Honorary Doctorate To Be Conferred on William Roberston

  • 02 December 2019

Honorary Doctorate To Be Conferred on William Roberston

William Robertson ONZM

Source: University of Otago Media Release

William (Bill) Robertson ONZM (Ngai Tahu) is to be conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Science by the University of Otago for his extraordinary contributions to the surveying profession over a 66-year career.

Mr Robertson’s work has had influence and implications worldwide, including his pivotal role in identifying and planning many of Aotearoa’s National Parks and coastal reserves.

Beginning his career with the Lands and Survey Department in 1954, Mr Robertson worked across New Zealand’s backcountry, in Antarctica, and later across the world on disputed border issues and land administration projects.

In the following decades, he used his combination of surveying and planning skills to identify high-value landscapes for environmental preservation across New Zealand.

During the mid-1980s Mr Robertson helped establish Otago’s School of Surveying Bachelor of Measurement degree and implemented funding from the Lands & Survey Department and NZ Institute of Surveyors for a computer laboratory.

Professor Christina Hulbe, current Head of the School of Surveying, says Mr Robertson’s support came at an important time in the development of the School and for the profession. That support continued as the School grew.

Mr Robertson says that through his career the intellectual value brought by the School of Surveying to the surveying profession has been particularly evident.

“Through the quality of its graduates, the Surveying School has done a tremendous job in bringing the profession to the leading edge of surveying and spatial applications and has adapted and aligned its courses to changing needs, new technology and international trends very effectively.”

Appointed as Surveyor General and Director General of the Department of Survey and Land Information (DoSLI) in 1987, Mr Robertson oversaw its transition to digital technology and achieved a level of operational efficiency previously unseen in any other western world survey and mapping organisation.

Following his time at DoSLI, he became a highly respected expert consultant, and was involved in the demarcation of five international boundaries in Africa and Asia. He also served as an expert advisor for Land Administration Projects for the World Bank, FAO, AusAID and NZAID in Asia, Africa, the Pacific and Albania.

“Surveyors trained at Otago are recognised as having a wide range of education and skills necessary to undertake difficult operational and strategic tasks in countries all around the world for the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Permanent Court of Arbitration and other International Development and Aid Agencies,” he says.

Mr Robertson’s depth of knowledge on land tenure and rights has also been highly valued in New Zealand, and he is a long-standing advocate for this country’s involvement in Pacific development.

During his time as Chair of the New Zealand Geographic Board, Mr Robertson was part of a collaborative effort to ensure location names reflected their bicultural heritage. He also was instrumental in both the New Zealand publication of the official country names map of the world, and part of a collaboration to compile the first official local geographical names for South East Asia and the Pacific for the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographic Names.

Professor Hulbe says throughout Mr Robertson’s life and surveying career he has consistently shown how much he cares about human development and its connection with the land and its history.

To be recognised with the honorary doctorate by the only University-based Surveying School in New Zealand is a “great honour” says Mr Robertson.

“I wish to sincerely thank the University of Otago for this prestigious recognition and for its generosity in awarding me an Honorary Doctorate of Science in this special celebratory 150th year.”

Read the full University of Otago Media Release.