Cultural heritage at Casey

Wilkes station half buried in snow
Abandoned Wilkes station near Casey (Photo: Chris Wilson)
Expeditioner arriving at the Wilkes field hut having walked from Casey StationInside the Casey tunnel 1992Long corrugated iron cladded station building in stilts above the groundBlack and white image of iron cladded station building under construction

Casey, the closest of the continental stations to Australia, is 3430 km southwest of Hobart and 3837 km south of Perth. Termed the Jewel in the Crown, despite (or because of) its notorious blizzard and drift conditions and weather extremes, it is situated in an area of low rocky islands and peninsulas on the edge of the Antarctic ice cap.

The history of Casey is a complex story of three stations that evolved in the area, beginning with the US-built Wilkes Station established in the 1957–58 International Geophysical Year (IGY) and handed over to ANARE in 1959. Its deterioration under the relentless build up of snow forced Australia to abandon it for a new station a few kilometres away in 1969. The new station was named after Richard Casey, a government minister and Governor-General who had strongly supported the Australian Antarctic program since Mawson’s BANZARE expedition in 1929.

The Casey tunnel

Casey Repstat, as it was called during building, was built on a raised platform to discourage snow build up, and featured a covered walkway nicknamed ‘The Tunnel’, linking living and working areas.

Aerodynamic studies led to the design of the Casey tunnel’s particular shape. The fact that it is on stilts above the ground allowed the snow drift to clear away from underneath the building.

The curved edge of the tunnel acted as the passage way linking the various accommodation units. This structure was particularly noisy, in fact, when the wind died down, expeditioners complained that it was too quiet to sleep!

Many expeditioners had a very strong association with the Casey tunnel, and were known collectively as the ‘tunnel rats’.

Although the design worked, materials used to construct the station had limited corrosion resistance. This, together with the fact that it was built close to the sea, caused extensive corrosion limiting the life of this innovative station. The problem can still be seen today at the Wilkes ‘Hilton’ field hut at Wilkes.

In 1978 work began on the buildings of a new Casey station a kilometre away, which was commissioned in 1988.