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The pioneer surveyors

Not strictly explorers, but comparable with them, were the pioneer government surveyors. They were sent into the area to describe the country in more detail following John Forrest’s initial identification of key landmarks in his 1869 expedition. The surveyors established major points in the State’s geodetic survey network and plotted the landscape features of the country to enable the more accurate location and mapping of the increasing number of pastoral leases.

Much remains to be done in the Survey and Lands Department. When Mr. Fraser in December, 1870, took charge of the department,…..he has been steadily working, as time and means have permitted, towards certain definite objects, namely, in the direction of a trigonometrical survey, by fixing points, by making sketch and reconnaissance surveys of new and important districts, and by accurately fixing by survey main lines of road: this will give a connexion to the records in the Survey Office which has been hitherto wanting, and will contribute to enable him to construct that great desideratum--a large and accurate map of Western Australia, so far as it is settled or partially settled.
I concur with Mr. Fraser in thinking that, so soon as means will admit, a considerably increased annual expenditure should be devoted to surveys.

Governor Weld's Report to The Earl of Carnarvon, Government House, Perth, September 30, 1874. Forrest, John, Explorations in Australia, Appendix. Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle, London 1875

In 1887 Surveyor G.D. Robinson established a traverse down the east side of Mongers Lake to Jibberding Spring and then in an arc through a line of springs and rockholes on what is now the Mt Gibson Sanctuary, up to Beanthiny Hill, across to Carringgabby Waterhole on the west shore of Lake Moore then down the western shore of the lake. Robinson gave D numbers - sequential numbers prefixed with a D - to his survey posts which he dug in to mark key points along the traverse. Post D71 marked Jibberding Spring on the edge of Lake Goorly, but the post is no longer there.

This survey would have been laborious work on foot. Regardless of the weather and the flies and other torments of nature, the assistants had to push through the bush with the 66 feet long measuring chain made of 100 wire rods or ‘links’. The surveyor meticulously recorded in his Field Book the chainages and took bearings to landmarks. The notes on the vegetation and other features provide a basis for comparing the current condition of the land.

Robinson’s Field Books contain detailed plotting and notes on the country, and an insight into the paraphernalia of an expedition with lists of stores including:

Ration bags, Water Bags 8, 3 chisels & sheaths, 2 tomahawks, 3 chains, 2 prismatic compass, plan & case, 2 revolvers, one punch, 3 axe & 2 tomahawk sheaths, 12 arrows, 2 spades & 3 axes, 1 spring balance, 1 packet sweets, grinding stone, 1 water trough, 1 medicine chest, 1 shear, 1 small leather bag, canvas, 3 dungarees, trousers, 212 lbs pork, 250 gun carts [cartridges], 2 hanks tarred twine. Department of Lands and Surveys, G.D. Robinson Field Book No. 8, 1887. State Records Office of Western Australia


About the same time that Robinson was surveying from Mongers Lake to Lake Moore, his colleague King was working to his north, installing his survey posts marked with K numbers. 


Above: King’s K111 post from Ninghan is inscribed just below the top which was cut to a point. This is a ‘mulga’ post, a section of trunk from an acacia whose very hard and dense wood is durable and termite resistant and favoured for fence posts.  The mulga country of tall trunked, hard wooded acacias including the mulga Acacia aneura, commences several kilometres north of Charles Darwin Reserve, on Ninghan Station.

Left: Don Bell of Ninghan Station holds Surveyor Robinson’s K111 post which he retrieved from the ram paddock where it was being damaged by the rams rubbing against it. 
Don replaced it with a steel post. 

Survey posts were an important part of the mapping and geodetic control of the land. 

Photos courtesy C.Nicholson

Although none of these early surveyors traversed Charles Darwin Reserve itself, a later generation of surveyors mapped the soils and vegetation of the reserve in the late 1920s and subdivided it into farm blocks in the early 1930s.  Their timber survey pegs can still be found marking the corners of the blocks of land which were never released for farming.

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