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Locations in words

It's possible to specify locations in words with a fair degree of accuracy. For example, you could say About 20 m west of the old tip off the highway NW of Falmouth and E of Henderson Lagoon. That's a lot longer than its equivalents in lat/lon (41°29'37"S 148°14'56"E) or in UTM format (FQ042056). On the other hand, if you have a mental map of the East Coast, you can picture this location, at least roughly, from the clues Falmouth and Henderson Lagoon.

Nevertheless, verbal locations by themselves, without their numerical equivalents, have serious limitations. Some of these arise from the fact that verbal locations mention a place whose location is already known. This already-located place acts as a spatial reference or landmark for the verbal location. The problem is that landmark names can be ambiguous, unofficial and short-lived:

  • Ambiguous. There are three Mt Arthurs in Tasmania, four Big Lagoons, five Rocky Points, six Big Marshes and seven Round Hills. It's always a good idea to qualify a verbal location, as in Mt Arthur by Lilydale, NE Tasmania, and Round Hill near Burnie, NW Tasmania.
  • Unofficial. The Nomenclature Board of Tasmania maintains an official list of Tasmanian place names. You should only use place names approved by the Board in your verbal locations. You can get these names from the latest 1:25 000 scale paper maps or online from LISTmap. Please do not use unofficial names accepted by local residents. If the map says 'Bare Hill', record the location as 'Bare Hill', even if the locals have been calling it 'Bald Hill' for the past 100 years.
  • Short-lived. Place names change, roads get re-routed. Towns, tracks, tips and quarries get abandoned. Over time, verbal locations run the risk of becoming orphaned: they can persist in your records while the parent places have disappeared from the map. Even worse, a name attached to a particular place can become attached to a different place with the passage of years. For example, Henrietta Plains once referred to Powranna, a farming area east of Cressy in the Northern Midlands. Today Henrietta Plains is a farming area south of Yolla in the Northwest.

Another problem with verbal locations is that they don't have standardised rules for their construction. Here are three clearly specified verbal locations in eastern Tasmania:

  • ca 2 km W of Watch House Bay, S of Little Swanport
  • ca 1 km S of the junction of Mitchelmores Creek and Little Swanport River
  • ca 1 km E of the junction of River Road and Swanston Road, N of the Buckland Military Training Area

Without looking at a map, would you guess that all three verbal locations refer to the same place? You would know for sure if each verbal location had its numerical equivalent attached; they're all at 42°20'48"S 147°54'16"E.

Finally, verbal locations tend to be vague. It's tedious to say About 2 km E of Big Heathy Plain by Ben Nevis, NE Tasmania, and about 200 m upstream from the NE-to-S-flowing bend in a mainly S-flowing branch of the unnamed Tombstone Creek tributary between Farrells and Memory Creek, so it's tempting to shorten this to 2 km E of Big Heathy Plain. Sounds good, until you realise that Big Heathy Plain isn't a point location. It's 2.5 km long and 1.5 km wide! The numerical location corresponding to the long-winded verbal one is 41°23'22"S 147°40'07"E.

Best practice is to record a location in both words and numbers:

junction on Cutten Creek, ca 250 m S of King River,
West Coast, Tasmania, 42°11'58"S 145°25'17"E (WGS84)

In this case, as in most, the words give the location approximately and the numbers give the location more exactly. The words are likely to be meaningless to a non-Tasmanian, but the numbers will be understandable to anyone familiar with numerical location systems.