Reg Grundy Organisation’s cult soap opera women’s prison series Prisoner in 1979; a protagonist in Prisoner in 1979; and a customer in Prisoner in 1979

·       a cook in Crawford Productions’ television movie about a destitute father and six-year old son I Live with Me Dad in 1985

·       a derelict in the Australian Film Corporation and Film Victoria movie With Love to the Person Next to Me in 1987

·       Dave in Hal McElroy’s long running police drama series Blue Heelers in 1994

·       a bit performer in the Working Dogs Productions’ ABC television comedy series Frontline in 1994

·       a crook in the Bill Hughes’ production of the ABC television crime series Janus in 1994; also a little crook in Janus in 1994

·       a clubhouse client in Michael Rymer’s drama romance movie Angel Baby in 1995.


Neville also performed on the stage.  While the roles he played are unclear, he appeared in at least the following:

·       The Time Is not yet Ripe that played at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne on 7 November 1973

·       Daniel Kahan’s Kairos and Chronos / Interface Life-Death that played at the La Mama Theatre in Carlton in September 1987; Neville was still appearing in that play in 1988, and

·       in 1990, a local Castlemaine theatre production based on CJ Dennis’s 1914-1915 series of poems The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke.


Neville Stonehouse ringing the proclamation bell for Melbourne’s new Swinburne University of Technology in 1992.


The Town Crier

At some stage, at least by the 1980s, Neville Stonehouse became involved in the Australian town crier movement.

Town criers date from at least the 1500s and were then used in Europe and England.  In those times few citizens were literate and newspapers and indeed even fast printing methods did not exist.  The town crier was a bell man who would make public announcements to citizens in the streets.  The town crier would carry a hand-bell and in England use the cry: Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!  This was an Anglo-Norman term for: Hear Ye!  This cry was used to draw attention to the forthcoming announcement and to bade the listening citizens for silence.  From the 1700s town criers were dressed in striking clothes; typically a tricorne hat, scarlet and gold robes, white breeches and long black boots.

In Australia today town criers are still retained by the local governments of about 30 cities and towns.  According to the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Australian Town Criers, generally town criers may carry out ambassadorial and ceremonial roles such as: leading parades, Australia Day celebrations, new citizenship ceremonies, funds raising, talks at schools, clubs and other venues on the craft of town crying, and local tourism events.  A popular request is to have the town crier perform a call to order to introduce the master of ceremonies at a wide range of events.  Town criers are often used for meeting and greeting at various events.

In 1989, Neville Stonehouse hosted the first town crier competition at Harcourt in central Victoria.   He was a town crier of the Shire of Castlemaine and was later the town crier of the City of Melbourne.  Harcourt was the venue for subsequent town crier competitions during its Apple Fest which provided a tourist attraction for the town.  Also in 1989, Neville won the first national town crier competition held at Ipswich west of Brisbane.  It was later said that his voice could travel clearly for at least 300 metres.


Sadly, Neville Stonehouse died on 30 June 2008.  He was about 70 years of age.  Neville was survived by his wife Mariebeth (Beth). Neville's remains were privately cremated. Regrettably, at the time Neville’s passing went un-noticed by the Nat Map community as contact had diminished over the 37 years since he had left the organization.  Nevertheless, Neville Stonehouse will always be fondly remembered by all Nat Mappers who worked with him during his short stint with the Map.  He was a nice and kindly bloke, certainly a little eccentric but one of life’s genuine characters.

On 21 September 2008, the Ballarat newspaper The Courier reported that the Australasian Guild of Town Criers national championships were held at Kryal Castle, a medieval theme park built in the mid-1970s on the eastern outskirts of Ballarat, Victoria.  That year the championships involved two cries: a home cry with competitors extolling the attractions of their home towns and the theme of the day Neville Stonehouse as I knew him.  Town criers from across Australia paid tribute to Neville before burying his ashes in the rose gardens at Kryal Castle.  Ballarat town crier Brian Whykes was quoted in The Courier as saying Neville had a great affinity with Ballarat and frequently visited Kryal Castle.  Neville and Brian were also the town criers for the 120th anniversary of the Ballarat jail.  Neville had carried out Ballarat's town crier duties on many occasions.

On 7 October 2009, the Ballarat newspaper The Courier reported that the Australasian Guild of Town Criers seniors championship was renamed the Neville Stonehouse Memorial Trophy in honour of the late Neville Stonehouse who had not only been the town crier for the City of Melbourne but also the doyen of Australian town criers.


Prepared by Laurie McLean in January 2015; updated October 2022.