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Geometer Dreams by Peter Byrne

A review by Michael D. Breen, January 2023

In Geometer Dreams Peter Byrne showcases landmarks and trig points of a distin-guished forty year career as a geometer. He eschews the title ‘surveyor’. ‘Surveyors, having so much difficulty in defining themselves, should not be surprised that their profession, its wide scope, its importance, is not commonly understood’.

The author recognises that readers may be misled by their preconceptions of ‘surveyors’. Men with tripods on the pavement looking at other men with long white calibrated sticks. So Byrne uses the term Geometer whom he observes in the third person.

At the conclusion of the hundred vignettes the reader is so much the wiser even if a constraining definition remains elusive.

Peter Byrne is ‘old school’ in spirit and appreciation. Though he is happy to embrace and master new technology as it arrives. Nonetheless he is happy to val-ue rather than spurn the old such as a wheelbarrow or World War 1 heliograph, four cylinder Land Rover, The Curta Calculator or Tellurometers.

Like the cabinetmakers who mastered hand tools and moved to electric tops or the artist who mastered sketching before oil painting the author’s career saw small and large changes which reduced the arduous field labours and improved ac-curacy. Devices in the right hands of course.

The dreams move from cadet journeyman to master practitioner and busi-nessman to standard bearer for the profession and for professionalism with the In-stitution of Surveyors, federally and The International Federation of Surveyors. Then a turn into mediation and dispute resolution where he surveyed and un-earthed vectors and connections of people stuck in conflict and inaction.

So what is the spirit the elan vital the underlying driving force linking the ad-ventures, jobs, trips, challenges, appointments and leaps of this geometer? Leonardo, or was it Einstein, said that genius is mostly in observation. And our greatest preventer of observing or learning is what we know; what we believe to be the truth about the way things are. The Geometer is an ongoing lifelong learner. And you can feel his delight when he achieves a new learning. This requires courage, civil courage and ego management. Changing bear-ings and direction requires the bereavement of banning the familiar and embracing, often uncertainly at first, what was anathema. It is challenging. It is uncomfortable and then liberating. The Geometer’s learning and explorations often were presented by peers, clients, and opponents. So from a swamp of confusion, progress in geometer dreaming moves to as absolute a precautionary accuracy as humans can produce. That is a map. The Swedes have a Museum of Failures, established as a source of learning. The Geometer often slows things down to learn rather than hurry up to avoid shame and keep ‘looking forward.’ Without escaping the discomfort and anxiety the Geometer accepts a second opinion with a wry smile and a good grace. Not easy when dealing with anxious, bullying or greedy clients and organisations. The Geometer is smart and witty. His humour is like a Zen Koan which breaks through situations to reveal a new, an enlivening viewpoint. He only just evades the label ‘smart arse’ by being able to give grin and take. In Australian and international professional bodies the Geometer led con-servative forces to change with the times meshing with other bodies in the land-scape.

Meeting the characters in the stories and in the bibliographical notes the Ge-ographer presents those with whom he shares his path. You see whom he valued, respected and befriended. They edified (built) one another.Their dates of birth and death show that not many are still going.

This is an historical document. So what function might this almost quirky compendium perform? War stories register? Nostalgia? Celebrating less visible professionals of one man and his ma-tes? Were I as an educator asked to prescribe essential reading for students of sur-veying and kindred vocations such as engineering, town planning, architecture etc I would set Geometer Dreams as a readable potent and humane handbook on pro-fessional practice of an essential service.

Michael D. Breen organisational psychologist consultant to AAM, the Institution of Surveyors and The Association of Consulting Surveyors and a State Surveyor General.

Geometer Dreams
ISBN 978 0 6454783 0 0
Available from Rabble Books and Games
AUD 35 plus postage