Tinned dog fuels a life on the level
By Ieva Tomsons
RETIRED Dewar’s Pool surveyor Allan Gregory (73) has set his theodolite sights across vast distances in WA, the Northern Territory and eastern states.
Educated at Mt Hawthorn Primary and Tuart Hill High School, Allan (right) excelled in mathematics which prompted a vocational guidance officer to recommend a career in surveying.
“I didn’t know what a surveyor was but knew I didn’t want to spend my life in an office.”Read more
During his cadetship at the Department of Lands and Surveys, he was instructed to gain field experience with an old farmer/surveyor.
Looked 100 years old
“He was a good old bloke and looked 100 years old, but he was probably 60.”
In 1967 Allan graduated from Perth Technical College with a Certificate in Engineering Surveying and secured work with an aerial mapping company whose main client was Hamersley Iron.
At 21 he was required to set out a railway line for Hamersley Iron from Tom Price to Paraburdoo, a distance of 68 miles (109km).
“It was a tough introduction,” said Allan who worked in searing heat to complete the job with a bulldozer operator and two field assistants.
Starting at the Tom Price end where they lived with hundreds of men in a construction camp, they relocated half-way through to Paraburdoo where the population was five.
Tripled beer consumption
“When we arrived, we didn’t quite double the population but we did triple the beer consumption,” laughs Allan.
In 1968 Allan married Perth girl Kerry Warner and they started a family which prompted Allan to apply for a job with Main Roads in Derby where they could all be based.
During the late ’60s and early ’70s the Kimberley region needed new roads and bridges and Allan was the only Main Roads surveyor in the East Kimberley when the family relocated to Kununurra.
He surveyed hundreds of kilometres of roads in the West and East Kimberley and completed the site survey for the new bridge over the Fitzroy River at Fitzroy Crossing.
“In one day we would drive to Halls Creek to set out a bridge and drive back. That’s not a typical day but it gives an indication of what it was like.”
With a third child on the way, it was time to track down a job “in civilisation” where the kids could be educated.
The next stop in 1973 was Canberra where Allan worked for six years for the Australian Surveying Office initially setting out roads and blocks in the new suburbs which were springing up everywhere.
Town planning masterpiece
“The suburb we lived in was a town planning masterpiece. All the kids could walk anywhere without crossing a road. There were underpasses everywhere.”
Allan was one of 60 surveyors and 100 assistants engaged in neighbourhood development for the rapidly growing capital city, but he found the work “a bit boring” so he put his hand up for the Special Project Branch.
“Gough Whitlam was in power and he was dead set on decentralisation, wanting to turn towns such Albury/Wadonga, Bathurst and Orange into cities so I did some of the mapping for these projects as well as preparatory work for seismic exploration throughout NSW.
The Gregorys leapt at the opportunity to return to Perth in 1974 for six months and hoped it would lead to a permanent position in their home town.
It didn’t but before Allan was recalled to Canberra he completed a detailed survey of Lombadina Mission near Cape Leveque where he and his two assistants watched a tsunami roll in from the Timor Sea and smash into the cliff where they were standing.
The new naval base being built on Garden Island required a bathymetric survey which meant Allan had to battle seasickness each day in a small boat to collect data on the depths of Cockburn Sound.
Back in Canberra he took on the challenge of two trips to Papua New Guinea where on one job near Kokoda he employed up to 50 villagers to carry the patrol boxes of provisions and equipment and hack through the dense jungle with machetes.
“It was rice, tinned dog, tinned butter and even tinned bread, enough to last us for six weeks and many of the meris (wives) tagged along.”
When he invited the wife of one of the men who was helping him to look through the telescope to see her husband close up, he forgot that the image she would see would be inverted and he got more than he bargained for.
Grass skirt cartwheels
“She squealed, took a second look and squealing with laughter was almost turning cartwheels in her grass skirt as she tried to demonstrate to the others that her husband was upside down.”
Allan didn’t know where to look – or so he says.
In a bid to reduce extended separations from his family, Allan landed a senior surveyor’s job in Darwin where he clocked up a decade managing a group of surveyors throughout the Territory setting out new roads, including one from Ayres Rock (Uluru) and The Olgas (Kata Tjuta), and realigning the last 100km out to Kings Canyon.
At the tiny town of Arltunga east of Alice Springs there was a hotel and six locals. So when Allan’s team of six turned up, the town decided to celebrate the doubling of their population by holding their 100-year anniversary early.
“It’s the only 99-and-half year celebration that I know of and it was quite a party.”
The Gregorys moved back to Perth in 1990 and bought a house in Bull Creek.
Allan was working again for Main Roads but cutting back on field work and using his previous experience with GPS to settle into the office environment where his computing skills came in handy crunching data from field survey staff.
One of his last projects before retiring in 2003 was remapping the Hamersley Ranges for Karajini National Park where he first started surveying 40 years earlier.
“I had come full circle, mapping the same area using newer equipment but still referencing some of the same rock cairns we had positioned all those years ago.”
Allan is what you would call ‘a surveyor’s surveyor’ who wrote immaculate field notes, some of which were used as a teaching aid in tertiary institutions in Canberra.
During his long career, he has been president of the Canberra division of the Australian Surveying Association and in the Northern Territory presided over The Institute of Engineering and Mining Surveyors, Australia.
Even after Allan retired and moved to Toodyay in 2003, Main Roads tracked him down to negotiate with all the land-owners affected by the widening of Great Northern Highway from Bullsbrook to Dalwallinu.
Allan’s meticulous attention to detail comes to the fore each month when he volunteers at The Toodyay Herald as a proof reader who keeps on looking for errors when the rest of us have packed it in.