|One of the AGS maps: Seeadler Harbour, Manus Island,|
Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea
Monash University Research Repository has now digitised all Monash holdings of a critical geographic resource from that period, the Terrain Studies.
The South West Pacific was a key destination for Australian Forces, but unfortunately very little was actually known about it. After all, who had actually mapped all the island chains, all the numerous archipelagos and highlands? What were the conditions? Who lived there? Was there any food that could be found locally? What about diseases? And thousands of our young people were about to go into these areas to survive, fight and die. What to do?
In the background, away from the front line, an organisation called the Allied Geographical Service (AGS) was formed in 1942 with the task of remedying this situation. Its function was to prepare various ‘publications’ to address this lack of fundamental and critical information. Among the AGS’ publications were the Terrain Studies whose purpose was to cover a specified area as completely as possible from a military perspective. This they did under difficult conditions, with very limited resources, often with only three weeks’ notice. By the time of its dissolution in November, 1945, the AGS had produced 110 Terrain Studies.
The Studies themselves contain detailed text, photographs, diagrams, maps and often annotations, as new information came to hand; everything that could be found from every possible source in Australia and overseas in the time allowed. They were used in planning and later as the basis for another publication, the Terrain Handbooks, which had a wider distribution. These Terrain Studies have now been digitised in their entirety – each Study, the text, the photos, maps and diagrams in exquisite and intricate detail.
So, why are they so important? Why make a fuss about something which was used so far in the past?.... History, is one major reason. In addition to valuable academic research in the field, these resources may be useful to personal researchers who are tracing the last movements of relatives.
For use with a modern application, the maps and annotations are highly accurate. Their application to coastal change, climate change and related disciplines is unquestionable.