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Surveying GIS: Land information systems in Australia, Part 2.

July 1, 2009
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In Part 1 of this opus, we talked about the history of the Australian system of land registry and the government’s efforts to modernize it. This time, we’ll look at the process from the surveyor’s perspective.

For this part of my research, I turned to Richard Abbott of Adelaide, a bona fide Australian land surveyor. Adelaide is in the state of South Australia, and the land management program there, as in New South Wales, is based on the Torrens system introduced in South Australia in 1858.

I met up with Abbott in the office of Peter Kentish, the surveyor-general for the government of South Australia. Kentish was gracious enough to provide me with a history of the Land Boundaries Branch and introduce me to his staff.

In the late 1940s, a 40-year program to develop a coordinated cadastre was begun by the establishment of a system of permanent “control marks” (known in the United States as survey monuments). These control marks were established for the purpose of tying “blocks” (subdivisions) to a coordinated cadastre. The database contains 170,000 of these marks, and they are available in a searchable online format. Initially, the goal was to establish these marks at 250-meter intervals in development areas.

When the project was first launched, the surveyor-general had a staff of 360. Today, Kentish has a staff of 60, but this ambitious project is well under way. The survey database is updated predominately from information gathered from plans of survey. Data are also accepted from various other government agencies as well as from the surveying community at large. The target time from receipt of the data to publication is one week.

A screen shot of the searchable survey control mark Web portal.

How the System Works

South Australia is constructing two fabrics--one for accurate parcel data and one for building surveys. About 70 percent of the data has been collected. The parcel fabric is being created in “hot” development areas, and the plan is to spatially improve the existing cadastre over time. This goal is significant because in Australia, coordinates are prima facie evidence of boundary. Today, there are about 850,000 parcels in South Australia. There were no digital parcels when the project began.

The enterprise GIS in South Australia was developed in the 1980s. Like other GIS systems, it was constructed with an emphasis on environmental issues. Cadastral data began to be added to the enterprise GIS in the 1990s and are still being integrated into the system.

Since the mid-1990s, all new “lodgements” (proposed subdivisions) have required survey ties to three control marks. When a lodgement is made, it is run through a map-check process to ensure that it meets the precision and accuracy requirements. None of the Australian surveyors I interviewed had the slightest problem with this procedure. Tests are now performed on the surveyor’s document using ESRI’s Cadastral Editor software.

The plan, which is called the Electronic Development Application Lodgement and Assessment system (EDALA), is now electronic from start to finish, and the entire process is Web-enabled. When surveyors complete their fieldwork and prepare their plats in digital format, they have the ability to file their projects online through the Electronic Plan Lodgement (EPL) Web site. Surveyors can track submitted projects through their EPL accounts and can calculate the associated fees.

The system is designed so that LandXML is the standard format. All plans must conform to rigorous standards established by the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM).

Electronic filing systems expedite the map approval process by leaps and bounds. The average turnaround time is about 12 days. Approximately 100 people “touch” each project in the approval process. In New South Wales, about 14,000 new projects creating about 60,000 new parcels are processed annually. (Figures for South Australia were not available.) The six states and two territories that make up Australia essentially use the same uniform land registration system. As in the United States, there are three levels of government in Australia: federal, state and council. Land recordation issues are handled primarily at the state level.

As with ePlan in New South Wales, I found the Web portals for EDALA very easy to use and understand despite some minor differences in our respective versions of English. There are multiple pages of help information and FAQ links that explain and define the various aspects of the Australian system.

A sample page from the ICSM standards document.

Final Thoughts

I initially traveled to the land Down Under to follow the progress of the ArcGIS Survey Analyst Cadastral Editor. But I found much more--namely, that surveyors around the world have a lot in common. The bottom line is that the Australians are working on developing a rational/regional model for their lands system. We haven’t begun to consider that yet in the United States, but perhaps we ought to be thinking about it.

Abbott put it this way: “South Australia will not be the first place in the world to adopt a coordinated cadastre, but combined with its Torrens system, [this cadastre is] the best land registration and land information system in the world.”

Author’s note: For more information about Electronic Plan Lodgement, visit www.landservices.sa.gov.au/1Online_Services . More information about ICSM can be found at www.icsm.gov.au.

Sidebar: Adelaide Quick Facts

  • Colonel William Light, the first surveyor- general of South Australia, selected and laid out Adelaide as the site of the capital city of the new colony of South Australia. Adelaide is the first and only city in Australia and the second city in the world (Washington, D.C., was the first) that was surveyed before any development occurred.
  • There are 130 licensed surveyors in the state of South Australia.

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