GSWA — 130 years of geological excellence, 1888–2018

This year marks the 130th anniversary of the establishment of the Geological Survey of Western Australia (GSWA). This endeavour was initially resisted by members of the Legislative Council, who ‘…denied scientific men had contributed in any way to the important mineral discoveries which had made the fortunes of the other colonies’ and wondered ‘…what good had any geologist ever done to Western Australia?’ But the role played by the geological observations and maps of ET Hardman in the Kimberley gold discoveries and subsequent rush eventually led the Council to approve the establishment of a new, permanent Geological Department with a subsidy of £1000.
The permanent* position of Government Geologist was taken up in January 1888 by HP Woodward. Since then, there have been 12 Government Geologists, and the position’s formal name was changed to Director of the Geological Survey during Joe Lord’s tenure.

A drone’s-eye view of vibroseis trucks
Figure 1. A drone’s-eye view of vibroseis trucks during the Kidson Sub-basin deep crustal 2D reflection seismic survey, June to August 2018

Over the years, the men invested with this responsibility have ensured that GSWA remains faithful to the ‘dual objectives of practical, field-based research and the provision of solid, unbiased geoscientific advice to government, industry and the public’ (Phil Playford, GSWA Memoir 3). Whether with camels and horses or a fleet of GPS-tracked vehicles, fieldwork has been a staple of GSWA since its very beginning. Mapping of the State has evolved from regional expeditions looking for ‘riches’ in the early days of the Colony to systematic mapping at 1:250 000 (completed in 1979) or 1:100 000 scale. The focus is now shifting from rectilinear map sheets to mapping of tectonic units or to address specific geological questions.

Starting in the 1990s, digital technology has greatly impacted the way GSWA compiles and produces maps and manuscripts, as well as how it delivers data and information. A far cry from the days of theodolites, plane-tables and glass-plate negatives, modern fieldwork makes use of tablet PCs that allow the immediate capture of field observations in a GIS environment, where the data can be assessed against remote sensing imagery. Drones are now used to map otherwise inaccessible outcrops or those containing geological objects too large for the geologist to map in the field but not large enough to be resolved in aerial and satellite imagery or geophysical datasets. RPA imagery provides the ‘bigger picture’ while keeping the very fine detail.

Government Geologist ET Hardman
All paintings are by Government Geologist ET Hardman and are based on sketches from his 1883–84 Kimberley expedition fieldbooks

Accelerating technological advances have not only changed the way we work, but have greatly enhanced the contribution of GSWA geologists to unravelling the geological framework of the State, particularly in the last half century. The introduction of modern aerial photography and aeromagnetic images in the 1970s and 1980s, the routine use of geochronology and geochemistry from the 1990s, the acquisition of seismic profiles and passive seismic data as well as the introduction of isotope geochemistry in the last 20 years are culminating in the development of 3D and 4D geomodels that provide an integrated view of the tectonic evolution of Western Australia.

Datasets acquired by GSWA (often in collaboration with other national and state institutions) have grown in quantity and size over time, as have the number and volume of legislation-mandated exploration reports from the minerals and petroleum industry. To be true to its mission of being the lead agency for the provision of geological information in the State, in the late 1990s GSWA embarked on a two-fold program: legacy data capture via a scanning and digitizing program, and the development of novel ways to distribute information via digital platforms. As a result, customers can now access well over 6000 publications via the eBookshop and download large digital datasets from the Data and Software centre. GeoVIEW.WA was developed as an online GIS-based mapping tool that allows simultaneous viewing and querying of multiple datasets; a freely available standalone equivalent, GeoMap.WA, and the WA Geology mapping app offer the same functionality. The quality of GSWA’s databases and systems has been consistently recognized with high ranking in the international Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies.

GSWA’s delivery of data and information does not stop at the digital doorstep. The core libraries built in Kalgoorlie and Perth house about 1400 km of drillcore, a physical asset designed to assist exploration activity in the State. Access to physical drillcore is complemented by the acquisition of HyLogger spectral scans delivered via GeoVIEW.WA and the National Virtual Core Library. Digital core atlases are a new and innovative product that offers an interactive display of multiple datasets overlain and linked to images of individual core trays. Additional drillcore is regularly acquired through the Exploration Incentive Scheme (EIS), a State Government initiative managed by GSWA. Started in April 2009, the EIS programs of drilling promotion, geophysical data acquisition and 3D prospectivity mapping are designed to add vitality to the State’s mineral and petroleum exploration industry.

The life of GSWA has not been without challenges. Structural changes (e.g. the loss of the Hydrogeology section in 1996), the migration of geologists to better paid jobs in times of industry boom in the nickel and mining boom of the 1970s and 2000s, and funding insecurity have all been weathered through the dedication and commitment of GSWA’s directors and staff, as well as the love of GSWA’s geologists for the rocks in their immense backyard, and their loyalty to a beloved organization.

*Three Government Geologists — Ferdinand von Sommer, HY Lyell Brown and ET Hardman — had served from 1847 to 1886.

At the helm
Harry Page Woodward 1888–1895
Andrew Gibb Maitland 1896–1926
Torrington Blatchford 1926–1934
Frank G Forman 1934–1945
HA ‘Matt’ Ellis 1945–1961
JH ‘Joe’ Lord 1961–1980
Alec Trendall 1980–1986
Phil E Playford 1986–1992
Pietro Guj 1992–1997
David F Blight 1997–2000
Tim J Griffin 2000–2010
Rick Rogerson 2010–2018
Jeff H Haworth 2018–present

Free database and online systems training — 2019

Learn how to access geoscience data online and understand the department’s systems at these FREE training courses.

Systems include:

A desktop computer will be available for each participant.

Please check our website for 2019 dates soon.

Product spotlight: GSWA virtual tours

There are three virtual tours in this series of GSWA products and more to come. They are simulations of existing locations on a map that users can follow while in the Google Earth application.

State meteorite impact structures is aimed at amateur geologists and anyone wanting more information about these impact structures. Wolfe Creek is probably our most famous impact structure!

Discovery trails to early Earth allows users to visit various element of six discovery trails across the east Pilbara, centred on Marble Bar.

Mafic–ultramafic intrusions of the Youanmi Terrane is a virtual field excursion for the experienced geologist. Each field site can be viewed in turn, or separately, and is supplemented by high-quality figures, images and illustrations that can be opened in a separate browser without detracting from the site information.

For more information about Geotourism, go to our website.

New releases

Record 2018/11 The Cryogenian Aralka Formation, Amadeus Basin: a basinwide biostratigraphic correlation
by Allen, HJ, Grey, K, Haines, PW, Edgoose, CJ and Normington, VJ

Record 2018/15 A new look at lamprophyres and sanukitoids, and their relationship to the Black Flag Group and gold prospectivity
by Smithies, RH, Lu, Y, Kirkland, CL, Cassidy, KF, Champion, DC, Sapkota, J, De Paoli, M and Burley, L

For more products, please check online at

Flashback sale — massive discounts for premium publications — while stocks last!

DMIRS is offering its premium publications backlist for a limited time with massive discounts off the original advertised price. Act now to get some huge geological bargains while stocks last!

Bulletin 145 Devonian reef complexes – current price $50 – discounted price $25
Bulletin 146 The geology of Shark Bay – current price $70 – discounted price $25
Discovery trails to early Earth – current price $25 – discounted price $15
Geology and landforms of the Perth Region – current price $22 – discounted price $11
Australia goes it alone – current price $33 – discounted price $15
A Paleozoic perspective of WA – current price $33 – discounted price $15
MRB 17 Barite and fluorite in Western AustraliaFREE
MRB 19 Kaolin in Western AustraliaFREE
MRB 20 Bentonite, attapulgite, and common clays in Western AustraliaFREE
MRB 21 Silica resources of Western AustraliaFREE
MRB 22 Tantalum in Western AustraliaFREE

To buy any of these publications, please email Shipping costs will be added to the discounted price.

Access Fieldnotes and GSWA eNewsletter

Fieldnotes is a quarterly publication (now digital only), which provides the State's exploration industry and other geoscientists with information on our latest work and ongoing programs. The publication offers updates on other products and services.

Find past issues of Fieldnotes on our website or subscribe to this eNewsletter to get the latest release.

To join our mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter, go to our website and update your own details. Please subscribe to our newsletter or unsubscribe from our newsletter.

Access GSWA products

You can download maps, reports, and digital information free of charge from our website.

Click on these links to take you to the download or launch page for that product:

Hard copies

Maps, USB data packages, and nine premium publications are available to purchase as hard copies from the eBookshop or the First Floor counter at Mineral House, 100 Plain Street, East Perth WA 6004. A new online cart and payment system is in place. Records, reports, bulletins and other non-series books cannot be purchased in hard copy but are all available as PDFs to view and download free of charge.

Contact Us

Contact Us

For information on publications, email or telephone +61 8 92223459/ fax +61 8 92223444.

For information on digital data, email the Digital Data Administrator on or telephone +61 8 9222 3816.

Mineral House
100 Plain Street
East Perth WA 6004

For more information about GSWA go to our website