Glossary of mapping and surveying terms

Use this glossary to understand common mapping and surveying terms and abbreviations.

Common terms

Access way

  • A thoroughfare created over all or part of the association property of a community, precinct or neighbourhood scheme and defined in an access way plan attached to the management statement.

Aerial photography

  • Photography of part of the Earth's surface, but is not rectified to account for differences in scale throughout the photograph.


  • The vertical angle between the plane of the horizon and the line to the object being observed. In photogrammetry, altitude applies to elevation above a datum of points in space.

Ambulatory boundary

  • An ambulatory boundary is where a body of water (e.g. sea or river) defines the boundary of land. An ambulatory boundary shifts with the ordinary movement of the sea or river through gradual change.

Aneroid barometer

  • An instrument used to obtain heights above sea level by measuring atmospheric pressure. Since atmospheric pressure varies with the height above or below sea level, the height can be read directly from the height scale on the barometer.

Archaeological record

  • The archaeological record exists as a repository. Inside lie the decaying material remains of ancient beings and civilisations. As archaeologists approach their work, they encounter raw data from the archaeological record that serves as the source of their evidence to interpret.

Australian height datum (AHD)

  • The datum used to determine elevations in Australia. The AHD is based on mean sea level being zero elevation.

Automated Title System (ATS)

  • The Automated Title System is the computerised legal register of freehold land, state tenure land and reserve land in Queensland. The system also automates elements of the document-receiving, lodgement, tracking and registration processes.


  • The horizontal angle measured from the meridian planes (i.e. a plane that contains the polar axis, being true north).


  • A surveyed line usually several kilometres long. It is established with the utmost precision available at the time. Surveys refer to the baseline for coordination and correlation. The baseline accumulates distances throughout a triangulation network, extending to other baselines, providing further integrated control.

Beam compass

  • A drafting instrument used for drawing circles with a long radius. The point and scribe are separate units, mounted to slide and clamp on a long beam.


  • Bearings are used to indicate angular orientation with respect to the Earth. The angular measure is always within the range of 0–90 degrees. Bearings consist of 3 components:
    • the cardinal direction of the nearest end of the meridian (N or S)
    • the angle measured from the nearest end of the meridian
    • the cardinal point indicating the direction of deflection from the meridian (E or W).

Bench mark or benchmark

  • A permanent object, natural or artificial, displaying a marked point whose elevation above or below an adopted datum is known.


  • A mark carved in a tree trunk at about breast height, signifying close proximity of a survey line.

Building format plan (BFP)

  • A plan of survey that defines land using the structural elements of a building. Lots generally are defined by floors, walls and ceilings. Often referred to in other jurisdictions as a strata plan.

Building unit plan (BUP)

  • Building unit plans (BUPs) and group title plans (GTPs), are plan types that existed under the Building Units and Group Titles Act 1980, which has been superseded by the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997. Both plan types are characterised by collectively administered subdivisions. The collective administration was managed by a body corporate.


  • A Latin term from cadastre referring to a registry of lands. Cadastral surveying is the process of determining and defining land ownership and boundaries.

Cadastral map

  • A map depicting land parcels and associated nomenclature.


  • The art and science of the production of maps. This includes the construction of projections, design, compilation, drafting and reproduction.


  • Special purpose navigation maps chiefly used for nautical, aeronautical and mapping of the cosmos.


  • The computer inventory of survey plans (CISP) is a database that provides current and historical survey plan information. It includes images of all survey plans registered in Queensland.


  • An instrument used to determine the angle of elevation or depression. A De Lisle's pendent clinometer was used by surveyors and engineers to set out slopes and gradients in the construction of paths, tracks and roads.


  • The magnetic compass has a pivoting magnetised needle that always points to magnetic north (geological features may influence readings). The compass circumference is divided into degrees from which a bearing of a chosen direction from magnetic north can be determined. A compass magnetic bearing must be converted to a grid bearing for plotting on a map.

Contour interval

  • The difference in elevation between adjacent contours as delineated on a map.


  • Lines joining points of equal height as shown on a topographic map. Contour lines that are relatively close together depict an area of steep terrain on the Earth's surface.

Control points

  • Control points are fixed points of known coordinates. This information provides only elevation or can include all coordinates. Control points are determined by high-accuracy surveys. In a less rigorous sense, control points for a construction project can be established conveniently around the project area using high-accuracy procedures. Such points would then be used throughout the project for referencing subsequent survey work (e.g. locating foundations, pipes).


  • A county is a historical administrative area usually approximately 40 square miles in size. A county was made up of a number of parishes. Parish and county became historical reference information only in 2015.


  • Generally a mutual agreement between 2 or more parties to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts in relation to land. Often contained in lease agreements, but in this context it particularly refers to a restrictive covenant (now a restriction on the use of land) or a positive covenant binding a proprietor to do or complete a specified action.


  • See party wall.

Crown land

  • Land belonging to the reigning sovereign.

Crown plans (CP)

  • Show property boundary and property-related information. Until 1992, when vacant crown land was divided for the first time, a crown survey plan was created allowing freehold title to be issued in the form of a deed of grant. Any further subdivision of these blocks would result in the creation of a real property plan (RP plan) and the issuing of certificates of title.

Current plan

  • Generally the most-recently registered plan of subdivision including a particular parcel of land.


  • A mathematical representation that best fits the shape of the Earth. Accurate mapping and coordinate systems must be based on a datum. A new datum known as the Geocentric Datum of Australia 2020 (GDA2020) was introduced in 2020. The previous datum, the Geocentric Datum of Australia 1994 (GDA94) was introduced in 2000, and was a first step in aligning the Australian datum to the rest of the world's coordinate systems, and the coordinate systems used by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as the Global Positioning System (GPS). Prior to 2000 the datum used in Australia was known as the Australian Geodetic Datum (AGD); however, this was restricted because it was defined to best fit the shape of the Earth in the Australian region only. The change in coordinates from AGD to GDA94 was approximately 200 metres in a north-easterly direction. The change from GDA94 to GDA2020 was approximately 1.7 metres in a north-easterly direction primarily due to movement of the Australian tectonic plate.

Digital cadastral database (DCDB)

  • The spatial representation of every parcel of land in Queensland, along with its legal lot on plan description and relevant attributes. It provides the map base for systems dealing with land-related information.

Deposited plan (DP)

  • A plan of land deposited in the department. The deposited plans are not attached to a dealing or deed, showing land boundary information, whether for a new subdivision or other purpose (e.g. identifying the location of an easement, or for land acquisition).

Description of country

  • As described in the 1916 Rules and Directions for the Guidance of Surveyors: 'Country, whether undulating, broken, or rugged; timber, whether open, thick, heavy, or with undergrowth; scrubs, their character and situation, should be specially noted in field-books, as the rate of additional payment that may be allowed on such account is based on the information supplied.'

Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS)

  • The Earth Resources Technology Satellite has been renamed Landsat.


  • A right, attached to land (i.e. the dominant tenement), to use other land (i.e. the servient tenement) for a specified non-exclusive purpose known to the law (e.g. right of carriageway, easement to drain water). However, the law recognises an easement in favour of a statutory authority without a dominant tenement, described as an easement in gross.

Easement survey

  • Easement surveys are prepared between parties to allow the use of part of an allotment. There are different types of easement surveys including service, right of way, access.

Electronic distance measurement (EDM)

  • A method of measuring distances using light or sound waves.

Electronic distance measuring equipment (EDME)

  • This instrument measures distances using light or sound waves.


  • The height above mean sea level.


  • A legal interest recorded on title (e.g. mortgage, lease, easement).

Fee simple

  • A permanent and absolute tenure in land with freedom to dispose of at will.

Field notes

  • Field notes are a permanent record of field procedures and the data collected in those procedures.


  • The status of land held under an estate in fee simple following alienation from the crown.

Geocentric datum

  • A datum that has its origin at the Earth's centre of mass. This datum can therefore be used anywhere on the planet and be compatible with the same datum anywhere else on the planet.

Geocentric Datum of Australia 1994 (GDA94)

  • The geodetic coordinate of latitude and longitude generated using GDA as the datum as at 1 January 1994.

Geocentric Datum of Australia 2020 (GDA2020)

  • The geodetic coordinate of latitude and longitude generated using GDA2020 as the datum as at 1 January 2020.


  • The science and mathematical calculations of the shape and size of the Earth.

Geographic information systems (GIS)

  • The spatial capture of themed data layers and the storing, analysing and displaying of the geographically referenced information. A GIS also includes the procedures, software, hardware, operating personnel and spatial data associated with the system.

Geographical coordinates

  • A point on a map given as latitude and longitude readings. The values are given as degrees, minutes and seconds.

Global navigation satellite system (GNSS)

  • An umbrella term to include all satellite navigation satellite systems such as the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS), Russian GLONASS, European Galileo, Chinese Beidou systems. GNSS also includes regional positioning systems such as Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) and Australia’s SouthPAN.

Global positioning system (GPS)

  • GPS is a satellite-based navigation system originally developed by the United States Department of Defence. A GPS receiver calculates a position by measuring distances to 4 or more satellites of a possible 24. These orbit the Earth at all times.


  • A network of crossing lines on a map representing parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude as defined by the projection.


  • A group of parallel lines that run perpendicular to another group of parallel lines to form a map coverage of squares.

Grid coordinates

  • A point on a map given as an easting and northing reading. The values are given in metres.

Grid north

  • The direction of the vertical grid lines shown on a topographic map. The difference between grid north and true north is referred to as grid convergence.

Group title plan (GTP)

  • Building unit plans (BUPs) and group title plans (GTPs), are plan types that existed under the Building Units and Group Titles Act 1980, which has been superseded by the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997. Both plan types are characterised by collectively administered subdivisions. The collective administration was managed by a body corporate.

Gunter's chain

  • A distance-measuring device composed of 100 metal links fastened together with rings. The length of the chain is 66 feet. It was invented in 1620 by English geometer and astronomer, Edmund Gunter.


  • An unintended gap left between 2 land parcels, deeds or land titles.


  • A member of a society who obtains their subsistence by hunting and foraging.


  • Features including rivers, streams, lakes, swamps and other water-related features.

Hypsometric tinting

  • The use of different colours to signify changing elevations on a topographic map.

Identification survey (IS)

  • Conducted to establish or reinstate part or all of any existing property boundaries. This may be required for a number of reasons (e.g. to build a fence or to settle a boundary- fencing dispute with a neighbour).


  • The angular distance along a meridian measured from the Equator, either north or south.


  • An instrument creating an interest in land for a stated term.

Leclanché cell

  • A type of battery invented by French scientist Georges Leclanché in 1866. It consists of a glass vessel into which a zinc rod and a cylindrical pot of porous earthenware is placed. The earthenware pot holds a carbon plate. A mixture of equal parts of carbon and manganese dioxide is packed around this plate. To set the cell into action, the glass vessel is nearly filled with a saturated solution of sal-ammoniac. A reaction takes place and a voltage of 1.46 volts is generated.


  • A term often used within the discipline of archaeology and denotes a customary way of living, or a way of life among people.


  • The art or process of printing by taking impressions from an image drawn on a flat, specially prepared stone with a greasy or oily substance. The stone is dampened and ink is applied with a roller. The greasy image repels the water and retains the ink. Paper is then pressed onto the surface.


  • Trenches dug beside a peg or post along the survey lines from the corner of a subject parcel. An example clause taken from the 1916 Rules and Regulations for the Guidance of Surveyors states: 'On each side of the split pegs, and distant about one foot, lockspits, 3 feet in length and 6 inches in depth, are to be dug in the direction of the surveyed line. On very stony lands, rows of stones placed in the direction of the surveyed line may be substituted for dug-out lockspits.'

Log tables (logarithm tables)

  • A set of tables containing common logarithms used to abridge arithmetical calculations by converting multiplication and division problems to addition and subtraction ones.


  • The angular distance measured from a reference meridian, Greenwich, either east or west.

Magnetic north

  • The direction from a point on the Earth's surface to the North Magnetic Pole. The difference between magnetic north and true north is referred to as magnetic declination.


  • A representation of the Earth's surface where constituencies and related nomenclature are portrayed to a specific format.

Map projection

  • A means of systematically representing the meridians and parallels of the Earth onto a plane surface.

Map scale

  • The relationship between a distance on a map and the corresponding distance on the Earth's surface.


  • An object (e.g. an imprinted metal disc) used to designate a survey point. It is usually associated with terms such as reference mark, azimuth mark or bench mark.

Material culture

  • A term that refers to the physical objects created by a culture. This could include the buildings, tools and other artefacts created by the members of a society.

Measuring scales

  • Measuring scales allow the user to represent a subject or drawing to a recognisable reduction or constant ratio of the actual or proposed size. Many early scales were made of silver, ivory, bone or boxwood.

Mercator projection

  • A conformal cylindrical projection tangential to the Equator. Rhumb lines on this projection are represented as straight lines.


  • A straight line connecting the North and South Poles and traversing points of equal longitude.

Metes and bounds

  • The oldest known form of describing the perimeter of a parcel of land. The method of describing the boundary of a parcel of land in which the bearing and length of each successive line is given. Lines may also be described as following some apparent line (e.g. the bank of a stream).

Map Grid of Australia 1994 (MGA94)

  • The projected coordinate system associated with GDA94. The Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates of eastings, northings, and zones generated from GDA94 are called Map Grid of Australia 1994 coordinates.

Map Grid of Australia 2020 (MGA2020)

  • The Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates of eastings, northings, and zones generated from GDA2020 are called Map Grid of Australia 2020 coordinates.


  • In surveying, a monument is a natural or artificial object, point or mark that is used for the purpose of locating or relocating a boundary or a point in a survey.


  • A charge recorded on title for securing a loan. When the debt is repaid, the mortgage is normally discharged and/or released.


  • A number of continuous aerial photographs overlapped and joined together by way of best fit to form a single non-rectified image.


  • A noting is a textual annotation that warns interested parties of any possible factors that may affect or are currently affecting dealings with the land. The noting may relate to past, present or future actions.

Orders of surveys

  • The order of a survey is a way of expressing the accuracy of the work. The order of the survey can have 2 levels of designators: order and class.


  • Aerial photograph images transformed using an orthophoto verification process to remove distortions and capable of registering perfectly with cadastral data.


  • Information recorded on a transparent medium, superimposed and registered to one or more other records.


  • An area of land defined by measurement.


  • A historical administrative area usually about 25 square miles in size. A county was made up of a number of parishes. Parish and county became historical reference information only in 2015.

Party wall

  • Party wall has different meanings according to the relevant statute or provision. A party wall is a wall severed vertically and longitudinally, with separate ownership of the severed portions, and cross easements (created by the operation of the Conveyancing Act 1919) entitling each of the owners on either side of the wall to have the entire wall continued in such manner that each building shall have the support of the whole wall.


  • Used to mark survey corners on smaller portions or acreage. Peg size was determined by the Rules and Directions for the Guidance of Surveyors, which referred to various land acts from the 1860s onwards.

Permanent survey mark (PSM)

  • Major reference points placed by surveyors. All permanent survey marks in Queensland are registered in the survey control database (SCDB), which includes coordinates, height, access notes and other administrative information.


  • The science of obtaining reliable measurements by photography.


  • The process used in a semiconductor operation, which transfers the pattern of an image held on a photomask onto a flat substrate surface. It follows similar principles to conventional lithography.

Private road

  • A road restricted in use to a limited class of people (i.e. not to the public in general) or for a limited period of time.

Property location index (PLI) or property location service (PLS)

  • A database that provides a link between the parcel identifier (lot on plan) and its location address. It is considered the point of truth for location addresses.


  • The mathematical and calculated correction made to an aerial photograph to show its true ground position at a consistent scale.

Registered plan

  • Provides the details of the boundaries of a property, as well as its area. A plan of subdivision (or survey plan) is a plan prepared for the purpose of formally changing the boundaries of land. A plan of subdivision can only be prepared by a surveyor, and must be prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Titles Registry.

Resource Information Management Environment (RIME)

  • The Resource Information Management Environment provides for the storage, management and dissemination of extensible digital topographic data held within the department. It is a seamless, multi-scale environment covering Queensland.

Rhumb line

  • A straight line connecting two points on the Earth's surface which cuts all meridians at the same angle. The line maintains a constant bearing.

Right of way

  • A right of way is an easement allowing a right to use part or all of another property for access purposes.


  • Riparian relates to rivers, streams or any other natural watercourse.


  • A large area of land in which squatters could depasture their stock without a lot of fencing necessary. Employed shepherds looked after various areas of the runs. Runs became consolidated pastoral holdings. Many of the runs were about 25 square miles in area and later became parishes.


  • This is the name given to the continent when Australia and New Guinea were a single landmass during the Pleistocene era. During this period, sea levels were approximately 150 metres lower than present levels.

Sandy blight

  • A nontechnical term for chronic infection of the eyes with the trachoma organism, possibly leading to blindness. It is believed early European settlers brought the trachoma to Australia. Their poor hygiene evident in the low-standard housing conditions, along with the dirt, heat and flies, caused the disease to become widespread. As living conditions improved, sandy blight in Australia had all but disappeared by the 1930s.


  • Runs were subdivided into selections for farming, agriculture and grazing homesteads. After a period of yearly rental payments, the selector could often obtain freehold ownership.

Servient tenement

  • The land affected or burdened by an easement.

SmartMap information services (SMIS)

  • An electronic application that accesses, integrates and delivers (through the SmartMap interface) data available from many land-related datasets. These include ATS, DCDB, CISP, PLI, SCDB, place names and aerial photography databases.

Spatial information

  • Data that has a geographical reference to a location on the Earth's surface. This includes latitude and longitude co-ordinates, street address and lot number on plan.

Strata plan

  • See building format plan.


  • The identification and creation of new property boundaries when a larger property is divided into a number of smaller lots, including when buildings are subdivided for sale or lease of individual units.


  • Developed within the department, SunPOZ uses virtual reference station technology by bringing together GPS architecture, networked computers and mobile phone communications to output centimetre-accurate positions in real time.

Survey control database (SCDB)

  • The survey control database (SCDB) is a computerised record of Queensland’s geodetic survey control data. Surveyors place and connect to these survey control points. The geodetic network provides a spatial reference framework for all surveys.

Survey plan

  • A plan of subdivision (or survey plan) is a plan prepared for the purpose of formally changing the boundaries of land. A plan of subdivision can only be prepared by a surveyor, and must be prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Titles Registry.

Survey post

  • Posts used on corners of large rural-size blocks of land or town section corners. They were sharpened to a point, buried in the ground and exposed approximately 3'6" out of the ground.

Survey records

  • Survey records are anything that contains survey information. They include survey plans, field notes, digital files, survey reports and any other relevant information about surveys performed.

Temporary road

  • A road (dedicated for the purpose in a deposited plan) used as a means of access to an isolated road for a limited period of time.


  • Instrument used by a surveyor for measuring horizontal and vertical angles.

Tindale, Norman

  • A well-known Australian anthropologist born in 1900. He was the curator of anthropology at the South Australian Museum for over 30 years. He is remembered for his work with Aboriginal peoples to map Aboriginal Australia into language and territory groups and to record numerous Aboriginal genealogies.

Title search

  • Shows the owners of a property as well as other registered interests affecting the property (e.g. mortgages, leases and easements).

Topographic map

  • A detailed representation of cultural, hydrographic-relief and vegetation features. These are depicted on a map on a designated projection and at a designated scale.

Transverse Mercator projection

  • Similar to the Mercator projection but with the cylinder tangent at a particular meridian rather than at the equator.

Trigonometrical survey

  • A concise method of surveying in which the stations are points on the ground located at vertices of a chain or network of triangles. The angles of the triangles are measured instrumentally and the sides are derived by computation from selected sides termed as baselines.

True north

  • The direction to the Earth's geographic North Pole.

Unallocated state land

  • Land that is administered by the state and has not yet been allocated to a particular person or purpose.

Virtual Reference Station (VRS)

  • See SunPOZ.

Weichsel glaciation

  • The last glaciation of the ice age. An ice age is known as a period of low temperatures in the Earth's climate causing an expansion of the Earth's polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. There have been approximately four distinct ice ages during the Earth's history.

Common abbreviations


  • Australian Geodetic Datum 1984.


  • Australian Height Datum.


  • Queensland state-wide datum adjustment or State Control Survey, comprising the APREF (Asia-Pacific Reference Frame), NGCA (National GNSS Campaign Archive) and JDA (Jurisdictional Data Archive).


  • Australia and New Zealand Land Information Council.


  • American Standard Code for Information Interchange.


  • Computer Inventory of Survey Plans.


  • Cadastral Survey Requirements.


  • Digital Cadastral Database.


  • Deposited Plan.


  • Electronic Distance Measurement.


  • Electronic Distance Measurement Equipment.


  • Geocentric Datum of Australia.


  • Global Navigation Satellite System.


  • Global Positioning System.


  • Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping.


  • Identification Survey.


  • Land and Other Legislation Amendment.


  • Map Grid of Australia.


  • Notice of Intention to Resume.


  • Permanent Mark, also referred to as PSM (Permanent Survey Mark).


  • Permanent Survey Mark.


  • Queensland Interchange Format.


  • Redundant Catalogue.


  • Registrar of Titles Directions for the Preparation of Plans.


  • Surveyors Board of Queensland.


  • Survey Control Database.


  • Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Act 2003.


  • Survey Plan.


  • Transport and Main Roads.