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The real reason your map is wrong

Debra Killalea

EVER wondered why your GPS has led you to a non-existent street or town?

Perhaps you’ve concluded you’re just really bad at reading maps.

Well, it turns out it might not actually be anything wrong with your sat nav or even your map reading skills.

In fact, in some cases, fake towns and streets — nicknamed paper towns or trap streets — have been put there on purpose.

While it might sound odd to go against geography, mistakes are often included as a way of protecting the cartographer’s (or map maker’s) work.

Basically, while a map itself can’t technically be subject to copyright, a person’s creative work can.

By including an obvious mistake, cartographers have room to argue their inclusion is creative — and has therefore been copied.

According to Australian street directory giant Melway, including mistakes on purpose on road directories takes place for this very reason.

Melway publishing director Murray Godfrey told  that while Melway, Sydway and Brisway Street Directories had never included a fictitious road, other map making companies certainly had.

“The reason (cartographers) do it is to try and catch people out,” he said.

“A lot of work and time goes into making maps and cartographers do see it as a form of artwork.”

Mr Godfrey, who is also a cartographer, said the only reason Melway didn’t knowingly include mistakes was due to feedback from emergency services who said they found them “confusing”.

But if someone did happen to copy the Melway Street Directory Edition 27, released in October 1999, the company would soon know about it.

If someone copied this map, something would be obvious. Picture: Melway

If someone copied this map, something would be obvious. Picture: MelwaySource:Supplied

While there wasn’t a paper town or trap street included for creativity, there was an ant which made it onto the map by pure accident.

Hang on, what?

Yep a real life ant can be found at reference 1A, A7.

According to Mr Murray, when the printers were exposing the film in a vacuum frame to make the plates for printing, an ant walked into the vacuum frame and got squashed.

It wasn’t until after the map was printed the ant was pointed out.

But it’s not just imaginary streets that can get drivers flustered; towns also seem to pop up even though they don’t really exist.

Among the best known example is the paper town or fake settlement known as Agloe, New York, a town that didn’t exist, then did exist, then didn’t again.

The general store in Agloe did exist, at least for a while. Picture: Google Maps

The general store in Agloe did exist, at least for a while. Picture: Google MapsSource:Supplied

Agloe came into existence in the 1930s after map makers placed it on a map of Delaware country, New York State.

The story goes that two map makers from the General Drafting Co, Otto G Lindberg and Ernest Alpers, created the town based on the amalgamation of their names,Mother Nature Network reports.

But some time after their map was made, the pair noticed that Agloe appeared on a map by competitor Rand McNally, which argued it got its map markers from Delaware County Records.

But in an odd twist, the town actually became a reality when a general store was built in the area 20 years later.

While the store has now closed, it is still there on Google maps.

Agloe also formed the basis for the 2008 best-selling book Paper Towns, which centres on a teenager who searches for a neighbour who goes missing.

The book was made into a film of the same name and released last year.

But the curious case of Agloe wouldn’t be the first time a map mistake had been noticed.

A fake English town called Argleton appeared on Google Maps in 2009 creating a stir among people who insisted it wasn’t there.

UK newspaper The Telegraph pointed out the error to Google, which said it would be corrected.

But a quick Google search shows the town still appears today — even if it is only a bunch of fields.

Argleton is just a bunch of fields. Picture: Google Maps

Argleton is just a bunch of fields. Picture: Google MapsSource:Supplied

Travellers and locals armed with a London A-Z may have on the odd occasion noticed something on their pocket maps that isn’t supposed to be there.

According to forum Urban 75, there are about 100 deliberate mistakes in the popular book from street names that don’t exist to suburbs and places such as Gnat’s Hill (supposedly Gant’s Hill) spelt incorrectly.

While it is not known exactly how many mistakes the guide contains, one that did gain some traction was a ski slope in Haggerston, East London.

The ski slope, which hasn’t been used in years, was included from an old edition of the A-Z according to blog The Great Wen.

Haggerston does exist, although its ski slope doesn’t.