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.
from "The Globe" No. 44 (1996) with permission of the
Australian Map Circle
and John McCarthy's family.
THE STORY OF ADASTRA
AERIAL SURVEY AND MAPPING ACTIVITIES
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'.
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.
have anything in photography," he said. "But Adastra
Airways is looking for a trainee 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
A FLYING SCHOOL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SURVEY AND ADASTRA
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
OF THE 60s AND 70s
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MAPPING AND SUPER WIDE PHOTOGRAPHY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
pioneered the use of this system by a commercial organisation,
as it had pioneered the use of stereo plotters.
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
the Adastra name and the equipment and, a few months later, the
reprographic section. After a period Qasco sold Adastra Reprographics
to another operator.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
OF A DREAM
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.
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
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?
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.
published in 'The Globe' - The Journal of the Australian Map Circle
(Number 44, 1996)
Photogrammetrist, BHP Engineering, Wollongong.
He is a Fellow
of the Mapping Sciences Institute Australia (formerly the Australian
Institute of Cartographers)
J.H. 1981. 'Setting out of Qld Sydney Town', Proceedings of 23rd.Australian
Survey Congress. ISA; Sydney. pp.71-74.
D. 1992, 'Australia on Paper', Fortune Publications, Melbourne.
1993 'The History of Photogrammetry in NSW', thesis University
of NSW, p.49.
C.E. 1955, 'Aspects and trends of photogrammetry in Australia',
Cartography (Melbourne) vol.1 no.2, p.61.
P. 1985 'The North West Aerial Frontier' Boolarong Publications,
Brisbane, pp 132-135.
TO PHOTOGRAPHS WHICH APPEARED IN THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE
The Adastra logo. The word Adastra comes from the Air Force motto,
"Per ardua ad astra" - through adversity to the stars.
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.
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.
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.
(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.