FIG and Me

My Twenty Five Years in the International Surveying Arena - Earl James


Earl James, FIG Honorary President


This publication as a .pdf-file (155 pages - 2.0Mb)



As the President of FIG, I am privileged to announce the release of the publication “FIG and Me – My Twenty Five Years in the International Surveying Arena” written by Earl James, FIG Honorary President. This book provides an insight into Earl’s international surveying accomplishments, and a unique perspective of the FIG workings, achievements, and challenges experienced by our establishment, during the period 1988 – 1996. Back then FIG Council and Office was known as the “Bureau”, and from 1988 Earl served as a Vice President with the Finnish Bureau for four years, and then as FIG President of the Australian Bureau, who hosted the XX International Survey Congress held in Melbourne in 1994.

For those who do not know, Earl is an Australian icon of surveying, and is recognised and respected as a survey pioneer of the Northern Territory of Australia. For 44 years Earl worked as a professional surveyor, starting as an “outback” cadet surveyor with the Lands and Survey Department, progressing to a Senior Licensed Surveyor in government, and then establishing a reputable and successful private business in the Northern Territory. Earl in the course of his professional career surveyed numerous property land boundaries in pastoral, rural, and urban environs, he mentored many surveyors or land related professionals, and contributed to the growth of the Northern Territory through his expertise as a Planner and the Chairing of numerous land development Boards. Both the surveying and planning profession have honoured Earl with the accolade of “Honorary Fellowship”, and the Australian Government have recognised his service to industry by appointing Earl as a Member of the Order of Australia.

Many of those who know Earl, always recount his eloquent speeches, his strategic thinking, and plans for FIG, which when combined help shape the foundations of the organisation that we know today. It is therefore a great pleasure and honour for me to write this foreword and for FIG to be part of this publication. I sincerely hope that FIG members enjoy reading this personal record from a Northern Territory of Australia outback surveyor who visited over 50 countries whilst leading the way.

In the name of the International Federation of Surveyors I thank Earl for his outstanding engagement for our profession, for his activities in the name of FIG, and also for his wonderful memories.

Rudolf Staiger
President (2019–2022)


Surveying is a pastime enjoyed (or endured) by many, many people who carry out a host of different occupations; occupations that could range from the simple task of polling people with a question of political significance to the complicated and highly skilled task of measuring the shape and size of the earth.

In some countries the term ‘surveyor’ is used to refer to those who carry out surveys such as those required to define property boundaries or the surveys needed to control the construction of bridges, roads, multi-storied buildings and other structures but in other countries the term is also used to cover those who simply collect information and use it to come to a specific conclusion such as the determination of the value of a property, or how best to design a new suburb, or the production of a particular map.

Surveyors have been around for a long time. Evidence of this can be seen in such ancient works as the three thousand year old map recently found stencilled into the rocks of Italy’s mountains. Ancient art depicts surveyors using crude tapes and other measuring implements while the rectilinear layout of most excavated lost cities is enough to convince even the casual observer that surveying is a very ancient art. Indeed, surveying is often referred to as the world’s first, or oldest profession though this is hotly contested by the military. Even so, military ranks always have contained surveyors though they were referred to as engineers. Roman military surveyors two thousand years ago were famous for their long straight roads and the symmetry of their military encampments.

The International Federation of Surveyors defines a surveyor as, among other things, ‘a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to practise the science of measurement’. I am a surveyor. I have worked both as a government employed surveyor and as a private practicing surveyor for the best part of forty six years in the Northern Territory of Australia. During that time I took a great interest in the politics of the profession to the extent that over the years I progressed from being an associate member of the Institution of Surveyors Australia (ISA), to national President of that Institution thence to Vice President of the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), then to President of that federation and finally to President of the International Union for Surveys and Mapping (IUSM). This is the story of my involvement with the Féderation Internationale des Géomètres (FIG).

NOTE: For list of acronyms see Glossary.


18 July 1878 – 1st Congress and Founding of Féderation Internationale des Géomètres (FIG) in Paris (France)

On 18 July 1878 a select band of representatives from the professional surveying associations of seven European countries met in Paris, France at the instigation of the associations from France and Belgium. The objective of the meeting was to find a mechanism by which those associations could exchange information about the profession and changes in work practice as well as news about developments in research and exploits of individual surveyors. The end result of the meeting was the formation of the Fédération Internationale des Géomètres otherwise known as Internationale Vereinigung Der Vermessungsingenieure or the International Federation of Surveyors. The Federation was founded as a non-governmental organisation and its purpose was described as being ‘to support international collaboration for the purpose of surveying in all fields and applications’.

The member countries of this fledgling organisation were France, Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. As the people in the majority of those countries spoke either French, German or English the meeting agreed that all three of those languages should be official languages of the Federation and that the shortened version of the name should be FIG, the initials of the French version of the name. The organisation has been known by all and sundry as FIG until the present day and no doubt will continue to be so known. The decision to have three official languages required all documents to be recorded in three versions and for conferences to have simultaneous translation facilities. This was not overturned until 1995.

The newly created federation was formed with four principal units: a General Assembly of member associations; a Permanent Committee; a number of Technical & Scientific Commissions and an executive committee known as the Bureau. This structure remained in place until 1998. The definition of a surveyor was fairly simple but was stated to include appraisers and valuers. This definition was too simple for most people and was to remain a bone of contention until a new all-inclusive definition was agreed to in 1991.

This meeting in 1878 was taken to be the 1st Congress of FIG. The next congress was held in Brussels in 1910 and the 3rd Congress was held once again in Paris in 1926 having been disrupted by World War One and the tumultuous events in Europe after that event. Thereafter some regularity appeared with congresses taking place every three or four years except during the years of World War II. Membership grew apace but all member associations came from European countries until the United States became a member country in 1935. The first congress to be held outside Europe was held in Washington, USA in 1974 and the first to be held in any country other than one in Europe or the USA was held in 1994 in Melbourne, Australia.

The Institution of Surveyors, Australia (ISA) first sent a delegation of observers to an FIG Congress in 1962 when the 10th Congress was being held in Vienna, Austria after which the Council of the Institution considered the possibility of becoming a member of the Federation. The matter was put to the general membership who agreed to the idea and in 1965 the Council of ISA lodged a formal application for membership which was considered by the General Assembly of FIG at the 11th Congress held in Rome that year. The application was successful. The Institution of Surveyors, Australia thus became the first Australian association to become a member of FIG. The Australian Institute of Valuers became a member in 1970 but resigned from the Federation in 1983.

ISA continued to be a member of FIG and had a significant impact on that organisation. Administration of the Federation was in the hands of the Australian Institution during the four year period 1992 to 1995 during which time Bureau members were successful in achieving great changes to the structure of the organisation and to policy matters. I became involved in 1971 and went on to become the President of the Federation for the period of the Australian administration.

 Read the full FIG Publication 75 in pdf

Book 1: 1972 to 1992
Book 2: 1992 to 1995
Book 3: Epilogue - 1996 to 2010

Copyright © The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG),  May 2020.

All rights reserved.

International Federation of Surveyors (FIG)
Kalvebod Brygge 31–33
DK-1780 Copenhagen V
Tel. + 45 38 86 10 81

Published in English
Copenhagen, Denmark
ISSN 1018-6530 (printed)
ISSN 2311-8423 (pdf)
ISBN 978-87-92853-94-3 (print)
ISBN 978-87-92853-95-0 (pdf)

Published by
International Federation of Surveyors (FIG)
Layout: Lagarto


FIG and Me
Earl James
Published in English
Published by The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), May 2020, Copenhagen, Denmark
ISSN 1018-6530 (printed)
ISSN 2311-8423 (pdf)
ISBN 978-87-92853-94-3 (printed)
ISBN 978-87-92853-95-0 (pdf)