Accessing aerial imagery in Melbourne
Here are some resources that I have found valuable for obtaining good-quality aerial imagery of Melbourne in Australia.
Eighteen years ago, Google launched Google Maps which allowed the public to access aerial imagery online for the first time. Google Maps is the go-to application for many people to acquire a readily-accessible online map, and it’s aerial imagery layer can be interesting too, but the problem is that it isn’t of particularly good quality.
There are much better alternatives out there, so here is my list of preferred services, starting with the free ones that cover the Melbourne metropolitan area in Australia. Some of these services provide a good suite of historical aerial imagery too:
- Digital Twin Victoria
- Mapshare Victoria
- Govmap and VicGrid2020
- Mapping Manningham
- City of Melbourne Maps
- Whitehorse Maps
- Melbourne 1945
- Google Earth
Digital Twin Victoria (free)
Digital Twin Victoria (DTV) is a new service from the State Government of Victoria and TerriaJS, a platform that arose out of CSIRO’s Data61 programme. There is a really nice suite of spatial data and map features that make DTV a very rich experience and amongst them are three historical aerial data sets:
- Melbourne 1998
- Melbourne 2010
- Melbourne 2021
It’s possible to zoom in quite close with all of these data sets, although the 1998 data is a little fuzzier than the others.
To access the aerial imagery, a user needs to navigate to a location of interest and then “Explore Map Data”. The three data sets are listed under 2D Imagery > Historical Aerial Imagery. There is also a “Share/Print” button that allows users to save images in PNG format.
Mapshare Victoria (free)
Mapshare is the Victorian Government’s main spatial information website and it’s quite well designed. New features are being added all of the time.
There is just one aerial imagery layer in Mapshare and it’s only of moderate resolution. It looks to have been taken around 2018-19 from my estimations, but is still quite useful.
GovMap (restricted access) and VicGrid 2020 (free)
GovMap is a service for Victorian public servants to identify parcels of government-owned land, and is therefore only open to employees of the Victorian Government (and its agencies). GovMap uses an aerial imagery layer called “VicGrid2020” which is really high-resolution and great quality.
The good news is that “VicGrid2020” is also available to view on ArcGIS for free. (So, too, is the layer from 2018-19 that is used in Mapshare Vic).
Mapping Manningham (free)
This website is a real treasure trove, but only covers suburbs in the City of Manningham municipality. The website contains aerial imagery from 1956, 1966, 1974, 1982, 1991, 1998, 2019, 2013 and 2019. The resolution is excellent, however it’s not possible to remove an overlay that shows current property boundaries.
City of Melbourne Maps (free)
The City of Melbourne’s mapping site contains aerial imagery from 1945 and January 2021. Unfortunately the website looks like it was designed twenty years ago and isn’t served over HTTPS which is poor in 2023. That said, the site is relatively easy to use and the quality of images is good.
City of Whitehorse Maps (free)
The Whitehorse Maps website is almost identical to the City of Manningham’s, but is restricted to suburbs in the City of Whitehorse. It has a slightly more expanded offering of years; 1945, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1970, 1975, 1981, 1987, 1996, 2005, 2015, 2020 and 2020. Unlike the Manningham version, Whitehorse’s allows the properties layer to be hidden. This really is a tremendous resource, and I implore other municipalities to replicate it.
Melbourne 1945 (free)
I am unsure who operates this website, but it’s main feature is a slider/partition that allows a direct comparison between 1945 aerial imagery and Google Maps’ current aerial imagery. It’s very easy to use.
Google Earth (free)
Google Earth is accessible from its website, but it’s really better as an app. Google Earth offers historical imagery going back to the 1980’s in some cases, but the resolution is often very low because it is collected from satellites and not aeroplanes.
LANDATA (pay per image)
Don’t be fooled by the clunky website; this is the bees knees. But you need to pay for images and you need to have a reasonable idea of what you’re after. These are official government aerial images and are available from the early 1930’s until about 1992.
Firstly, to access imagery you’ll need to go to the main page and click on “Central Plan Office” and then “Historic Aerial Photography – 1930s to 1990s”. Next, you’ll be shown a map of Melbourne which is peppered with coloured squares. Each colour represents a decade and each square a historical aerial image. In some cases, you can preview these, but not always.
You can place an order for images by identifying the individual squares over the area of interest. Images will be delivered as PDFs. If they have already been digitised, they’ll be available to you within 5 minutes. If not, you may need to wait up to 10 days for a human to do it for you and you will be purchasing sight-unseen. The cost (currently $16.07 per image, including GST) is the same either way.
The quality of the images is variable, as is the zoom factor. Whilst all images were taken from aeroplanes, some were taken closer to the ground than others. Images taken before the 1990’s are generally monochrome.
For reasons unknown, images taken after 1992 (and which are not accessible via the websites listed earlier) can only be purchased via a private “Data Service Provider“.
Nearmap (paid access)
When Nearmap launched in 2008, it was open access and blew Google Earth out of the water with their high-resolution aerial images captured regularly from aeroplanes. Unfortunately Nearmap closed their service to free users in 2012 but continue to offer a high-quality, regularly updated product covering all of metropolitan Melbourne.
I hope these links are helpful. Let me know if you find any more useful references!
One response to “Accessing aerial imagery in Melbourne”
What a great resource that I will no doubt use often. Thanks.