Rediscovering Australia

Finding a 'lost' chalk map carved by Australian troops.

While convalescing at Hurdcott in southern Wiltshire during the First World War, volunteer members of the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) carved the outline of Australia on the steep chalk scarp overlooking their camps. They wrote 'Australia' across the middle and there was even a flagpole.

A black and white photograph of a chalk cut map on a hillside.
The clearest of the early photographs shows the much broader coastline and narrow letters. The three fine parallel lines are probably scratches on the negative, although confusingly, the central line is in the assumed location of the flagpole. Photograph taken 1914-18 and donated to the Australian War Memorial by H I Taylor. © Copyright expired: Public Domain

Over time the chalk map became overgrown but a team of local volunteers – the Map of Australia Trust – have worked hard to reinstate the map for the centenary of the Armistice this November.

An aerial photograph of the Map of Australia before restoration.
Aerial photograph of the map of Australia prior to restoration, taken as part of the drone /AUV survey. © Historic England

Supporting the Map of Australia Trust's volunteers

Historic England added the lost map to the Heritage at Risk Register in 2017. Over last winter we surveyed the site both on the ground and by using a drone, or Aerial Unmanned Vehicle (AUV).

An archaeologist using surveying equipment.
Landscape archaeologist Mark Bowden surveying the lost map. © Historic England

Marking out the map

From the results we created a detailed digital 3D model to try to establish whether cuts from different dates were visible. The black hachure marks show subtle slopes or scarps and the edges of the flattish path along the chalk, before restoration. The small bumps are anthills.

3D model of the Map of Australia with hachures.
Digital 3D model, with the height exaggerated to show detail, and hachures added to show slopes. © Historic England

Using this research we marked out the sides of the map so that local volunteers could accurately cut the line of the new chalk.

A group of people re-cutting a chalk map of Australia on a hillside
Local volunteers cutting the first letter ‘A’. © Historic England
A portion of a restored chalk figure depicting a map of Australia.
New chalk laid along the ‘south coast’ of the map. © Historic England

Researching the surrounding landscape

To help our understanding of the site we looked at aerial photographs and lidar data (an airborne laser scanning technique) and mapped archaeological features in the surrounding landscape.

Historic aerial photographs show traces – the camp roads and hut footprints – of the First World War camps in the valley below. The lidar data also reveals the distinctive chain link pattern of a nearby practice trench system, partly preserved in the trees at the foot of the hill.

We also mapped much earlier features like the ends of Prehistoric dykes that once crossed the ridge and patterns of trackways and fields on the steep scarp.

Survey plan of First World War camps and fieldworks
The pattern of First World War camps and practice trenches revealed by aerial survey. © Historic England

About the author

Sharon Soutar

Graphics Officer at Historic England

Sharon is a GIS and survey specialist in the Investigation and Analysis Graphics Team. Combining skillsets as a landscape archaeologist and graphic designer, Sharon has spent over 20 years working in various parts of Historic England.

Further information

Our research is currently being written up. We’ll produce a research report and the enhanced records will be available through www.pastscape.org.uk

You can read more about other sites associated with First World War Commonwealth and Empire troops in our Heritage Calling blog

Find out more about the Map of Australia Trust

Watch BBC's regional ‘Inside Out’ magazine programme that aired on the 5 November 2018, featuring the reinstatement of the map.    

See the BBC local news coverage of the restoration project.

Map of Australia Drone Footage by 'Drones and RC Flight'


View a video filmed from a Drone flight by 'Drones and RC Flight' over the restored chalk Map of Australia.

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