As well as discovering many botanical species, Alan Cunningham, the English botanist and explorer, in June 1827, climbed to the top of Mt Dumaresq near Maryvale (outside Warwick) and saw that the area would be ideal for settlement.  He found passes through the lush, densely timbered area first at Spicer’s Gap near Aratula, then a pass he named Cunningham’s Gap up on to the Downs.

Armed with Cunningham’s reports, in 1839 the then Governor Gipps sent the first three surveyors Dixon, Staplyton and Warner to Moreton Bay to carry out surveys for the town of Brisbane and the surrounding areas.  Once Brisbane ended its status as a penal colony, there was a concerted effort to design and plan the layout of a new city which would later become the capital.  Prosperous southerners were eager to lay claim to the parcels of land the government was now prepared to offer.

With an influx of businesses and more social and infrastructure needs with families now coming from New South Wales came the demand for fresh food supplies.  This meant finding and working land for vegetables, wheat and dairying.  Land needed to be found, claimed by the government and then sold to eager farmers.  Land needed to be surveyed, mapped and catalogued ready for sale.

This was the first time a theodolite was used rather than a compass.  Other surveying tools, often raw forerunners of the contemporary ones, often looked to local materials to develop suitable measuring instruments, using the British Imperial measuring system of the time.

Dixon measured a baseline three miles long on the Normanby Plains near Ipswich using three pine rods ten feet long tipped with brass.  Each rod was located on tripods and set in a perfect straight line.

Warner had to clear the mountain tops of timber so that angles could be read to the other trig stations. The work was definitely full of challenges.

Without previous surveys to guide them, the surveyors spent time initially locating the rivers, creeks and ranges which sometimes later became boundary markers for runs of 25 square miles, parishes and counties.  Isolated and tough work often saw the young surveyors fall into ill-health or alcoholism.  Surveying certainly required stamina under very primitive conditions in those days.

Surveyors were in high demand and the pastoral expansion of what became Queensland from 1859 rapidly unfolded – both freehold and government land parcels were mapped.

Walter Cunningham Hume’s Survey Camp at Goomburra in the 1880s highlighted the adverse conditions of insects, weather, and thick terrain they had to contend with.  The accounts kept by the Hume family give a vivid picture of life’s challenges and make fascinating reading.

Early surveying was pivotal in the European settlement of Queensland, and it is surveying that has given us our towns and land ownership and still continues to generate the means for continued land division and growth today.

Our own house, farm and business land boundaries here on the Darling Downs have depended on surveying, and the rich history of the European explorers and their surveying skills.  The story of the opening up of the region will be our next shared history.