Dr Phillip Garth Law (1912-2010)

Phil Law, circa 1956
Phil Law, circa 1956 (Photo: A. Campbell-Drury)
Raising the flag at the establishment of Mawson stationPhil Law playing accordian on Nella Dan, circa 1965Man in old fashioned diving suitPhil Law and Syd Kirkby at Phil's 90th birthday Phil Law at age 97

While Mawson’s work led directly to the establishment of Australian Antarctic Territory, it was left to Phillip Garth Law to consolidate Australia’s reputation in Antarctica after the establishment of ANARE. As a tireless promoter of Australia’s Antarctic interests, he secured substantial and ongoing national commitment to Antarctica.

In January 1949 Phillip Law was appointed Director of the Antarctic Division and leader of ANARE – a position which he was to hold for the next 17 years.

Law capitalised on the experiences of the pioneers and, with the benefit of better ships and modern technology, under his leadership ANARE achieved in a short time what would have been inconceivable to the early explorers. It was Law whose leadership led to the establishment of Mawson, the first permanent station on the continent.

By the time of Law’s retirement from the Antarctic Division in 1966 he had established an indelible record of achievement in Antarctic exploration.

  • As an Antarctic explorer, in less than 20 years Law made 28 voyages to Antarctic and subantarctic regions – most of them as expedition leader.
  • He made 28 landings at previously unvisited sites.
  • Under his direction over 5000 kilometres of AAT coastline was accurately charted for the first time.
  • He established two stations on the continent, Mawson and Davis, and took over control of Wilkes from the United States after IGY. Under his leadership, Australia administered four stations.
  • Winter parties working inland from the stations during this time extended the total area mapped to more than one million square kilometres.

The Australian Antarctic program owes a substantial debt to Phillip Law.

Our areas of operations in Antarctica and our ways of working there follow the clear lead set by him.

Australia still maintains three stations occupied year-round in the Antarctic and one on subantarctic Macquarie Island. Mawson and Davis occupy the sites originally selected by Law, while the first Casey station was opened in 1969 to replace Wilkes which became uninhabitable following inundation by snow and ice.

In 1987 Law Base, named in honour of Phillip Law, was established in the Larsemann Hills near the site where Law first landed in February 1958.

Dr Law died in Melbourne on 28 February 2010 at the age of 97.