The Wollongong Map

The Man Behind The Wollongong Map

Alex Pescud, the man responsible for The Wollongong Map lists his profession as a cartographer. For all you youngsters hoping to follow in Alex’s footsteps, your parents will be pleased to find out that this is, in fact, a real job and you do need some formal qualifications to pursue this unique career. Most people complete degrees in Spatial Science or Geography. Alex’s qualifications are a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Geography and his specialisation in mapping (also known as Geographic Information Systems) began with an honours thesis at UOW, supervised by Dr Sarah Hamylton, which he completed in 2012. For that project, he mapped the coral reefs of Lizard Island in The Great Barrier Reef to measure the impact of climate change on reefs.

Since then, Alex has worked in the digital mapping sphere for over a decade. Only in recent times has he transferred those skills onto paper. “I was inspired by the stunning maps that were made in the 1800s, where cartographers would sketch an intricate bird’s eye perspective of a town by hand”, he says.

“I didn’t have any formal Visual Arts background when the idea came to me. I was just really excited about the prospect of creating this legacy for my hometown, and that drove me to do my research, including honing the craft of drawing over a couple of years before starting the map.” 

The Wollongong Map. Is it a Map or is it Art?

I found myself wondering whether The Wollongong Map is more of a “map”, or a piece of art? Alex says, “I see The Wollongong Map as the intersection between science and art, made to connect people to their community.”

It is an accurate representation of Wollongong today, made by transferring the ratios of an area onto paper. And the features of the city, such as the Norfolk Island Pines, are in their exact locations. “But I also took creative licence in how I drew it, and people will view it subjectively.”

 Just like with all art, each person finds something unique in it. It sparks memories in people about where they grew up, their friends’ houses, a particular park or beach they love to visit, or where they had their weddings, and that’s the part Alex loves most about it – re-creating a community of stories. Seeing people look at the map and turn to the person they are with to say ‘Remember when…’

The Wollongong Map Lighthouse

Bringing The Wollongong Map to Life

The process of creating The Wollongong Map brought Alex and his partner, Tilly, great joy as they were able to explore and look at the city in a new light “It was amazing walking the streets and seeing Wollongong from different vantage points, looking at the different architecture, and that bringing up my own memories of growing up here.”

“My favourite part was also the most challenging part to sketch. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to draw Mount Keira and Mount Kembla. They are such a prominent part of Wollongong, and the backdrop of our town. Everywhere you look from the city, you can see the mountains, and I really wanted to capture that feeling. I wanted to show the way they poke out from the escarpment.”

Lots of work went into getting this part to turn out the way Alex had pictured in his mind. He referred to a lot of YouTube videos and art books, as well as chatting to one of his architect friends, Daniel Rivers, to get that part right, and he’s really happy with how the iconic mountain overseers turned out in the end.

“I started the map by defining the area on a large piece of paper, drawing the roads, the shoreline, and the mountain-line in first, so I had a pretty good idea of what it would look like in terms of the geographical aspects. There were some areas that involved a little more creative licence, such as adding in the boat, or the shuttle bus, and the skydivers, which are the parts that really bring the map to life. That was where some unexpected surprises came up along the way.”
(These are the parts I’m looking forward to discovering the most, the tiny details that might get missed by someone unfamiliar with The Gong. I’ve only lived here myself for 26 years, so I’m bound to learn a thing or two as I study the Wollongong Map in detail).

 Alex’s affection for the Illawarra is obvious as he describes his favourite view of the city, “I love sitting on the grass at Flagstaff Hill and looking back at the city and the escarpment. From this view, you can see all the way up to the Royal National Park and all the way down the coast. Whether it’s the morning light, mid-day sun or an orange sunset, there isn’t any other place in the world quite like it.”

I asked Alex if he had any moments where he thought it might have been too much to take on, and whether he thought of giving up anytime during the creation of this 500 plus hour masterpiece. “There was one moment that I actually did give up! I started it in the first COVID lockdown, after seeing Melinda Clarke from The Melbourne Map create a similar birds-eye map of Melbourne. I began free-drawing the map and a couple of weeks in, I realised what an immense task it was, so I cut the paper up and used it for other drawings.

 A month later I tried again, using my knowledge of digital cartography this time to divide a digital map of the city into smaller sections, creating a grid that I could refer to while drawing. Using the grid as a reference, I could then start with the main features of the city, such as the roads, one cell at a time. Breaking it into smaller steps like that kept me motivated the second time round.”

He had no idea exactly how long it would take, but after that first false start, he definitely knew he was committing to the long haul!

I’m definitely getting a “Where’s Wally” vibe from the details that Alex has included on the map. My son and I can’t wait to try and spot our house! You might see something new every time you look at the drawing closely. “Where’s Wally is a great way to look at it, with little surprises to find along the way. There’s lots of small details in there that you would only find if you were looking really closely at that specific area.”

The Wollongong Map art

Launching The Wollongong Map

The official launch of The Wollongong Map takes place on 22nd June 2023 at the Bad News Gallery. The launch will show behind the scenes insights into the making of the map, with photos and stories of the process. People will get to see the original map, on the original make-shift easel Alex sketched it on.

 As a special feature of the evening The Wollongong Map will also be running a silent auction of an one off edition of the map with a 24-carat gold title. All proceeds are going to Black Dog Institute, a charity that means a lot to Alex and Tilly.

 “It should be an exciting night with a good crowd of people, celebrating the community and the places that we all love. Everyone is invited, and we are looking forward to meeting many fellow Gong-lovers on the night.”

Tilly Kidd, Alex’s partner, has been a crucial piece of the puzzle getting The Wollongong Map to come together. “During the drawing process she would motivate me to keep going. She would always give wise words of encouragement. After the map was drawn and scanned in, Tilly’s involvement shone. She started the marketing campaigns, and in a creative way brought the story of the map to life.”

The couple had some great times filming videos and having many laughs along the way. They especially enjoyed exploring the walks around Mount Keira. Make sure you keep up to date with their socials, they’ll be sure to keep a smile on your dial. 

What’s Next for The Wollongong Map?

Wondering what’s next for the Wollongong Map? “We are currently working on an activity book for kids that includes features of the map they can refer to while exploring and identify them in the city. Tilly, who has a background in teaching, has designed interactive activities for kids to complete while walking the Blue Mile with their family. It will be an excellent opportunity for children to engage with Geography in a fun way to spend some time outdoors connecting with their community.” 

The pair are aiming to start selling puzzles of the Wollongong Map in the near future. To make sure you don’t miss out on the puzzle’s release date, make sure you sign up to their email list. I can’t wait to see what other merch ideas The Wollongong Map will feature on next. The domestic goddess in me has my fingers crossed hoping for an oversize tea towel or maybe even an ironing board cover…

Since the completion of The Wollongong Map, Alex has lots of spare time on his hands. He’s currently looking at all the blank pieces of paper in his sketchbook. The prospect of the next map is tempting… very tempting. The only question is, which city will be next?