Bull­dust DEAN MEL­LOR

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents -

DO YOU re­mem­ber what it was like nav­i­gat­ing in the bush prior to the ad­vent of global po­si­tion­ing sys­tems? As I re­call it, us­ing a to­po­graphic map, a com­pass and a ruler was some­times a bit of a hit-and­miss af­fair, es­pe­cially when try­ing to nav­i­gate in heavy scrub.

It could also be very ex­pen­sive. Be­fore head­ing off on a four-wheel drive ad­ven­ture – even a short week­end away – you’d have to ri­fle through the fil­ing cabi­net to make sure you had all the topo maps cov­er­ing the ar­eas you in­tended to travel through. If you were miss­ing any maps, you’d then have to head off to your near­est map store and stock up, usu­ally at a cost of around 10 bucks a map. De­pend­ing on where you were go­ing you might need a cou­ple of 1:100,000 topos and half a dozen 1:25,000 topos to even cover a rel­a­tively small area – so $80 or so later you could be on your way.

But hang on a tick. First you’d have to nav­i­gate your way to your in­tended off-road des­ti­na­tion, which would in­volve us­ing a se­ries of road maps or a road at­las. Of course, due to their ex­pense, you’d hang on to th­ese for as long as pos­si­ble, so they were usu­ally out of date, mean­ing you’d of­ten have to rely on your nous to get you through. On top of th­ese – and the topos – you might also have to throw in a few lo­cal vis­i­tors’ maps, some state for­est maps and some Hema or West­print Maps, as th­ese would in­clude ad­di­tional use­ful in­for­ma­tion cov­er­ing the area you were driv­ing through.

With so many maps to carry you’d need a folder, fo­lio or brief­case to store them, and it was al­ways a good idea to put them in some sort of or­der prior to de­par­ture so you weren’t mud­dling through them once un­der­way.

Once you fi­nally made it to the off-road part of your trip, you could un­furl your brand new topo map on the bon­net of your 4x4 (as­sum­ing it wasn’t rain­ing, dark or windy) to see ex­actly where you were. Un­for­tu­nately, even your brand new topo was likely out of date. Th­ese maps were only re­vised oc­ca­sion­ally and it could be more than a decade since they were last up­dated, so chances were that other than the to­po­graphic lines de­pict­ing the nat­u­ral ter­rain, a lot of the other in­for­ma­tion might be in­cor­rect, with miss­ing tracks and var­i­ous other fea­tures ab­sent.

I don’t know about you, but I was al­ways very par­tic­u­lar with the way I han­dled my topo maps. But even tak­ing ex­tra care to make sure I folded them away cor­rectly, they’d of­ten start to wear on the folds – I still have a bunch of maps in my fil­ing cabi­net with holes worn through them from reg­u­lar use. Th­ese holes would, with­out fail, start to de­velop right at a crit­i­cal junc­tion of two tracks, en­sur­ing the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process would be as hard as pos­si­ble when con­sid­er­ing whether to turn left or right at the end of a long day of forg­ing through the scrub.

I al­ways con­sid­ered my­self to be rea­son­ably com­pe­tent when nav­i­gat­ing with topo maps, a com­pass and a ruler. But I also re­call the feel­ing of self-doubt creep­ing in on a reg­u­lar ba­sis when driv­ing up an un­fa­mil­iar track that didn’t seem quite right – es­pe­cially when lead­ing a con­voy to­wards the end of the day when ev­ery­one was hop­ing for a hot meal and some­where warm and dry to spend the night.

Th­ese days we’ve got it easy – you don’t even need a ded­i­cated GPS de­vice. There are any num­ber of apps you can down­load on your smart­phone or tablet that will give you ac­cess to the lat­est to­po­graphic map, and they in­clude var­i­ous fea­tures so you al­ways know ex­actly where you are and how to eas­ily nav­i­gate to where you want to be. You don’t even need a com­pass or a ruler!

Just make sure you don’t drop your phone or tablet in a pud­dle of water, or the only place you’ll find your­self is up the prover­bial creek.

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