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The text of this article has been reproduced un-edited and in its entirety as a tribute to John McCarthy and his foresight in recording this aspect of Adastra's history. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to include the illustrations from the magazine, although the captions are included at the end of the article.
John McCarthy passed away in March 1999.

Reproduced from "The Globe" No. 44 (1996) with permission of the Australian Map Circle
and John McCarthy's family.




John McCarthy

Adastra Airways went out of business almost twenty years ago but its name occupies a unique place in the history of aerial survey in Australia. It was one of the first commercial operators, for a time the only one and once claimed to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.  It was different from other mapping companies because it was soundly based on its aircraft operations while offering a range of services which varied over the years as the organisation evolved.  Its name came from the Flying Corps motto, 'per ardua ad astra', which means 'through adversity to the stars'.

The author commenced working at Adastra in the early fifties and was one of the last to go when the operation came to an end.  This paper traces the history of Adastra from its beginnings, describing its evolution from a flying school to a full aerial survey company.  An attempt is made to describe the services offered, the type of equipment that the company owned and major and interesting projects that were undertaken during its lifetime.

I had just completed the Leaving Certificate and was looking for a job, not knowing what I wanted to do.  I was interested in photography so why not get a temporary job in that area?  I visited a CES office and the officer looked down his list.

"I don't have anything in photography," he said.  "But Adastra Airways is looking for a trainee photogrammetrist."

"What's a photogrammetrist?"

I asked the question that has been posed to me numerous times since that day.  The officer gave some kind of explanation which I suppose was right, though I cannot remember what he said.

Thus it was that I found myself on a tram bound for Mascot, on the Botany line.  This particular tram terminated at Mascot which meant that it turned down Lords Road (now swallowed up by the airport), skirting the edge of Ascot Racecourse which had not heard a horse's hoof-beat since prior to World War II. The tram terminated near where the General Holmes Drive used to swing south towards Brighton.  I walked over a mound which hid an old sewer main and continued the short distance to Adastra's office at 41 Vickers Avenue. I met the Company Secretary,  Miss Morrell, who introduced me to Ken Seaman, the Chief Photogrammetrist. I got the job.

And that is how I commenced working in photogrammetry at Adastra early in 1951.


To examine the birth of Adastra we must go back to a much earlier time.  Frank Follett and H.T. (Bunny) Hammond joined the Australian Army as young men during World War I both serving in France.  Follett trained with the Royal Flying Corps in England, returning as a fighter pilot to France with the rank of Lieutenant (later Captain) in the Australian Flying Corps.  Hammond was wounded and sent to England after which he also transferred to the Flying Corps and attained the rank of Captain. He was shot down over enemy territory and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp where he earned the nickname Bunny through his attempts to tunnel out which were thwarted by the Germans.

After the war Hammond spent some time as a joy riding pilot, and also flew aircraft in the New Guinea goldfields.  Follett joined the newly formed Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of Defence as Superintendent of Aircraft and Engineering in 1921. As such, he was responsible for the airworthiness of aircraft.

Leaving the Civil Aviation Branch in 1929 Follett became manager of the Royal Aero Club which he left in 1930, when he and Hammond formed the Adastra Flying School beginning with two de Havilland Moths.  The organisation soon became Adastra Airways.  After some time Hammond moved on to other things while Follett remained as manager.

The first student to graduate from the flying school was James Weir who later pursued a successful career with BOAC (later called British Airways), becoming one of its chief pilots and later area manager for Australia (Wixted, 1985).  During the 1930s Adastra commenced a passenger service to Nowra and Bega, using a Fox Moth biplane and Klemm Eagle monoplane.  A Waco was purchased later in the decade.

Apart from the passenger service and the flying school, Adastra became an agent for Klemm aircraft, built in Britain under licence to a German company.  The Klemm Swallow and Eagle were the first aircraft in Australia  to be equipped with retractable undercarriage.

During the 1930s Australia was gripped by the Great Depression.  Many aircraft operators were feeling the pinch and the government subsidised a number of services to keep them operating.  These included the Bega service.


During the 1920s, vertical aerial photography (termed aerial survey) was coming into use as a tool for mapping, mineral exploration and planning.  The RAAF had been formed in 1921 and began systematic aerial photography in 1924.  In 1927 Air Surveys Ltd came into being as an associate of  West Australian Airways.  Its founder, Major N.  Brearley had been impressed with developments he had seen overseas and purchased a Williamson camera which was used for the first time on a project east of Perth.

Commencing in 1932, the RAAF carried out an extensive aerial survey for geological purposes, under the direction of Dr W.G. Woolnough, Geological Adviser to the Commonwealth Government.  In l933 Western Mining, in association with H. Hemming and Partners of the United Kingdom used two de Havilland Dragon (DH84) aircraft for a survey of Western Mining's leases.  For a detailed account of these and other aerial photographic missions, John D. Line's excellent book is recommended reading (Lines, 1992).

Follett had become interested in aerial survey but the problem for Adastra and other early commercial operators was the attitude of the government.  Most work emanated from government bodies and this was all being done by the RAAF on a cost plus 5% basis.  Commercial work was not supposed to be under-taken unless private organisations were unable to tender.  As most of the available work emanated from government or semi-government organisations it was difficult for commercial companies to compete.

In 1933, Captain Follett sought information on the participation of the private sector in government work.  This prompted a submission by the Controller of Civil Aviation, Captain E.C. Johnston DFC, resulting in the Minister for Defence authorising the appointment of an Air Survey Committee.  The following year the committee recommended that civil aviation companies confine their work to commercial contracts and that government work be done by an official agency, preferably the RAAF.  One member of the committee.  A. R. McComb of the Civil Aviation Branch, dissented with this recommendation while agreeing with other recommendations not mentioned in this paper (Lines. 1992).  In his opinion, there was some difficulty in training air force crews for survey flying, which was quite different from wartime flying and RAAF work should be confined to servicing army requirements.  He felt that commercial companies should be encouraged.  Johnston agreed in principle with McComb.

During 1935 Adastra secured a contract to provide photography of the Gwydir River area for the NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission.  Following this they were to carry out work for the Brisbane City Council.  These contracts prompted the company to purchase a Williamson Eagle IV aerial camera from England, together with processing equipment.  This arrived 19 September, 1935 and a trial run was done over Sydney a week later at 10,000 feet.

Anxious to obtain ongoing work, Follett once again approached the Minister who decided that the RAAF would now concentrate on commonwealth work only, except in the event of a commercial operator not being available. This was not withstanding the RAAF’s preference to continue the existing policy.  Thus, the way was opened for the private sector to participate in state and local government work.

Although Adastra became, for a time, the dominant organisation in the field, there was some opposition in the early years from Milton Kent and Travel and Survey Pty Ltd (Sydney), Sairveys (Melbourne) and Air Surveys Ltd (Perth).  The parent company of the latter, West Australian Airways, went into voluntary liquidation in 1936.

Other work done prior to World War II Included the Nymboida Hydro Electric Scheme for the Clarence River County Council, resulting in a mosaic being produced at a scale of 1:6000.  Klemm aircraft were used for these early surveys, though the fleet included the Waco referred to earlier, and a later addition of a de Havilland Dragon.  Projects included oil search in New Guinea, photography for the NSW Forestry Commission, for the Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply as well as mosaics of the Wollongong area.

By 1938 Adastra was operating two survey units and was doing the majority of the civil work but none of this was used for mapping, nor were there any stereo plotters in Australia at that time.  The military had commenced to use aerial photographs as an adjunct to mapping and began doing radial line plots, making use of a simple parallax bar, by which relative heights could be determined from stereo photographs but basically the photography was used for planimetric purposes only.


In 1939, concern felt by some about the lack of map coverage of Australia led to the establishment of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Aerial Photographic Survey of Australia which recommended a program of commonwealth mapping and the letting of contracts to private industry.  This was followed by approaches from the private sector.  Adastra made a strong bid, with a proposal to bring stereo plotters and skilled personnel to Australia if commonwealth mapping was forthcoming.  Follett visited Europe in the same year, inspecting the latest mapping equipment.

Although the lack of good maps had been highlighted by the committee, the Minister decided to defer its recommendations until after the war, so neither Adastra nor any other organisation brought stereo plotters to Australia at that time.  In fairness it might also be said that neither Britain nor the USA were much further ahead of Australia at that time in photogrammetric mapping.

During World War II an emergency mapping program was put into place and Adastra was the only private organisation able to supply photography for this purpose, photographing about 50 000 square kilometres over a two year period.  Adastra also photographed part of the route for the Stuart Highway which was being constructed between Alice Springs and Darwin at that time.  In addition to this work Adastra's machine shop turned out war materials.

At the end of the war the company won a contract with the Victorian Lands Department to photograph a large area of the state not covered by the RAAF.


After the war Captain Follett was still keen to obtain stereo plotters but needed suitable contracts to justify the expenditure.  A major breakthrough occurred when a contract was won to fly and map the giant Snowy Mountains Scheme in 1949.  A Williamson-Ross SP3 multiplex was ordered from Britain and arrived in Australia in May, 1949.  It cost £5,000 and was said to be the first of its kind in Australia (Sydney Morning Herald 9 May, 1949).  This was not strictly true as, according to C. Middleton (1955) the US Army brought a Bausch and Lomb multiplex to Melbourne during the war.  Victorian Lands was the first organisation to bring stereo plotters to Australia after the war but they chose Wild A5s and A6s, which arrived in 1947.

It should be mentioned at this stage that the multiplex consisted of a metal table about two metres long, with a bar over it.  From the latter hung up to seven vertical projectors equipped with alternate red and blue-green filters.  The operator viewed the stereoscopic image using a pair of glasses which matched the filters.  This is known as the anaglyphic method.  Multiplexes used 50mm square (reduction) diapositives but other anaglyphic instruments, such as the Kelsh plotter, accepted full size diapositives (up to 220 mm square).  Anaglyphic instruments were favoured in Britain and the USA.  The European preference was reflected in the stereo plotters made by the Wild company of Switzerland.  These used full size diapositives and a direct viewing method through a system of optics.  Plotting from the multiplex was at the model scale, using a tracing stand with a pencil attached.  The other instruments plotted onto an adjacent table by means of a pantograph or gear box and were therefore able to plot at a range of scales.

Ancillary to the multiplex was a reduction printer which was used to print the small glass diapositive from the original negative.  The lens on this machine was designed to compensate for distortions in the 152 mm lens of the Eagle IX camera which had succeeded the earlier cameras from the Williamson works.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme was mapped at a scale of 1:15840 (20 chains to 1 inch) with a contour interval of 25 feet.  Sheets were plotted on a drafting film called Ethulon and final sheets were prepared in the drawing office.  My own recollection is that this project and the Burrendong (NSW) Dam catchment area project were the first two on which I did productive work.  Other work done on the multiplex during the 1950s included Tinaroo Dam (Queensland).  Burragorang Valley prior to being flooded to form Warragamba Dam,  Hunter River Investigation Area (for the NSW Electricity Commission), Viti Levu (Fiji) and mapping in New Guinea.  Multiplex mapping was generally at medium scales (1:15840 and 1:7920 were common) with occasional .projects at scales as large as 1:3600.  On one occasion multiplex projectors were used as rectifiers to trace sand ridges from single frames over the Simpson Desert.

Grids were drawn by placing the drafting film over a board on which a number of different grids had been accurately scribed. The grid would then be traced.

On a number of occasions horizontal control for the multiplex was provided by the slotted template method.  The company obtained a South African built template cutter, as well as having one built to its own design, for use with stereo templates.  An ex-army hut set up on Tenth Street, Mascot, was used to lay the templates.  In this method each photograph was represented by a template with slots radiating from the principal point (centre) and passing through each control or pass point.

When the templates were laid together on a gridded board, studs would be placed in the slots so that the scale could be adjusted.  Survey control would be plotted on the board and the control points pinned down through holes in the studs.  It was quite an effective method of deriving minor horizontal control points, positions of which could be read off the grid.

At the end of the war many of the aircraft belonging to the RAAF had become redundant and Adastra upgraded its fleet with the purchase of Avro Ansons.  The Ansons were the last of the wooden framed models still in service at the time of their withdrawal some years later. Lockheed Hudsons were later acquired and these became the mainstay of the fleet for some years.

On 25 October, 1950, at the age of 58, Frank Follett collapsed and died at the wheel of his car outside his Vaucluse home after suffering a major heart attack.  He was the driving force behind Adastra and his death dealt a severe blow to the company.  Members of the Follett family, who were shareholders and directors of Adastra, invited Bunny Hammond to take on the role of general manager.  Hammond had served with the RAAF throughout World War II with the rank of Group Captain.  For part of that period he was commanding officer of Richmond Air Station in NSW.

Follett’s brother-in-law, Jack Tanner, a principal of Tanner Middleton timber merchants, was Chairman of Directors at Adastra during my term there.  Another director was Miss Evelyn Follett, a sister, who had the distinction of gaining the first private flying licence issued to a woman in NSW (see Note 1) and who, with another sister, operated a travel and information bureau called The Air Centre in the 1930s.

Brown and Dureau provided Adastra with some opposition in aerial photography, but went out of business in 1956.  World Wide Air Surveys, associated with Fairchild, Aero Service and World Wide Surveys in the USA, came onto the scene, offering photographic, mapping and geophysical services. When they withdrew, Aero Service began operation.  Australian Aerial Mapping began operations as Barrie and Tait in 1959 and still operates today.  However, it is not the province of this paper to discuss in detail the various aerial survey companies that have appeared on the scene over the years.


Adastra had become affiliated with the British based Hunting Group of companies, which had interests in shipping, aviation, oil and aerial survey.  During the 1950s Adastra Hunting Geophysics Pty Ltd was formed, operating from the Adastra premises at Mascot.  Lou Pares, who was Assistant General Manager of Adastra, became General Manager of the new company.  Adastra Hunting carried out airborne magnetometer surveys for general mineral search, using electro-magnetometers and scintillometers for more specific requirements, the former detecting base metals and the latter, radio-active materials.  On at least one occasion, an electro-magnetometer was suspended below a helicopter in order to sweep the ground at a very low level.  The Electrolytic Zinc Company had wanted a survey at about 50 metres above ground in western Tasmania but the tree cover was higher than this so the instruments were swept between the trees with the subsequent loss of several and the cancellation by the insurance company of the policies on them.

The geophysical equipment in use at the time required a reasonably large aircraft so a Douglas DC-3 was purchased for this purpose.  A  Percival Prince (P54) was provided by Hunting's who owned the Percival organisation.  A feature of the Prince, which was designed as a survey aircraft, was its reverse pitch propellers.  Adastra also purchased a Canso, a version of a Catalina flying boat.  Later, an Aero Commander was added to the fleet.  Two Mustangs were acquired around this time, with a view to using them for high altitude photography but nothing came of this and they were sold.  It was not until around 1970 that Adastra began to turn to smaller aircraft when it purchased a single engine Cessna 206.


Towards the end of the fifties Adastra owned four seven-projector multiplex units and two three-projector units.  The latter were made in the Adastra workshop but used the Williamson-Ross projectors. The need was seen for more versatility than the multiplex could provide and for the capability of carrying out accurate mapping at large scales.  To this end a Wild A7 autograph was purchased at a cost of £20,000.  This instrument was the successor to the A5 and was designed for aerial triangulation as well as for general plotting.  The less expensive A5, the successor to the A6, was designed as a general plotting work horse.  When asked why he did not submit a proposal for an A8 instead of an A7 the photogrammetric manager, Ken Seaman, said that he felt that if he was able to convince the company to acquire the more expensive machine first, it would be easier to later convince them to buy the cheaper A8.  This indeed occurred during the 1960s, when an A8 was purchased, followed by a Kern PG2.  A pair of correction plates was obtained to allow EagIe IX photography to be used in the A7 and A8.

At one time a Nistri Photomapper, the only one in Australia, was set up and put in use on the understanding that the agents could demonstrate it to other prospective clients who, as far as I recall, were not forthcoming.  This was an anaglyph instrument which used full size diapositives and was very similar to a Kelsh plotter, except that the tracing stand was driven electrically by a device known as the veltropolo.  Connection to the coordinatograph was also electric.

Cameras were, of course, upgraded from time to time.  A Williamson OSC. (Ordnance Survey Camera) joined the Eagle IX, then these were replaced by Wild RC5 and RC7 cameras, with distortion free lenses.  The aforementioned Wild cameras produced negatives 140 mm square and were equipped with lenses of 115 mm focal length.  Later, Wild RC8 cameras were purchased, with 150 mm and 200 mm lenses, but no RC10 was ever acquired.


Projects of the 60s included the site for Tullamarine Airport, with diapositives supplied by the commonwealth from RC5 or RC7 photography.  These were rather poor quality and occasioned a complaint from the company which led to a visit by National Mapping officers.  Other jobs included maps of various NSW towns for sewerage, work for the NSW Electricity Commission for the sites of various power stations, contour overlays to fit cadastral sheets of various local government areas and a detail map of the Hobart metropolitan area.  This was plotted at 1:4800 with 5 feet contours.

An unusual project came about through a tragedy.  A helicopter  was flying an ABC camera crew near the yet to be opened Sydney Opera House, when the machine went out of control, crashing on the roof of Goldfields House and killing all those on board.  The air safety investigator who was assigned to the accident (and who was ex Adastra aircrew) brought the 16mm film that had been in progress and asked if the photogrammetric section could determine the course of the aircraft from this film.  This was not conventional photogrammetry but the film was screened and then viewed frame by frame and a course plotted.

Another interesting small project was the mapping of a parcel of land near Gosford, NSW, for architect Frank Fox, though the most interesting part of the project was done after Adastra had supplied the initial data.  The area was flown at 3000 feet and a contour plan drawn at a scale of 1:1200 with a 5 feet contour interval.  The site, which included a large dam, was similar in shape to the land around Circular Quay.  The client had Meehan's 1807 'Plan of the Town of Sydney' superimposed on Adastra's contour plan an from this the dam and stream were able to be reshaped to conform to the 1807 plan.  Sites of early buildings were also added to the new plan.  The place was, of course, Old Sydney Town.  For further reading refer to J.A.H. Flakelar's account (Flakelar 1981) though Adastra's part is not mentioned in this paper.

The mineral boom of the mid sixties brought many projects, especially in the north of Western Australia and Queensland.  Projects included both the Hamersley and Goldsworthy railways, Tom Price, Mitchell Plateau and Clutha mine sites in Queensland.  The Ord River Scheme (which resulted in Lake Argyle) was another mapping project.  Part of the standard gauge railway route from Tarcoola to Alice Springs was mapped by Adastra.  There were also ongoing projects for the NSW Department of Main Roads and occasionally for the NSW Railways.  By the end of the sixties, metric scales had come into use, with some detail maps being plotted at 1:500.  These included maps of the towns of Sandgate and Caboolture in Queensland.  When mapping at large scales it was common to use a 'penciller' who squared up buildings, connected fence corners and generally tidied up the sheet on the coordinatograph as the operator plotted it.  A great advantage of the coordinatograph was that its two arms, moving in X and Y directions, gave the ability to plot accurate grids.  Of course today a grid may be drawn in a few seconds with the aid of a computer.

It was also common at that time to supply 'machine plots', to clients who were not interested in a fully drafted map.  A machine plot was a tidied up original plot with a grid and title block added.  Sometimes, when an arbitrary coordinate system was used, the grid was dispensed with and a north point added.

Drafted sheets had originally been produced as ink drawn sheets with hand lettering.  This changed to scribed sheets with stick-on titles and other lettering.  The earlier Ethulon gave way to the superior Astrafoil and later, Cronaflex.

In the year 1996, as I type this paper on my personal computer, it seems a strange thing to say that Adastra never owned a computer in its whole history.  Yet a great evolution and revolution has taken place in that area of technology since the company's doors were closed twenty years ago.  It was, in fact, common to use a bureau for computing needs at that time.

In the multiplex years (when the nearest thing to a computer was a hand cranked Facit calculator) there was no real aerial triangulation.  Perhaps it should be explained, for those to whom this subject is foreign, that aerial triangulation is the supply of intermediate control points by photogrammetric means, obviating the need to provide ground survey points for every photo overlap.  It is necessary to provide several horizontal and vertical points for each pair of photographs to be set up in the stereo plotters.

The practice on the multiplex was to set up six or seven models (overlaps) together, with sufficient control to reduce errors in intermediate points.  Points of detail were chosen for the intermediate, or 'pass' points.  This procedure, usually known as 'bridging' was termed 'stripping' at that time.

With an A7 or an A8 only one model could be set up at a time.  Bridging was done by setting up consecutive models and observing control and pass points on each.  The first efforts at triangulation with the A7 were strip adjustments using calculations with a calculator (by now electronic) performing a Helmert, least squares transformation and plotting a graph from which corrections could be read.  Vertical corrections were also plotted on a graph.  A Wild PUG point transference device was purchased to mark pass points on the diapositives.

As methods of block adjustment were developed, requiring the use of a computer, Adastra obtained a copy of Dr Schut's polynomial adjustment by writing to him in Canada. He was kind enough to respond without even asking for any payment.  The advantage of a block adjustment is that a whole block of an indeterminate number of runs of photography can be adjusted at the one time instead of single runs.  An arrangement was made to use an IBM 360/50 computer located at the University of NSW.  This machine occupied a large room, with banks of tape drives and several consoles.  A Chinese abacus was mounted in a glass case near the door with a sign reading 'In case of emergency break glass'.  Such is the progress in computer power, the same adjustment could be done on the 486 PC on which this paper is being prepared.  A number of different computers were used over a period but the method remained the same.

Attached to the A7 was an EK5 electronic coordinate printer, which translated XYZ coordinates from the machine spindles and typed them on an IBM typewriter.  An IBM card punch was also connected to the EK5 so that a card could be punched for each point observed in the bridging.  One of the photogrammetrists would then take the deck of cards to the computer.


Of course there were many photographic projects where no mapping was  required.  Commencing in the   mid 1960s, Adastra began flying the whole of the County of Cumberland at a scale of about 1:16000, every three years.  This was 'spec' flying but the first attempt was so successful in the number of sales that it generated, that the management decided to make it an ongoing project.

At Adastra, the pilot was not only captain of the aircraft but in charge of the whole mission.  For some years the chief pilot was ex motor cycle champion Lionel van Praag, who was a RAAF transport captain on C-47s during World War II.

Adastra personnel carried out all maintenance on aircraft and its hangar, which is still standing, was next to Flight Facilities, just off Eleventh Street at the eastern end of the airport.  This was its third hangar, the first one being somewhere near the present Qantas domestic terminal and the second one, near the Qantas jet base.  The building in Vickers Avenue, opened prior to the war, housed the administration and all technical sections except aircraft maintenance.  This was twice expanded through purchase of the properties on either side but the land has now been placed inside the airport perimeter.


In its earlier years Adastra had specialised in mosaics and this practice was revived in the late 1950s and continued into the 1970s as occasion demanded.  This service was quite popular but Adastra never became involved in producing orthophotos as the management felt that the market was too small to justify the cost of equipment.


The most common lens used for aerial photography was, and still is, the 152mm (6 inch) wide angle lens.  A normal angle lens (focal length about 210 mm) is sometimes used and, occasionally, lenses of longer focal length especially where photography covers urban areas where there are tall buildings.

During the 1960s the super wide angle lens (focal length about 88 mm) became very popular and the Wild company even produced the RC9 camera specifically for that purpose.  Super wide photography had an obvious advantage for small scale mapping such as the National Mapping 1:100000 and 1:250000 series.  Photography could be flown at around 1:85000 which required an altitude of about 24,500 feet (7470 metres) whereas, with a 152 mm lens an altitude of 42,500 feet (12,950 metres) would have been necessary - not attainable by many aircraft.  Larger scale photography at a lower altitude would mean more models to set up on the stereo plotters.

The Division of National Mapping began contracting out super wide photography and the photogrammetric mapping of its 1:100000 sheets.  To meet this need Adastra purchased an RC9 camera and a Kern PG2 stereo plotter, the latter being capable of accepting super wide angle photography whereas the Wild A7 and A8 were not.

Some experimental high level photo runs were carried out with an RC9 camera attached to a Qantas Boeing 707 but nothing came of this, possibly because satellite imagery was emerging at that time.


The airborne profile recorder was an instrument that used radar to determine ground heights.  It did this by drawing a profile of the ground while the aircraft maintained a constant altitude with any variations recorded, while also photographing the terrain on a 35 mm film.  It was necessary to first fly over a place of known elevation, usually an airstrip.  The information then had to be interpreted and heights applied to points of detail that could be identified on the film. This was very useful for the Division of National Mapping in outback areas where it would have been difficult and costly to carry out ground survey.

In the early 1960s Adastra acquired APR equipment which was superior to that in use at the time, providing vertical control at an accuracy acceptable for 1:100000 mapping.  This system, built by Canadian Applied Research Ltd, was installed in a Lockheed Hudson, with the reflector installed in the aircraft's bomb bay.

Thus Adastra pioneered the use of this system by a commercial organisation, as it had pioneered the use of stereo plotters.


Adastra was never a survey oriented organisation and ground survey for mapping control was either supplied by the client or contracted out.  In the early 1960s the company decided that it should be able to offer this service and Jack Kenny, who had been Assistant Chief Surveyor at the NSW Electricity Commission, was invited to join Adastra.  The work was almost exclusively for mapping control, with projects being undertaken through the length and breadth of Australia.

Tellurometers were purchased and they were a great advantage in covering large tracts of country.  The latest in electronic distance measuring devices, tellurometers used electromagnetic waves to measure distances between points.

Adastra was basically divided into five main technical sections, Adastra Hunting being a different company, though it was housed in the same building.  The five were flying operations, aircraft maintenance, photographic laboratory, photogrammetry and reprographics.  Photogrammetry included survey, drafting and mosaics.  APR operations were more or less independent but really belonged to the photogrammetric section.


The reprographic section was split off from the photo lab, under the direction of Jack Townsend, and produced film copies of drafted map sheets, including scribed ones.  It was equipped with a whirler which was a device used to apply a sensitised coating to graphic arts sheets and could produce full colour proofs.  This section generated a large amount of outside work.

In later years a microfilming service was offered, using both 16mm and 35 mm microfilm cameras, the latter size film being presented mounted in aperture cards.


The function of this section was, of course, to process aerial films, to produce contact prints and make enlargements, though the latter task was later taken over by the reprographic section.  Frank Schneider, Photographic Manager, also flight checked the runs of photography to ensure that they were on line and that there were no excessive tilts or crabbing.

Around 1970 colour film was beginning to come into use for aerial photography so a colour lab was set up, with a Kreonite processor and an enlarger.  This was separate from the black and white darkrooms but attached to the photographic section.

During the early seventies Peter Payen, who owned a photographic business in Melbourne and was Adastra's Victorian agent, was instrumental in opening a professional colour laboratory in that city.  Adastra shareholders owned some equity in this business which was called Bond Colour.  This was so successful that the Adastra directors decided to set up a similar business in Sydney, with themselves as the major shareholders.

Consequently much of the colour equipment which had been installed at Adastra was transferred to Bond Colour.  Although the ability remained to make colour contact prints, film processing and diapositives now had to be made at the new lab.

The business flourished for a few years but eventually became insolvent and went into liquidation.


By 1973 Adastra was experiencing financial problems.  Quite a lot of money had been invested in Bond Colour and there were periods when the flow of projects was at a low ebb.  The directors believed that the solution was to find another company that would be willing to take over the organisation and infuse some funds into it.  They approached East West Airlines, a country-based company that had managed to stay independent, twice having resisted takeover bids from Ansett.  East West agreed to the proposal and Adastra thus became a subsidiary of that company.

It is difficult to know the real intentions of East West's directors but in my opinion the chairman of Directors, a grazier named Don Shand, genuinely wanted to make a go of it.  The manager and company secretary, I believe, adopted a 'wait and see' attitude but there were some advantages to East West in this move.  Adastra owned a hangar at Sydney Airport and freehold premises, though this property was marked for eventual resumption as the airport expanded.

Some of Adastra's staff resented the new parent company but they did initially try to improve conditions.  They made pay adjustments and promised to negotiate a superannuation package better than Adastra's rather poor one, though it took eighteen months for this to happen.  They also immediately passed on staff travel concessions, Adastra staff being entitled to the same discounts that East West staff received.  Furthermore they negotiated staff discounts with international airlines on behalf of Adastra.

East West also took steps to cut overheads by closing Adastra's maintenance facility and diverting aircraft to the company's base at Tamworth for servicing.  They paid some attention to the aircraft fleet, shedding the less economical, larger aircraft. Lou Pares, who had become manager on Bunny Hammond's retirement remained on, though he was later moved sideways to make way for a new manager chosen by the parent company.  A criticism that has been levelled at East West is that it tried to run Adastra like an airline.  There is a certain unpredictability about survey flying and it is obviously not possible to operate scheduled services as airlines do.

Serious opposition in aerial photography was faced from Civil Air Surveys, a Victorian based company whose principal was Bib Stillwell, a man involved in aviation and the motor industry.  For a time, a reciprocal arrangement was made whereby Adastra's Victorian projects were flown by Civil and Civil's NSW contracts were flown by Adastra.  This worked for a while but the opportunity came to purchase Civil and this was done but, of course, it put Adastra much further in debt.

The end came on 30 June, 1976, but sadly, Adastra's death throes were long.  If there is one major criticism that one might make of East West it is that they made no attempt to sell Adastra as a going concern. Instead they allowed it to die a slow, agonising death.  After the aircraft maintenance the first to go was the flying operation.  When this was terminated there was, of course, no need for a photographic section.  The drawing office staff went and all but two of the photogrammetric staff.  Warren Ide, who had been photogrammetric manager at the time and the writer were the last two, apart from the manager and accountant, the four of us remaining until 30 June.  This was in spite of the fact that there were several photogrammetric projects at hand, including mapping of the Ulan coal leases for White Industries.  Sales from these leases were to push White Industries up from a very small organisation to a major mining company.  For some months the two photogrammetrists rented the photogrammetric equipment and completed these projects.

The one operation not included in the above was the reprographic section which remained intact for some time. This was the only area of Adastra's operations that was showing a profit.  Headed by Jack Townsend, it was drawing in quite a lot of work, including microfilming contracts.

Qasco bought the Adastra name and the equipment and, a few months later, the reprographic section.  After a period Qasco sold Adastra Reprographics to another operator.


Adastra has been accused of 'being short sighted in keeping up with modern technology' (Lincoln 1993) but this is a false notion which should be totally rejected.  In fact, as described above, Adastra was a pioneer in several instances.  Use of multiplexes was common in the 1950s and remained so for some years in the United States.  When the need was demonstrated, Adastra responded by purchasing the most up to date Wild instrument.  Cameras were also upgraded over the years and obsolete models were not retained in use.  RC5 cameras were in use by the mid fifties.  It must be remembered that a private organisation must be able to justify expenditure on equipment with a reasonable expectation of being able recoup this within a reasonable period.

Criticism has also been levelled in relation to the level of maintenance of aircraft but the maintenance staff known to the writer would never have compromised the lives of their colleagues in this way and such criticism is unfounded.  Nevertheless, several fatal accidents involving Lockheed Hudsons were a setback to the company.

Analytical stereo plotters were in their infancy, as far as practical operations were concerned,  when Adastra was closed in 1976.  This was largely due to the much larger and less efficient computers than those that are common today.

Nevertheless, the directors tended to show a certain amount of conservatism and this was demonstrated by the fact that no branches were ever opened in other states, as some other operators have done.  An advantage of such a move is that there is a preference from some would be clients to have work done in their own state.

Adastra's only attempt at opening a branch ended in disaster and this undoubtedly influenced the directors in staying with one central location.  This was in the 1950s when an operator was sent to Melbourne with a multiplex.  The mapping of a dam catchment area was foolishly extrapolated beyond the control with subsequent substantial errors that were picked up by surveyors.  This caused considerable embarrassment to the company and the operator and multiplex were recalled to Sydney.

At one time a couple of Lockheed Hudsons, based in Western Australia, displayed the name Westralian Air Surveys on their fuselages.  All film processing, prints and any subsequent mapping projects were carried out in Sydney.

Management never took kindly to any opposition and when the newly formed Barrie and Tait sought to make an arrangement for their flying needs they were given a curt refusal.  This was, of course, counterproductive as Adastra would not have won these projects in its own right.

The above reflected the philosophy of the Management but it was always a fairly relaxed working environment.  In hindsight it is clear that  work practices needed to be improved and that there were some areas, particularly in flying operations, where economies should have been made.


There is no doubt that Adastra occupies an important place in the history of aviation and of aerial survey because it was a pioneer in both.  It was also important in the history of Australian mapping because of the many key projects in which it was involved.

Adastra was Frank Follett's dream and one wonders what thoughts he might have had, were he able to look on and see what had happened to his organisation.

One day I had occasion to call at a business at North Parramatta and as I stepped out of my car a nearby sign caught my eye.  There it was - Adastra Reprographics - and I had parked almost right outside it.  As I gazed, I wondered if the present owners had any idea of the rich history that was behind the name of their company.  But did they even care?

The author wishes to thank Warren and Madeline Ide, and Frank and Judy Schneider, who all worked at Adastra and who have kindly checked this paper and offered valuable suggestions.


Originally published in 'The Globe' - The Journal of the Australian Map Circle (Number 44, 1996)

John McCarthy, Photogrammetrist, BHP Engineering, Wollongong. 

He is a Fellow of the Mapping Sciences Institute Australia (formerly the Australian Institute of Cartographers)



Flakelar, J.H. 1981.  'Setting out of Qld Sydney Town', Proceedings of 23rd.Australian Survey CongressISA; Sydney. pp.71-74.

Lines, John D. 1992, 'Australia on Paper', Fortune Publications, Melbourne.

Lincoln, Briony 1993 'The History of Photogrammetry in NSW', thesis University of NSW, p.49.

Middleton, C.E. 1955, 'Aspects and trends of photogrammetry in Australia', Cartography (Melbourne) vol.1 no.2, p.61.

Wixted, Edward P. 1985 'The North West Aerial Frontier' Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, pp 132-135.



The Adastra logo. The word Adastra comes from the Air Force motto, "Per ardua ad astra" - through adversity to the stars.

The Williamson Eagle IV aerial camera was acquired by Adastra in 1935 and was one of the first privately owned survey cameras in Australia.  Williamson Ross was a British company which specialised in optical and mapping equipment.

The author is shown operating a Williamson SP3 multiplex. The multiplex, which employed the anaglyphic principle of stereoscopic viewing, was introduced to Adastra in 1949.

For many years Lockheed Hudsons were the mainstay of Adastra's survey fleet. In this photograph, Hudsons AGX and SMM are seen outside Adastra’s hangar, with an Avro Anson parked inside. The company’s Commer van stands just inside the hangar door.

Percival Prince aircraft used by Adastra Hunting for geophysical work. The aircraft was built by Hunting Percival, one of the Hunting Group of companies with which Adastra was affiliated. It was especially designed for air survey and featured reverse thrust propellers.



Note 1 (added 13 August 2010)

Rosemary Arnold, author of the book "First Females Above Australia", advises that Evelyn Follett was the third licensed woman pilot in Australia and in NSW with Licence No.109 dated 17 August 1927. Millicent Bryant was first on 23 March 1927 with Licence No. 71. Second was Margaret Reardon on 17 August 1927 with Licence No.98.