Bennelong map illustrates changing map technology

While undertaking a clean out of files ahead of an office move, I found this map of Bennelong’s shifting electorate boundaries.

It shows how far on-line mapping technology has come in two decades. What I once compiled with photocopied maps, sticky tape and highlighter pens, I now publish as an easy to navigate on-line tool.

I prepared the Bennelong map for the 2007 Federal election when it was clear that John Howard not only risked losing government, he also risked losing his seat. On election night both defeats memorably unfolded.

While shifting demographics was often cited as Howard’s problem, it was change compounded by constant movement west of Bennelong’s boundaries.

When John Howard first won Bennelong in 1974, his Wollstonecraft home lay at the eastern end of the electorate in North Sydney Council.

His home and the balance of North Sydney Council was removed in 1977 and Howard represented the seat for the next 30 years without living in the electorate. (I have no problem with MPs not living in their electorate and wrote a blog post and in 2020 defending the practice.)

Lane Cove Council was removed in 1993 and Hunters Hill Council in 2001. What had been a lower north shore electorate was transformed bit by bit into a Ryde Council seat. Bennelong has remained unchanged since the 2007 election.

Interestingly, the current NSW redistribution shows that the westward shift that afflicted Bennelong is now cursing neighbouring North Sydney. There is a strong possibility that North Sydney will be abolished and pull Bennelong eastwards for the first time this century. Or North Sydney will move west and push Bennelong west towards Parramatta.

But this post isn’t about Bennelong, John Howard or redistributions. It’s about the changing way we can illustrate electoral boundaries.

The above paper map was constructed from pasted together street directory pages with highlighter pens marking the boundary shifts. Locating the pre-1984 boundaries took me several visits to parliamentary libraries to find old redistribution reports and maps.

But that work pays off today with the map below from my 2022 Federal election guide. A version of this map was first used in my guide to the 2007 election.

Creating the cut and paste map paid off when a graphic artist transformed it into an animated shifting map for a 7:30 Report story on Bennelong. Seeing the boundaries shift in real time highlighted the challenge Howard faced holding Bennelong in 2007.

It was also the first time I started to use an electronic boundary format call kml. Thanks to a tool created by ABC developer Andrew Kesper, I’ve been able to compile shape-shifting kml maps for election guides since 2007. Some of the oldest boundaries I had to plot myself, but these days they can be extracted from cartographic files released by redistribution commissions.

Finding this old maps is a reminder of how far we’ve come with on-line maps.

Update – then I found the next version which I presumably gave to the graphic artist.

3 thoughts on “Bennelong map illustrates changing map technology”

  1. Thanks, most informative. AEC seems to be using the same technology to create historic maps of all federal electorates, well worth a look. The Queensland seats of Fadden and Forde have both migrated entirely from their original boundaries of 1977 and 1984.

  2. Thanks Andrew Kesper, Antony and all of the other people who worked on making electorate maps, for letting our eyes see nice shapes, showing us the electorates., instead of vague geographical words, describing the electorate to us.

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