Chapter 1: Getting started

JFNP 1974 Fwkd map Why is this map so significant for OAWA? The answer to this question is that it is the first map produced by Gary Aitken in November – December 1973.

So, what happened over 50 years ago?

Gary Aitken is credited with the development of orienteering in Western Australia. Gary will insist that it was a collaborative effort of many diverse people of whom he was just one person.

After leaving school, Aitken was actively involved in hockey at the Old Modernians Hockey Club and in athletics at the University of WA. Although Aitken was a middle distance runner specialising in 800m, in 1965 he became more active in cross country running eventually coaching squads of cross country runners at the University Amateur Athletics Club (UAAC). In 1967, Aitken saw an article in the UK “Sports World Magazine” about a sport called “orienteering” that entailed running with map and compass.(2) (5)

Aitken would save articles that appeared in national newspapers such as The Australian or magazines such as The Bulletin advertising the virtues of orienteering. Press releases sent by the Victorian Orienteering Association (VOA) or the Orienteering Federation of Australia (OFA) to local athletics clubs were also collected.

Aitken trained with groups of cross-country runners along bush tracks in various national parks in the hills around Perth. The notion of running and navigating with a map and compass seemed to Aitken as a natural extension to cross-country running – developing the intellect as well as the physical abilities of the runner. Aitken spent the next few years (1967 - 71) finding sources of suitable maps from various Government Departments so as to introduce orienteering as a coaching medium. Aitken would often visit the Metropolitan Water Authority (MWA) and Lands and Surveys Department (LSD) offices. (2)

Around June or July 1973, whilst at the MWA offices, Aitken was shown a small scale topographic map of the John Forrest National Park (JFNP) area that had roads, tracks and ten feet contours. Aitken was told that he could obtain these at the LSD in Cathedral Avenue, Central Perth. At the LSD sales counter Aitken was getting nowhere with the sales staff. The Deputy Superintendent of LSD, Mr Doug Glendinning, asked Aitken “How can I help?” Aitken asked for a copy of the JFNP topographic map. This was supplied and Aitken field-worked the area to correct and put more detail on the map by including pits, rock surfaces and boulders whilst he marked thick bush with small “x”s!. Mr Glendinning organised for a draftsmen at LSD’s Subiaco office to produce a 1:10000, ten feet contour “orienteering” map that included Aitken’s fieldwork. This map was reproduced by photocopying over the next few years and became the prime map for events in 1973 and 1974. (5)

Mr Glendinning’s interest and support over orienteering’s developing years has been invaluable. Others at the LSD that gave Gary valuable service were John O’Brien, Graham Abbott, Roy Fieldgate and later, Jeff Murray. The LSD later made available orthophoto maps that contained contours and indicated vegetation patterns that made base maps easier to generate. (2) (5)

(1) Young, Don “Orienteering in the West”, The Australian Orienteer, August 1988, pp14 - 15
(2) Telephone interview with Gary Aitken, August 2006
(3) Gary Aitken, Draft of letter sent to David Hogg, April 1974 (date uncertain).
(4) David Hogg, Letter sent to Gary Aitken written September 1973.
(5) Aitken, Gary. “Orienteering” April 1975 p4 – 6

Photo: JFNP map from 1973. Click on the picture to view larger image.