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Mapping Australia leads to love

Written by Margot Taylor
on April 24, 2023

When 20-year-old Raymond (Ray) Whiting set out as a member of the Royal Australian Survey Corps he found love as well as unmapped land and water sources on his adventure.

While some topographic maps of parts of Australia had previously been produced, few provided the detail needed for military purposes.

In 1939 the ‘Instructions of War-Survey’, outlining the military need to complete emergency mapping from Townsville to Port Augusta, Albany to Geraldton and areas around Tasmania and Darwin was issued.

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Born in Melbourne in 1923, Raelene Boyle Retirement Village resident Ray was 17-years-old when he left school.

Knowing he would enlist when he turned 18, Ray joined the Commonwealth Public Service, and was posted to Army administrative records at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road.

“The information we were working with was highly classified,” he said.

In 1942, when Ray was 19, he was called up, and joined his older brother in the Survey Corps.

That February Darwin was bombed by 242 Japanese aircraft in an attempt to stop the town’s airfields and harbour being used as bases to fight the invasions of nearby Timor and Java.

dad_burwood-1942-08

Ray Whiting (middle back) during Survey Corps training in Burwood in 1942.

 

Ray was one of just 3 men from a class of 77 not sent to the Northern Territory or Queensland.

“But I’d turned 20-years-old, and I didn’t have a girlfriend,” he laughed.

“I didn’t want to go over to Western Australia and meet a girl, because it was too far to take her home.”

On his way to Galena, a site where lead mining was carried out (galena is the mineral form of lead (II) sulfide) the men passed through Northampton, an area about 50km north of the city of Geraldton.

Pieces of galena covered the ground where they camped.

The trio set about recording the coordinates of the area.

“We’d then send the survey details down to Perth, Perth sent them over to Bendigo and Bendigo drew the map up from that,” Ray said.

Armed with an aerial photograph, jam sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and their standard army-issue water bottle, the men would walk 30 miles a day.

At 6am they would be dropped at a point close to one corner of the aerial photograph and be told to take observations and be at a point close to the diagonally opposite corner of the photo by 6pm when a truck would pick them up.

Ray wouldn’t drink from his water bottle until noon, otherwise he would have no water when the scorching Western Australia heat would be strongest.

One day, outside Northampton, Ray came upon a small sheep station, not knowing it would change his life.

“The farmer came out from one of the sheds and we told him who we were. We wanted to know the name of anything around, a creek, a farm, or a hill,” Ray said.

“He said ‘there’s a cup of tea on, you are welcome to come over’.”

The men were greeted by a bounty of freshly baked treats and two daughters.

Later, Ray would discover the farm he had come upon was called ‘Mumbywerino’ (an Indigenous name meaning ‘good water’) and one of the women was named Phyllis Cripps.

dad_wa-1943-1944

Ray during his time in Western Australia in 1943/1944.

 

After the cup of tea, the three Victorian soldiers were invited to come to Mumbywerino for Christmas. The men joined 12 members of the Cripps family around the table.

Over the next five months, while mapping the area, Ray got to know Phyllis and her family.

Following leave to see family in Melbourne, Ray was sent from Perth to Broome on the M.V Kalinda.

The ship was promised protection from the Japanese, because in 1935 it had been used to rescue 18 Japanese pearl divers during a cyclone.

Ray’s unit travelled down the west coast mapping Broome to Canavan in Western Australia.

When he reached Canavan, he was told to report to the main unit office and informed he would travel to Perth the next morning.

Knowing Phyllis was waiting for him, the truck driver told Ray he would make it to Northampton by evening.

During their next visit the couple became engaged, but they decided to wait until the war ended to get married as “it looked as though it was going pretty well”.

“We ended up engaged for five years!” Ray said.

Later Ray was deployed to Ingham in far north Queensland.

He worked across Cattle Creek, Wairuna and Kangaroo Hills stations, where as well as working hard, he enjoyed “the best beef I’ve ever tasted”.

From Ingham Ray was discharged from the Survey Corps and returned to Melbourne before travelling to Northampton with his father for his wedding to Phyllis.

The couple went on to have five children.

Ray has fond memories of his time in the Survey Corps.

“I really enjoyed it because I knew we weren’t going to be shooting at anybody, and also I felt that we were doing something positive,” he said.

“I’d read a lot of books about Australia, and they were all about Indigenous people and the land and I’d thought ‘I’d love to see that country’, and I saw it!”

 

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