Culture Victoria

Burke and Wills Interactive Map

By Asa Letourneau Posted Under News

This is a guest post from Asa Letourneau, Online Engagement Officer at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV).

Nearly everyone has been touched by the Burke and Wills legend, from the plethora of imagery to the countless books and academic articles. Far fewer, possibly know of the important primary records charting the expedition held by archives. At PROV we hold a number of these records ranging from maps to correspondence including all manner of things such as the receipts for the camels themselves. You can view a number of these records in the CV story, Burke & Wills: Have Camels Will Travel.

What got me interested?

Around 2009 I got very interested in overlaying historic maps onto Google Earth as a way to ‘bring them to life’ and to make manifest their relevance to the present. You can download some of my early experiments here. There’s even a 3D map of the Hotham Heights parish plan including the famous ski resort in which you can literally ‘ski’ down the ‘Women’s Downhill Run’!

But I digress… After looking at the Burke and Wills Exp22 map I started dreaming about being able to actually follow their amazing journey at ground level to get a better idea of the sheer distances and terrain involved and a paper map gives you absolutely no idea unless you are a cartographer or at the least familiar with the territory. So I quickly got familiar with Adding a layer to Google Earth, adjusting its position, and through a lot of trial and error finally got the result I was after. Now you can zoom down and see in detail the handwritten notes designating campsites as well as latitude and longitude coordinates. Then fly along just above the ground all the way from Cooper’s Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Future possibilities

Given that it’s relatively simple to overlay historic maps onto Google Earth there’s no reason why we all shouldn’t have a go and potentially crowdsource bringing these vital records into the present. A good place to start is PROV’s wonderful collection of digitised Parish Plans.

Simply search for your chosen plan, filter by digital records, then download, save to your computer and follow this great instructional video on Youtube to overlay your plan.

If you get really ambitious you could try creating a 3D contour map like the Hotham Heights one I created. To do this you’ll need Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data for the area covered by your map. One place to get this data is from Geoscience Australia or from NASA. You’ll then need to download Google Sketchup (for free), import the DEM into Sketchup, then ‘explode’ your map jpg image over the top of the DEM and finally place the resulting 3D map onto Google Earth in the right location. It’s quite a process but not impossible. Here is another instructional video with related videos to help you out.

About this author:

Asa Letourneau started working at Public Record Office Victoria ten years ago curating physical exhibitions full of archival gems across many record series. In the last 4-5 years he’s been working predominantly in digital with a view to engaging new audiences using some of the new technologies appearing in recent years. He’s written previously about some of these technologies on the CV Blog.

Asa’s foremost desire has been to increase usage of the records by increasing their discoverability. His first effort at doing this was to support the redevelopment of the PROV Wiki into a tool that could provide an alternate gateway into the archives at an item level not previously offered. is a treasure trove of both staff and public researcher content, with crucial links back to records series and the creating agency. The wiki is not only human readable but much of its metadata can also be parsed by computers making it discoverable to researchers, developers and digital humanists who may want to re-use its content in a myriad of ways.

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