Map of Australia falling to pieces at Lawson

It was once girt by sea but is now mostly girt by weeds and silt.

The 1932 opening of Lawson's map of Australia water feature.

The 1932 opening of Lawson's map of Australia water feature.

The deteriorating map of Australia. The bridge has been blocked because of potential dangers.

The deteriorating map of Australia. The bridge has been blocked because of potential dangers.

Lawson’s map of Australia water feature, the only one of its kind in the country, is in danger of crumbling to pieces.

The map, in Wilson Park near the swimming pool, dates back to 1932, when it was built by a local man, Frank Higgison.

Mr Higgison carved his work out of a natural rock outcrop, making it to scale, with one inch on the map (2.5 centimetres) equalling 6.5 actual miles (10.4 kilometres). 

He used concrete to form the contours, marked all of the capital cities, state boundaries and major mountain ranges, and painted his work according to colours used in school atlases at the time: green for sea level, grey for 500 feet, chrome for 1000 feet and so on.

Today, the colours are long gone, water flows have changed because of road works and residential development uphill of the site, and the bridge and parts of the continent are cracking.

“We’re about to lose Cape York,” said local Margaret Cowper, one of many who hope council or heritage bodies can intervene to repair the damage and restore the feature to its former glory.

“It’s very special,” she said.

 “It’s from a special era when they built these things out of concrete. They probably don’t do that any more.”

A report prepared for council said the island map had “exceptional” heritage value and may qualify for a place on the state heritage register. Listing would certainly help source funds for what could be a very expensive restoration effort.

The report found that not only the map itself would have to be repaired but also that the water flow issues that have contributed to its demise would have to be addressed.

 Such work could cost upwards of $340,000, well beyond the reach of council finances.

For now, council has agreed to do minor maintenance work, conduct a survey to allow for restoration in the future, seek state heritage listing and look at the drainage issues.

It will then call for a further report considering other options, their costs and sources of funding.

Clr Romola Hollywood said there was great local interest in bringing back the map.

“When I saw what a state of disrepair it was in I was horrified,” she said.

 “I used to bring my children here 20 years ago. Council is going to do some work but we need to apply for grants.”

The map’s designer and builder, Mr Higgison, did not live to see his masterpiece in decline. 

He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Java in 1942 and died in the Borneo Sandakan death march in 1943.

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