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Australia in Antarctica
The History and Activity of Australians in Antarctica

Australia has a long and involved history in Antarctica. From the sealing and then whaling days of the 19th century through to the Heroic Age, to involvement in the International Geophysical Year, IGY to a number of modern scientific bases going back over 60 years and currently at the forefront of modern research in Antarctica.

Australia was one of the very first signatory nations of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961 and is a consultative party with voting rights able to make decisions about Antarctica.

Current activity
Research Station
and position
Summer staff Winter staff Occupied Use
Casey, Vincennes Bay, Wilkes Land
66°17.00'S, 110°31.18'E
70 20 1969 - present Year round
Davis, Princess Elizabeth Land
68°34.63'S, 077°58.35'E
70 22 1957 - present Year round
Macquarie Island, sub Antarctic
54°30' S, 158°57' E
40 16 1958 - present Year round
Mawson, Mac Robertson Land
67°36.28'S, 062°52.25'E
60 20 1954 - present Year round

Australian Current - Australian Antarctic Divivion (AAD) a government organization that has responsibility for Australia's Antarctic programme.

There is an icebreaker the RSV Aurora Australis that is used to supply the stations and conduct research in the Southern Ocean. Since 2004 flights have left from Hobart, Tasmania directly to Antarctica to transfer personnel and further supplies. Smaller aircraft and helicopters are used within Antarctica for moving between stations and reaching temporary field camps.

AAD headquarters is in Kingston, Tasmania, the budget for 2012-13 was $AUS112.8 million.

Mawson Station (Australia) from Welch Island. 5 am, December 26, 2008
Image used cutesy Bignoter at en.wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence


The Heroic Age 1900-1922

Douglas Mawson - Physicist
British Nimrod - British Antarctic Expedition - 1907-09
One of the aims of the expedition was to try and reach the South Pole, though this part did not involve Mawson and wasn't achieved. Mawson was one of a three man team to reach the Southern Geomagnetic Pole for the first time after a 1260 mile man hauled journey. He also climbed Mount Everest. On return to Australia, Mawson began planning his own Australian Antarctic Expedition turning down a place offered by captain Scott  on the Terra Nova Expedition to take place during 1910-13.

The windiest place on earthAustralian
Douglas Mawson - Aurora - Australasian Antarctic Expedition - 1911-14
Supported by the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, the expedition had ambitious aims to explore 2000 miles of coastline directly south of Australia and to set up two overwintering bases to allow inland exploration to take place using dog teams. A base was also to be established on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. The members of the expedition were almost all Australians or New Zealanders.

Unknown to Mawson at the time, they had set the main base up in one of the windiest places on earth, no-one had set foot on Antarctica along a 2000 mile stretch of coastline before they landed, so they had little idea of the conditions prior to arrival. Anything that was not tied down was blown away. When the men left the safety of the huts it was vital to be wearing crampons fitted onto the bottom of their boots so they didn't get blown over too. Through March and April the wind often gusted over 100 miles per hour and occasionally to over 200 miles per hour.

All of the sled parties that left the base suffered difficulties, though none matched the ordeal of Mawson, Metz and Ninnis that only Mawson was to survive and only just at that.

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition is today regarded as one of the greatest polar scientific expeditions of all time because of the detailed observations in magnetism, geology, biology and meteorology that were made. Mawson's own tale of survival

James Frank Hurley - Photographer
British Endurance 1914 - 17 - British Trans-Antarctica Expedition
A veteran of Mawson's expedition, Hurley was the only member of the expedition that Shackleton didn't meet or interview before the expedition set off, he was accepted on the the strength of his work with Mawson on the 1911-13 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. It is largely due to Hurley's pictures that we are able to get such a good impression of the events and that the Endurance story is still very alive and capturing people's imaginations even today.

Exploration Scientific Bases and Research after 1922

Australian November 1928 - Hubert Wilkins makes the first flight in Antarctica. A five man team with two single engined Lockheed Vega aircraft set off for Deception Island on board a whaling factory ship. The intention was to try and fly from the Peninsula region across the continent to the Ross Sea. While this wasn't possible, a number of flights were made in summers of '28, '29 and '30 that showed the possibilities of aircraft use in Antarctica including aerial photography and mapping and also the limitations.

British Australian expedition British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-31.
BANZARE - Douglas Mawson.  The French had in 1924 laid claim to Terre Adelie or Adelie Land in the sector directly south of Australia. What became popularly known as BANZARE was an attempt by (now Sir) Douglas Mawson and others in Australia to encourage the government to file a similar claim. After a meeting in London, a joint expedition was proposed, partially privately funded, it used the RRS Discovery and had a small floatplane. The expedition didn't overwinter in Antarctica but consisted of two summer cruises in 1929-30 and 1930-31, surveying and mapping by ship and from the air. Land was claimed as British territory. It led to the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

British Australian Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955 - 1958. Funded by the governments of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, this was an attempt to do what Shackleton had set out to do in 1914, to cross the Antarctic Continent from sea to sea via the South Pole. Led by the British Vivian Fuchs from the Weddell Sea and New Zealander Edmund Hilary from the Ross Sea. Hilary arrived at the Pole on the 4th of January 1958, Fuchs on the 19th, they both reached the Ross Sea again on the 2nd of March.

Territorial Claims

There is a historical claim of the Australian Antarctic Territory dating back to 1933 when it was claimed by the UK and placed under the Commonwealth of Australia.

The region is that area of Antarctica between 45°E and 160°E except for Adelie Land between 136°E and 142°E (claimed by France) and stretching as far north as 60°S, this is 42% of the Antarctic Continent.

Australia is one of seven nations that made a claim to land in Antarctica before the Antarctic Treaty of 1961, these being Argentina, Chile, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. The UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and Norway all recognize each other's claims, these are non-overlapping.

The Antarctic Treaty, Article IV § 2 states: “No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force”.

So the Antarctic Treaty does not suspend or defer existing claims, though it does state that:
  • No activities occurring after 1961 can be the basis of a territorial claim.
  • No new claim can be made.
  • No claim can be enlarged.

Practically though territorial claims have been effectively suspended since 1961.

Image used courtesy TUBS, license via Wikimedia Commons

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