Documentary and Background of Mapping Australia

Mapping Australia / Cartografie Australia (1966)
An Australian Commonwealth Film Unit production for the Department of National Development. An Australian National Film Board production from the News and Information Bureau.

Australian Bauxite Mines – – Bauxite Mining 1960s Historical Role of Photomechanical Techniques in Map Production –
Topographic Map: The Manufacturing Process –


Photography: Eric Kenning
Sound: Gordon Wraxall
Music: Robert Hughes
Assistant: John Carter
Direction: John Richardson
Production: Frank Bagnall
Supervision: Denys Brown

Description of the Documentary:
(found here

This collection of 20 digital curriculum resources is organised into six categories – the unknown south land; Australia’s coastline as charted by Dutch explorers; Australia’s eastern coastline as charted by James Cook; Matthew Flinders’s charting of the Australian coastline; Indigenous Australians’ maps of country; and mapping the British colonies in Australia. While the collection includes paintings, film footage and navigational aids its main feature is the historical maps themselves, many of which can be magnified.

A history of surveying in Australia :The National Geodetic Survey of Australia by John Manning:

1965 – The Division of National Mapping

Two mini-documentary videos on the themes of the Mapping Our World exhibition.

Information about the Yirrkala Petition

Sketches, notes on working with the video material

In the act of tracing, something is lost yet something remains. A video camera captures something of the world and its footage is its trace.


I found the video Mapping Australia, which shows old scenes of men working on making maps of Australia. This project is centred around the concept of ‘trace’. There is a literal connection of tracing maps, a historical trace once created for the purposes of the Australian Government, the performer tracing the video and the trace of the performance (as a live performance, video documentation or through audio only). The video presents a monotonous office environment, moving machinery with scientific precision to trace the land for the interest of mining – which seems more like an advertisement. The footage of photo-mechanical scribing techniques, pencil movements across great distances of lands, and the cultivated history behind the men working seem to suggest a more functional-scientific attitude towards the land when compared to that of the traditional owners. The work examines these practices that seem to inherently present analogies of objectification, indifference, realism, authority, scientific etc.

The piano is treated in a similar way through the use of a topographical map. This breaks up the piano into a series of zones. Also, the movements of the men (along with engraving footage) turn into a formalised system of movement gestures on the piano.

The engraving practices during the 1960s was a process that uses light to create precise terrain lines:

“The plastic sheets are taken one at a time and placed on a light table, where a soft light shines up through a white plastic surface. This illumination from below makes the lines of the map manuscript visible through the scribecoat. An engraver carefully cuts away the scribecoat along the lines and areas that are to be a certain color on the finished map. For example, one sheet will have all the lines for rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water that are to be blue.”

The use of light in this cartography is close to being the reverse process for the performer who essentially turns lines of light (from an illuminated video screen) into movement and sound.

Imitating movements in the video is my way of mocking and satirising the footage. The video has a kind of authority status – within the video and as an archival artifact. It can therefore be seen to be a trace of history. The video score turns the archival footage into something fluid, sensuous rather than fixed. Every movement in the video is a trace and is open to be retraced.

Some moments in the video for the performer to trace:

I made these moving GIFs from the video above to be used as a part of my sketching process. The score would use high quality video files so the performer can better imitate the gesture being made.


Time code: 2:45


Time code: 3:35


Time code: 3:41


Time code: 10:54


Time code: 13:56

Screenshot 2014-05-29 16.26.26(2)[Still]

These sections of the video can be sped up or slowed down to control the pace of each gesture. And the image can be flipped and moved around to change its direction and position.


The video presents clear footage of body and machinery movements, such as people tracing lines on maps (close-ups of moving lines, fingers and pencils across terrains).

Methods of tracing

This can be done through detailed text instructions accompanying the footage which states:

  • This means this. For example: when people in the video are outdoors using machinery change to wooden mallets.
  • Draw an outline of an object or the silhouettes of the people on screen (for the duration they are on screen or a set duration).
  • Imitate the movements in the video and apply them to the surface of the instrument. This can be either through moving as a mirror image or other mapping such as stating that the orientation of the performers right hand is mapped to the left foot of a person in the video.

Gestural information and how it is transferred into sound:

Video    >   Physical    >   Sound

The frame of the video is mapped as a grid, and gestures are transferred on the paper with the same grid reference. The gestures are imitated on paper. The paper can be struck using a pencil and other objects like palms, fingers, electric fans, shredded bamboo, rubber & wooden mallets (as explored in previous videos below). The scale of the screen gesture and the physical gesture can vary from large to small. So small gestures on screen can equate to bigger gestures across the instrument.

The map of Australia is linked to the dimensions of the piano (a type of map) which is linked to the dimensions of the video screen.

The video score is split into two screens where the left video controls the left hand and the right video controls the right hand. Like the 2 staves on a piano score.


The pianist traces the video of “Mapping Australia” but the audience is be watching a different more unusual video.

Electronic Recordings

There will be ear phones wedge in the strings of the piano. They could contain archival recordings regarding the mining of the land. This could be indigenous people talking about the helicopters or other recording of the land (wind, birds, animals etc). The lapel mic hovers over the strings like the helicopters searching for minerals. The recordings become fragmented and is silenced by the sweeping hand gesture of the performers microphone.


Some references to works influencing this project:

Stefan Prins Piano Hero #1 (2011-12)

Stefan Prins Piano Hero #2 (2013)

James Saunders with paper (2013)

James Saunders surfaces (2011-)

Pia Palme GIB SIE WIEDER a warning commentary on resonance (2014)


Copyright 2014 © Daniel Portelli – All rights reserved.