What happened when Google Maps said my family home was a public park

Our house, marked as a park.

Our house, marked as a park.

Growing up, giving directions to get to our place was always a challenge, because the Melways just didn’t cover our little area. It was an exciting day then — after Google Maps had been around for a couple of years — when we finally got added.

But then, about two years ago, my dad looked out the window to find people having a picnic on the lawn. Then people started parking in the driveway, getting our little rowboats out on the pond, and generally just wandering around like they owned the place.

And when we invited people over they consistently drove to the wrong place, which caused particular vexation for guests at my wedding, because no one wants to walk down a near vertical hill in formal wear.

It was then that we realised that not only had our address between swapped on the map with that of our Open Garden neighbour, but that instead of our garden being listed as a private residence it was there as a park.

This was bad for us, because in spring and autumn we had dozens of people trespassing and littering. But it also couldn’t have been great for the tourists, because here they were expecting to see a beautiful garden after a long journey, and instead they were getting chased out of an overgrown backyard by a man who looks like Voldemort’s nice bogan brother.

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So, we did what Google recommends and suggested an edit to the map swapping the addresses back. Mistakes happen, and there’s an edit function for a reason.

We submitted edits at least a dozen times before eventually receiving an email saying the edit had been approved.

Six months passed, still no changes appeared, and still minivans of tourists kept having their dreams of beauty dashed.

The more I looked at the map, the more things stuck out. The numbering on the main road went 744, 383, 764, and a nearby side street had one side that went 2, blank, 19, 10.

This kind of problem isn’t just limited to our area, but is widespread across Australia outside the major cities.

The mysterious extra part of Alton road.

The mysterious extra part of Alton road.

Michael Woods in Mount Macedon, Victoria has been trying to get changes made to Alton Road. According to him, the road has accidentally had easements added as official parts of the road. “The only road that exists in the real world is a zig-zag road up the hill,” Woods explained. “The ‘shortcuts’ [on Google Maps] are powerline easements, one of which is ‘driveable’, but the other isn’t even accessible except by donkey.”

He did have some success “years ago” getting one of the powerline easements removed from the road, but the well-intentioned Google Maps engineers made a mistake with the fix. He noted that the only bit they deleted “is actually the only bit that exists as an unsealed access road. And the bit they left in just doesn’t exist at all.”

Nicole Garbutt on Facebook also pointed out that the Riddells Creek neighbourhood pin is in the middle of the lake instead of the town centre.

And plenty of other people have noted that it can take years for Google Maps to include and fix new housing estates, which often either just don’t exist, or list courts as continuing roads.

When approached for comment, Google did fix Dad’s public park problem, along with the numbers in the side street. And a Google spokesperson had this advice for people wishing to suggest edits to Google Maps:

  • The best thing to do is provide feedback directly in the map, using the report a problem tool found at the bottom-right corner of the map;
  • The various types of data found in Google Maps come from a wide range of sources, including third-party providers, public sources, and user contributions. Overall, this provides a very comprehensive and up-to-date map experience, but we recognise that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources. Users who see an error or missing place on Google Maps can use the report a problem tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map.

While they might not get it right every time, it’s still definitely worth a shot.

Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.

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