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Lambert, Bruce Phillip (1912–1990)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Bruce Philip Lambert (1912-1990), surveyor and public servant, was born on 12 February 1912 at Gosnells, Western Australia, eldest of six children of London-born William John Lambert, valuer, and his Sydney-born wife Ethel Isabella, née Edwards.  The family moved to Melbourne in 1920 and Bruce attended state schools at Caulfield, Wesley College, and the Working Men’s College, where he completed a diploma of civil engineering.  He served articles (1932-36) under J. G. Gillespie, qualifying as a licensed surveyor and winning the Victorian Institute of Surveyors’ prize.  From 1936 he was employed successively with the Victorian Titles Office, the State Electricity Commission, and the Melbourne City Council.  On 25 February 1939 at the Methodist Church, Elsternwick, he married Gwendoline Catherine Carmichael, a dressmaker.

Having served in the Australian Garrison Artillery, Militia, from 1930, Lambert was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1934.  In May 1940 he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and next month joined the 2/1st Australian (Corps) Field Survey Company—he was the only officer of the unit not from the regular army.  The company was dispatched in February 1941 to the Middle East, where Lambert worked on mapping in northern Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria.  He returned to Australia in March 1942 and in October, as a captain, raised the 6th Army Topographical Survey Company at Colac, Victoria.  Twelve months later he was promoted to major and sent to Port Moresby in command of the 2/1st Army Topographical Survey Company.  From January 1944 he oversaw map production at Advanced Land Headquarters then in June he became assistant director of survey, I Corps.  Based at Morotai, Netherlands East Indies, in April-September 1945, he ensured that maps were available for the landings on Borneo in May-June.  He relinquished his AIF appointment in Australia on 13 October.

Next year Lambert was appointed deputy-director of national mapping in the Department of the Interior, working under the Commonwealth surveyor-general.  During 1951 he became director of the National Mapping Office (later the division of national mapping within the Department of National Development) and chairman of the National Mapping Council (1951-77).  He oversaw the completion of a program to publish planimetric maps of Australia at 1:250,000 scale and from 1965 undertook a follow-on project to produce a contoured series at 1:100,000 scale.  National geodetic and levelling surveys were also completed in 1965 and 1971.

In 1961 Lambert had become secretary of the cartographic working group of the special (later scientific) committee on Antarctic research; four years earlier the Lambert Glacier in the Prince Charles mountains of Eastern Antarctica had been named in his honour.  From 1970 his division also mapped the Australian continental shelf.  Heavily involved (1964-72) in the border survey of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya (West Papua), in 1978 he denounced the Australian government’s moves to divide the Torres Strait seabed between Australia and Papua New Guinea against the wishes of local islanders.  In 1970, 1973 and 1977 he led Australia’s delegation to the United Nations’ (Regional) Cartographic Conference for Asia and the Far East.  He retired in 1977.

Appointed OBE in 1970, he was awarded an honorary D.Sc. by the University of New South Wales in 1977, and made an honorary fellow of the Australian Institute of Cartographers (1977) and of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia (1988).  He was executive director of the Australian Academy of Science committee that organised the XVII General Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, held in Canberra in 1979.  In 1979-83 he represented the IUGG at the UN cartographic office and was a consultant (1980-81) to a UN mapping project in the Philippines.  A major shelf valley, lying off the north-west coast of Australia, was named for him in 1986. He was awarded in 1988 both the Australian Institute of Cartographers’ inaugural gold medal and the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia’s G. P. Thompson Foundation medal.  In that year the centre of gravity of Australia, near Kulgera, Northern Territory, was named the Lambert Gravitational Centre.

Lambert’s interests included Rotary, golf, lawn bowls, and gardening.  In later years, he developed motor neurone disease.  Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died on 2 April 1990 in Canberra and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. McCarthy, Mapmakers of Australia, 1988
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, Australia’s Military Map-makers, 2000
  • Canberra Times, 25 January 1978, p 23
  • Australian Surveyor, February 1988, p 423
  • Australian Surveyor, June 1990, p 200
  • Cartography, December 1988, p 56
  • B. Goodrich, taped interview with B. Lambert (National Library of Australia, 1989)
  • B883, item VX20986 (National Archives of Australia)
  • B4747, item Lambert-Bruce Philip (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Lambert, Bruce Phillip (1912–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lambert-bruce-phillip-14069/text25046, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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