About the Cadastre and Cadastral Surveys

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What is a cadastre? 

A cada​​stre is a parcel based record of interests in land.  Traditionally they were a register of ownership developed ​​​to support land administration, including conveyancing and taxation, with the extent of ownership indicated by maps.  A modern cadastral system is a far more extensive land informa​tion system, where the traditional parcel based cadastre supports a large range of land related dealings and interests including in land use planning, sustainable development and environmental protection, emergency management, transport logis​tics, demographics and ​health.​  

The Australian cadastral system is described by the Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM) in its strategy publication, Cadastre 2034: Powering Land and Real Property, as the system that :

   Cadastre 2034 Powering Land and Real Property

​"....defines and records the location and extent of property rights, ​​restrictions and responsibilities. It includes a geometric description of land and real property boundaries .... linked to other records describing the nature of interests, the ownership or control of those interests, and often the value of the parcel and its improvements."

Real proper​​ty and tenure

​The concept of land ownership varies across the globe and the way in which land is held ​or​ owned is known as land tenure​. The  ​phrase "real property" is used when discussing land and la​nd ownership​. Real property refers to interests in land an​d things attached to it​ i.e. property that is fixed and immovable as opposed to personal property, such as 'goods and chattels', that can be moved.

Most private ​land in Tasmania is now held under the Torrens system of land tenure. This system is named after Sir Robert Torrens who is credited with developing and first implementing the system in South Australia's Real Pro​perty Act 1858​. The other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand introduced their own versions of this act - Tasmania enacted The Real Property Act in 1862 - which​ has resulted in the phrase "real property" becoming synonomous with the Torrens system of land tenure in these jurisdictions​.​​ ​​

Under the Torrens system the cadastral register is regarded as conclusive evidence of current ownership and interests about a person's parcel of land, with the government effectively guaranteeing the register entries are correct​.  Within Tasmania​ the recordings on a Torrens title are guaranteed by the Recorder of Titles under the Land Titles Act 1980​. However, it is crucial to note that the boundaries of land described in a title or shown on a title plan indicating the extent of a parcel ARE NOT subject to that same guarantee. ​​​​

Australia and New Zealand both inherited the system of ​​​"common law" from England, a uniform system of law based upon pre​vious decisions or precedents developed by judges applying the Kings justice over the centuries. Under common law the unequivocal location of a property, or cadastral, boundary can only be determined by a court of law. In practice, there are very few occasions where a court has been required to determine a cadastral boundary location in Australia or New Zealand due to the ​long standing statutory role ​of land surveyors​ in physical property boundary creation and identification​.

What is ​​​​​cadastral or land ​surveying?

A land tenure system that provides for private real property rights and interests requires the system to support the establis​​hment and​ recognition of cadastral boundaries in a physical form i.e. while the interests in a parcel of land are suited to being documented and confirmed as authorative by entry into a register the extent of those interests, or their boundaries, requires some physical or visible presence on the ground to be useful to the holders of those rights​.  

​Plan of actual survey in New Town from 1855 ​

Australia and New Zealand required a whole new boundary framework to be established across the landscape in support of these private property rights and very few of those boundaries are defined by natural features like rivers or cliffs. The vast majority of these property boundaries are "artificial" in that they require humans to "define" their position using some other method and be described accordingly. Typically this has meant locations of boundaries are indicated on the ground by a monument or mark and the most common method for describing the physical locations of those marks is by measur​ed directions and distances on plan drawn by a land surveyor. The human element of artificial boundary marking, coupled​ with the fact no survey measurement is ever error free and most monuments are not permanent, means a state guarantee of boundary locations described in a surveyors ​plan isn't practical.  

​​Boundary creation is a legal process

Boundary creation is ​a legal process rather than a measurement or mathematical one. That is, boundaries are created when parties to a legal dealing, such as a transfer, execute the dealing and boundary locations reflect all available evidence as to the intent of the parties. ​ 

Land surveyors act​ in a quasi-judicial fashion​ ​and endeavour to emulate the deci​sion making process a court would apply in determining the location of a previously established  property boundary. Fundamentally, where there is doubt or conflicting evidence as to the location of a boundary a surveyor is obliged to consider the totality of evidence available - the determination does not simply reflect the dimensions recorded on a survey plan, and dimensions are often not​ the highest priority evidence used in the interpretation of the location of a property boundary. In endeavour​ing to emulate the courts a land surveyors overarching professional responsibility is to the cadastral system and the cadastral boundary fabric. While a land surveyor has ​a ​responsibilty to meet the needs of their immediate client this ​service must be provided whilst respecting the rights of all parties with an interest in the land including adjoining owners - current and future - and the Crown. 

​Who is permitted to sur​vey and depict the location of boundaries​?

The combination of specialised legal knowledge - inclusive of common law precedents and statutory requirements - together with measurement skills associated with the determination of cadastral boundaries in the physical world has resulted in the practice of boundary surveying being regulated in Australia and New Zealand ​i.e a system of state approved land surveys and land surveyors applies.   Since the 19th century​ only "authorised" or "registered" land surveyors have been legally entitled to interpret, re-define, mark or document the location of property boundaries​ in a​ survey of land granted by the Crown or held under the Torrens system​. 

A survey​or listed in the Register of Surveyors​ with the Land competency is the only person authorised to undertake cadastral surveys in Tasmania. This restriction applies to any survey which depicts the location of a boundary or other legal interest in real property (e.g. an easement). That is, any document or plan - in electronic or hard copy form - that shows the result of a survey which includes the location of boundaries in relation to site features must only be prepared by a registered land surveyor or by someone under their close supervision.  Determining, for fee or reward, whether improvements such as buildings and fences are, or are not, within boundaries of land is also restricted to individuals who are registered land surveyors.  

​​​​Cadastral plans, cadastral maps and digital boundary data

Example of current cadastral survey plan

A cadastral plan is simply a description in pictorial form that is intended to describe what happened on the ground at the time boundaries of estates and interests in land were created. Historically, that plan would sometimes be created from a purely verbal description (f​or example "..then fro​​m the bank of the creek along the fence to​the road....") but generally in Tasmania a cadastral plan ​supporting the description of the location and extent of interests included in the Torrens register has been derived from a field survey by a registered land surveyor where corner marks were actually placed.  

At common law​, where interests in land are described by reference to a cadastral plan it is treated as though it is actually part of the description and so the plan and the information in it has legal effect i.e. it is a legal document.  However, as noted previously a plan is not necessarily definitive as to the on-ground location of cadastral boundaries.

​Traditionally, cadastral plans were collated into paper cadastral maps with the primary purpose being to show parcels as they relate to one another for use in land administration - in other words an index of the surveys and parcels. It follows that cadastral maps had no purpose in relation to definitively describing the location of property boundaries. The emergence of the digital age has meant that instead of paper maps being used for this purpose the data is now represented in the digital environment and this Land Parcel and Property dataset​, commonly referred to as the digital cadastral database or more recently as the spatial cadastre​, ​is a fundamental component of a modern, integrated land and property information system. ​   

 ​Historic Cadastral Map of New Town

​​Tasmanian cadastral parcels on the LIST

The LIST​ is Tasmania's integrated land and property information system. It enables both easy public access to property information and the indicative location of land boundaries via the Cadastral Parcels​ layer​ on LISTmap. This and other overlays displayed over topographical maps or aerial imagery provide a wealth of spatial context that adds value in land administration.  However, it is extremely important to remember that this layer is effectively only a digital version of a cadastral map and ​the same limitations apply to it as applies to cadastral maps in relation to indicating the absolute location of cadastral boundaries.  

A description of those limitations is available h​​ere​.

​Screenshot of some LISTmap cadastral layers plotted with the original cadastral map of New Town

Remember: boundary creation is ​​primarily a legal process and only a land survey​or listed in the Regis​ter of Surveyors​​ is authorised to survey ​the location of a property boundary in Tasmania. ​​


Office of the Surveyor General

134 Macquarie Street,
HOBART, TAS, 7000.