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The term ‘terrain systems mapping’ originated in the 1930s and early 1940s when the requirement was identified to classify large areas of terrain for the purposes of locating potential agricultural and economic resources, and identifying suitable sites for development in mainly undeveloped rural areas (Mitchell 1973). The view is adopted in this paper that ‘terrain’ and ‘land’ are synonymous, which follows both Christian & Stewart (1968) and Townshend (1981).

In many respects the methodology behind terrain systems mapping has not altered since one of its first significant applications came to prominence in Australia, with the publication of a series of reports summarizing terrain systems mapping of the Australian Territories (Christian & Stewart 1952). Areas up to hundreds of square kilometres were delineated in which characteristic assemblages of topography, soils and vegetation could be identified. This association is described in Cooke & Doornkamp (1990) after Stewart & Perry (1953). These authors established that the topography and soils are dependent on the nature of the underlying rocks (geology), the erosional and depositional processes that have produced the present topography (geomorphol-ogy) and the climate under which these processes have operated. Thus the land system is a scientific classification of country or landscape based on topography, soils and vegetation correlated with geology, geomor-phology and climate.

The basic good practice for developing a suite of terrain systems maps has been succinctly covered in the 1982 Engineering Group Working Party Report.

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