Tony Batistich Explains Geo Spatial Techniques to February Meeting

Our February Speaker, Tony Batistich, had been a longtime schoolteacher of Social Studies and Geography at Onehunga High School but, in 1987, he finally got fed up with the dumbing-down of the examinations. So he got a job with the Auckland Regional Council and worked on its Geographical Information System (GIS) with some really talented people. That was very interesting and groundbreaking work but, after 18 years, he decided to move into geospatial education. In the last couple of years he has been ‘retired’ doing voluntary work in schools and the community.

Drawing on all this, Tony presented a talk entitled “Mapping Family and Community History”. Geographic Information Systems have evolved over past 40 years. They used to involve overlaying plastic transparencies on an overhead projector. The computerised version of this was pioneered by Dr Roger Tomlinson in 1968.

He started with the fact that most mapping information has now been placed in databases, notably including the exact spatial coordinates of locations. Here, we use New Zealand Transverse Mercator Projection to basically flatten the traditional round-earth maps. Georeferencing thus consists of adding accurate coordinates to an old map, so turning it into a very precise template onto which further layers can be digitally added.

Tony introduced us to several new terms and their corresponding meanings. Thus, “Geneology” is the relationship of people to other people while Geospatial refers to places and their relationships to each other. Tony has coined his own term – “GeoConnection” – which denotes the sense of association we all get when people relate to places.

Tony illustrated all this by starting with an old Topographic Map of the area in Ellerslie where he was brought up, of the type that the Department of Lands and Surveys started to produce in the 1930’s. In this exercise, he linked this primarily with the story of his mother, Amelia, who was born on a farm in Tangawahine in 1915. She moved to Dargaville a few years later. Amelia’s parents bought the old Hillary home, Aurega House (understood to have been built by Sir Edmund Hillary’s father) which was located where the current Caltex Service Station now stands. Google Earth shows the service station and pin points the location of the house as it would have stood in the 1920s. Tony went to National Library On-Line and found an old survey map of Dargaville of the time, which showed the surroundings and the location of house. Tony’s grandparents ran Aurega House as a boarding house. It transpired that someone had made a drawing of that, which the Dargaville Museum sent him. Aurega House burned down sometime around 1928 but it had, at least, left enough history behind it for Tony to capture and present in these new and interesting ways.

Tony’s mother, Amelia Batistich, was a very accomplished author in her own right and, in one of her books, captured her own distinct early memories of the town:

What I do remember was that I left Dargaville when I was 11 but some part of it never left me. There has always been a river running in some corner of my mind, some place where I never grew up, I never got old, a place that’s mine to keep – not my children’s, not my grandchildren’s, not anyone’s, but mine.

Tony then recounted another project, this one based on capturing the genesis of the Remuera Shopping Village and we were introduced to even more terms and concepts, including “Innovative Artifacts” and “Story Maps”, and where he was able to draw upon even more data resources, including old Wises Street Directories and Whites Aviation aerial photographs. There might have been even more archival material had it not been for an unfortunate period in the Land Information Service of New Zealand (LINZ) where some unique records were disposed of. However, we must all admit that, especially in our younger years, we have had moments of insufficient regard for the capturing of the present and the preservation of the past.

After the presentation itself, Tony stayed on for the traditional cup of tea and chatted at length with many members about their own special memories which had been further stimulated by his lecture. In all, a very strong start to the year and a good lead-in to the Open Day (see the Home Page). Thanks Tony!

Wayne Power and Tony Batistich


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