Davis station: a brief history

Group of men posing beside flag and buildings at Davis
Australia's Davis station was officially established on January 13, 1957.
First Davis expeditioners in front of a basic hutThe moon rises behind Davis, 2010New living quarters at Davis, 2010Radio operator Alan Hawker at Davis in 1957.

Davis station is situated on the coast of the ice-free Vestfold Hills, a region explored by Australia’s Douglas Mawson during the British, Australian, New Zealand Antarctic Expedition (BANZARE) 1929-1931.

There is some uncertainty about who first sighted the coastline at the Amery Ice Shelf where Davis station is located. During the BANZARE expedition in January 1931, Mawson conducted aerial reconnaissance in this region.

Around the same time, ships from the Norwegian whaling company owned by the shipping magnate Lars Christensen were active in the area. Many place names around Davis, including the Vestfold and Larsemann Hills and Prydz Bay, were named by the whalers. The Ingrid Christensen Coast was named by whalers after the shipowner’s wife.

In February 1935, one of the Norwegian captains, Klarius Mikkelsen landed the ship Thorshavn in a small bay in the northern part of the coast. He named the region ‘Vestfold Hills’ because of its resemblance to the Norwegian province of Vestfold. Mikkelsen was accompanied by the crew and his wife, Caroline, the first woman to land on the Antarctic continent. In her honour, Mikkelsens Cairn on Tryne Island is now listed as a heritage site under the Antarctic Treaty.

In January 1939, the American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth visited the region in his ship Wyatt Earp. Nine years later, the Wyatt Earp would become the first ANARE ship to enter Antarctic seas. Accompanying Ellsworth was an Australian, Hubert Wilkins. Over several days Wilkins flew the Aeronca seaplane to various visiting sites including Svenner Islands, Rauer Islands, and Vestfold Hills. Motivated to reinforce Douglas Mawson's BANZARE claim in this territory, Wilkins deposited a proclamation and an Australian flag at various sites. On 11 January 1939, Wilkins visited a site in the northern Vestfold Hills. He wrapped his handwritten proclamation in a copy of Walkabout magazine, protected by two enamel coffee jugs placed end-to-end to form a cylinder. This site was named ‘Walkabout Rocks’.

Phillip Law, first director of the Australian Antarctic Division, used Wilkins' information to determine a location for a new Australian Antarctic station. In early 1954, Law visited en route from the recently established Mawson station. After a few years of planning, in January 1957 Law led a voyage to establish Davis station. After two days on the Kista Dan searching for a good anchorage and fresh water sources, Law decided to locate the station on a small rocky plateau above a black sandy beach.

On 14 January, a small ceremony was held to officially open the new station. It was named after Antarctic legend, John King Davis, captain of the ships Aurora (1911–14) and Discovery (1929–31) – used by Douglas Mawson on his expeditions.

After the ceremony, unloading continued and the Kista Dan sailed on 20 January. Later in the season, the ship made a return visit to Davis to drop off sledge dogs.

Expeditioners devoted the first two years to gathering basic knowledge about the Vestfold Hills and developing essential station services. However, the first party to winter in the Vestfold Hills was not completely isolated. Auster aircraft flew between Mawson and Davis several times to exchange personnel and supplies.

In January 1965, Davis was temporarily closed to concentrate resources on building Casey station. Davis was reopened on the 15th February, 1969 and has operated continuously since.