Perth Metro Plans Project

Damien Hassan Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - 09:31

The State Records Office has been digitising and geo-referencing Perth's historical Sewerage Plans to provide a fresh perspective on the past hundred years of metropolitan development. Thanks to this new initiative, architects, town planners, home owners and general researchers will be able to approach the information in these plans - which document the growth of the city and often lost parts of Perth - from a completely different angle.

The installation of a sewerage system for the Perth metropolitan area commenced in earnest in 1909 and was an undertaking that was to continue for many years (some parts of Perth remain unconnected to the sewerage scheme to this day). A project of this scale was considerable and was carried out by the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage, which became its own department in 1912. 

To prepare for installation, government officers commenced on-the-ground field surveys across Perth in 1905 and produced detailed diagrams of individual properties to show where sewer lines would need to be connected. The State Records Office holds many of these original field and level books at Series 84 (not to be confused with Department of Lands and Surveys field books, which are a whole other set of records). The information from these field surveys was then transposed onto a series of plans at a scale of forty feet to one inch. These are commonly known as Sewerage Plans (Series 634).

The original set of Sewerage Plans were transferred by the Water Authority of WA to the State Archives Collection in 1981 and have been in regular use since then, typically by heritage researchers or members of the public interested in the history of their own property. As per this example, each plan shows considerable detail for residential properties as well as the broader metropolitan area in the first half of the 20th Century. The plans - all 2,202 of them - cover large parts of Perth, but not all of it. The metropolitan area has expanded greatly over the last 70 years so outer suburbs, and even some inner suburbs developed later in the 20th Century, are not covered in the plans.

Through funding provided by the Friends of Battye Library Inc., the State Records Office recently completed digitisation of its set of Sewerage Plans. We plan to make these digital copies available online through our catalogue in coming months. The State Records Office warmly acknowledges the Friends of Battye for its ongoing support and commitment to this project.

To date, clients wanting to access the Sewerage Plans have needed to use microfiche copies at the State Records Office Search Room. Making digital copies available online will allow anyone, wherever they are located, to view high quality versions of the plans (we have digitised the Sewerage Plans from the original drawings in high-resolution). But finding a specific plan remains a problem. Currently, locating a plan (i.e. one that shows your property) requires consulting a set of index plans to obtain the right plan number. This system works, but is cumbersome and not an ideal solution. To resolve this, we have been geo-referencing each plan, akin to providing latitude and longitude coordinates for all plans. To this end, the State Records Office is being ably assisted by spatial analyst Callan Wood who is providing his expertise, time and geo-referencing skills in a purely voluntary capacity.

This means we will be able to make the geo-referenced plans available through a modern mapping interface and searchable by current street location so that Perth residents can view their property as it is now through current satellite imagery, but also as it was many decades ago, even up to 100 years ago for some residents. 

We are conducting this geo-referencing work to create a new and permanent State resource that will support many public research needs both now and into the future, whether for specific property research, as part of heritage assessments, to serve social/local/built history needs and even to assist school projects on local areas or houses. The geo-referenced plans will also be available to use with other datasets, whether historic or current, to be utilised for additional purposes we haven't yet contemplated.

This project is also proving a good test bed for future geo-referencing work and how we could achieve this on a larger scale. There remains not only many thousands of maps, plans and charts in the State Archives Collection that would benefit from geo-referencing, but also photographic material and even text based records. In addition, we are gaining a better understanding of how geo-referencing software and systems work, as we will need to accept government data and information from these types of systems into the State Archives Collection in the future (a subject for another blog, at another time).

We have called this initiative the Perth Metro Plans Project.

Geo-referencing 2,202 plans is not an overnight task, but we are working to complete this project as quickly as we can. Stay tuned for further updates!