Students enter the world of Australian Antarctic expeditioners

Monday 21 June, 2004

Students visiting the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) schools displays in Hobart's Salamanca Square this week will get a great feel for the kind of gear that expeditioners need to work and survive in the extreme conditions of Antarctica.

Camps will be set up to closely resemble those used by AAD people who travel south. Students can see inside the shelters expeditioners sleep and work in when out on field trips, clamber over snow vehicles used to travel over the frozen and difficult Antarctic terrain, talk through hand-held communication devices and try on the special clothing our people wear to keep out the cold.

Some people find it surprising that the tents we use in field camps today are much the same design used by the explorers early last century, although modern fabrics are used now.

Early explorers to Antarctica used very different methods to travel over the snow and ice. Britain's Robert Scott and his party used man-hauling sleds to the South Pole only to perish on the way back to their main base. Australia's Douglas Mawson used dog teams to haul sleds on the ill-fated southern journey where his two companions Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis and Doctor Xavier Mertz lost their lives.

Things have come a long way since then. Today the Australian Antarctic Division uses modern polar vehicles such as articulated Hagglunds which are specially designed for the tricky land conditions in Antarctica. This amazing vehicle can carry five people with gear and even operate in water if it breaks though the ice.

Communications are a vital part of survival in Antarctica. In particular, expeditioners who work away from the stations must be able to make contact or be contacted when the need arises. Circumstances can change very quickly so it's essential that communications are reliable. Today's communications are very sophisticated compared with the early days when an occasional coded telex or an HF radio call once in a while was the best you could hope for. These days expeditioners can email and phone family and friends from Antarctica.

The AAD's communications display will include everything from two-way radios to satellite phones and solar-powered systems that will intrigue the technically minded.

Antarctic conditions require specially-designed clothing to cope with severe cold to minus 40°C and biting winds that regularly gust to around 200 kph during blizzards. The AAD has a specialist clothing store to cater for the 300 or so expeditioners who head south every season. It's not enough just to keep out the cold, people must also be able to stay warm enough to work in conditions that can freeze flesh within minutes. Students are encouraged to try on the freezer suits, balaclavas and huge mittens worn in Antarctica.

Australian Antarctic Division experts will guide students through this comprehensive school display with an emphasis on fun and learning.