One of the great grey nomad pleasures – poring over a crumpled map excitedly plotting the next day’s adventures – is under threat.
In the age of digital navigation where the popularity of tools such as Google maps and GPS devices has boomed, paper maps look set to follow the woolly mammoth and the dodo into oblivion.
A year or so ago, Geoscience Australia announced it had stopped printing official topographic paper maps and, with these large-scale maps only be available online.
The agency said it ended the production and sale of paper maps due to falling demand. It said the maps are used for high-level planning, rather than on-the-ground activities such as hiking and navigation.
“Over a number of years, we’ve seen a rapid decline in demand for hard copy maps and we can no longer sustain the storage, maintenance and delivery costs of our paper map services,” Dr Martine Woolf, a senior agency official, said at the time. “We believe the future of topographic maps is in providing accurate and freely available information for anyone, anywhere, to create their own maps.”
However, the move is unlikely to go down well with many grey nomads, particularly those who enjoy bushwalking. Many outdoor adventurers still use paper maps, particularly in areas that have no communications coverage, or as a backup in case they lose their phones or the phone battery runs out.
Bushwalking enthusiast, David Hardie, believes it is dangerous to enter bushland without a paper map.
“I would not want to go into wild bush that I was not familiar with without a paper map,” he told the Straits Times newspaper. “You don’t always get a good signal, especially at the bottom of gullies … you don’t always know exactly where you are.”
As grey nomads know, there are many remote areas where there is no phone coverage and no immediate place to recharge phones or GPS devices.
Geoscience Australia said its maps are available for free online and people can print paper copies.
“There are a lot of advantages to digital maps, including better access to up-to-date and reliant topographic information,” said Dr Woolf from Geoscience Australia. “We believe the future of topographic maps is in providing accurate and freely available information for anyone, anywhere to create their own maps.”
However, critics of the change say maps produced on standard home printers, often lack quality and fail to properly present small features such as creeks or the contour lines that indicate the steepness of climbs.
Spatial Services, the New South Wales agency which provides mapping services, is also reportedly cutting its range of maps, due to the popularity of digital tools.