‘FIG and me’: new book charts Earl James’ role in international surveying

By on 8 September, 2020

Earl James, FIG president, pictured in 1995.

Johanna Gastevich

Recently published, ‘FIG and me: My Twenty-Five Years in the International Surveying Arena’ charts Earl James’ involvement with the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG).

Earl James’ initial introduction to FIG was due to him being in the right place at the right time. In 1972, around the time Earl and his wife Wendy had planned to be in Europe for holidays, the 39th Permanent Committee (PC) meeting was being held in Tel Aviv, Israel. A slight diversion to holiday plans meant that Earl could attend his first PC meeting of FIG.  As they say, the rest is history – that meeting marked an association with FIG over many years. This is a fascinating read focusing on the people, processes and politics involved in being part of this international forum. To date, Earl is Australia’s first and only President of FIG.

Below we feature Earl in his own words on highlights from his career, beginning with his speech at the XVIII FIG Congress in Toronto, Canada which clinched the bid to host the 1994 International Survey Congress in Melbourne.

First of all, let me emphasise that the success of our bid to host the 1994 FIG Congress was not the result of an individual effort by any one person. That success was due to the combined efforts of a lot of people, both male and female.

Many Australian surveyors had their wives in attendance and these ladies went out of their way to help promote our cause. My task was simply to make the formal oral presentation to the General Assembly of the Federation. I was overwhelmed by the fact that our combined efforts, plus the speech I made, resulted in a massive majority ‘yes’ vote. I now had to prepare myself for the transition from company director and bush surveyor to that of Vice President of an International Federation. I had two years to do it in.

The 20th International Survey Congress held in Melbourne in 1994 at the time was the largest and most successful International Surveying Conference ever held during the one hundred and sixteen year life of the Federation.

Earl shares how the Congress improved the profile of the Australian surveyors.

Attendance numbers at a congress is one measure of its success.  The attitudes of attendees at the end of the event is another. There can be no doubt that attendance numbers in 1994 were enough to proclaim the FIG Congress a success that year. As far as attitudes are concerned, I must admit that during my world travels in the years following that congress I was overwhelmed by the number of people who congratulated me on the success of the 1994 Congress. I think it is possible that to the rest of the world, we had come of age. I am sure that in 1986 in Toronto we were at first thought of as colonial hicks who were a little brash and over-confident in their bid to host the congress in 1994. But we convinced them they were wrong and in 1994 we proved it.

From 1988 Earl served as Vice President (with the Finnish Bureau) and was then FIG President from 1992 until 1995 of the Australian Bureau. Each role in itself had its rewards and challenges. Here Earl shares some of his greatest achievements.

During my four years as Vice President of FIG (1998-1992) I was Australia’s sole representative on the Administrative Bureau of FIG. At that time the Bureau’s headquarters were in Finland One achievement I’m personally proud of is a press release that I circulated in Australia in 1988 calling on the Federal and State Governments to establish a network of super tide gauges around the coast of the country. This, along with actions taken by other parties, eventually resulted in a conference being held in Darwin at which it was resolved to do just that.

My real claim to fame for that period however, was the fact that I led a small taskforce that produced The Definition of a Surveyor which was adopted by the Federation after twenty or so years of heated controversy within the Federation. The Definition was subsequently adopted by the United Nations, thus giving surveying a separate identity rather than being categorised as a sub-set of cartography as it had been for the past fifty years.

Earl has been dedicated to the surveying profession for over 60 years. Told in first person narrative, Earl James shares his personal account of his involvement with FIG in the publication – FIG and Me: My Twenty-Five Years in the International Surveying Arena. The publication is available for download at www.fig.net.

This feature originally appeared in the August/September edition of Position Magazine, with subscribers now. Not a subscriber yet? You can get yours here.

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