Casey station: a brief history

Looking along the curved wall of the Casey tunnel building, looks like a large, long metal pipe
Casey tunnel building (Photo: Robert (Bob) Allen)
Groups of military men stand surrounded by the buildings of Wilkes station

Australia took over operation of the United States-built Wilkes Station on Clark Peninsula in January 1959, two years after it was opened.

It soon became evident that Wilkes would be buried by deepening snowdrifts which were turning to ice and threatening the structure of the buildings. As a consequence work commenced in 1964 on a replacement station called ‘Repstat’ which was located about two kilometres south of the original site on the shores of the Bailey Peninsula.

Repstat was officially opened on 19 February 1969, and renamed ‘Casey’ in honour of the Governor-General at the time, Lord Casey. He had been a staunch supporter of Australia’s fledgling Antarctic program through the 1950s and in the 1960s.

Casey was a novel concept in Antarctic stations at the time with living and sleeping quarters, and some work buildings, in a straight line and connected on the windward side by an aerodynamic corrugated iron tunnel. All were elevated on scaffolding pipe to allow the flow-through of the violent winds so common in the region.

Unfortunately, sea-spray laden winds took their toll on the Casey tunnel, causing major corrosion and expensive heat losses in its later years.

By the mid 70s, Australia’s Antarctic stations (Casey, Mawson and Davis) were becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and a major rebuilding program was planned for the 1980s. New stations were constructed with a steel frame on concrete foundations and an external skin of 100 mm thick panels of steel clad polystyrene foam.

They were designed to provide a great degree of comfort and safety, and to incorporate state-of-the-art facilities in support of the science programs. Their bold colours and heavy construction provide a substantial statement of Australia’s presence and of its future in Antarctica. The 16 buildings of the present Casey station were officially opened in December 1988.

A small section of the old station continued to be occupied, in particular the areas of upper atmospheric physics (UAP), glaciology, the plant inspector’s office, electrician’s workshop and the clothing store, and were gradually relocated. The tunnel station was decommissioned, demolished and all parts were returned to Australia by 1993.

The original Wilkes station is now largely buried. The transmitter hut (the Wilkes Hilton) remains as a field hut. Wilkes has heritage status. Removal of any material is prohibited.

The first women to visit an Australian Antarctic station as ANARE expeditioners in an official capacity were Elizabeth Chipman, Jutta Hosel and Shelagh Robinson who visited Casey station for the summer.