Women on the icy frontier

PhD student Madi Gamble Rosevear holding an ice core on the Totten Glacier, near Australia's Casey research station
PhD student Madi Gamble Rosevear on the Totten Glacier, near Australia's Casey research station (Photo: Ben Galton-Fenzi)
Former Station Leader, Kat Panjari, at Australia's Mawson research stationPenguin biologist, Dr Barbara Wienecke, near an Emperor penguin colony in AntarcticaStation Supply Officer, Jen Proudfoot, lying on a frozen freshwater lake, in the Vestfold Hills near Australia's Davis research stationFormer Macquarie Island Station Leader, Jacque Comery

The Australian Antarctic Division is aiming to improve gender balance on the ice, encouraging more tradeswomen to apply for positions down south.

On International Women’s Day the Australian Antarctic Division is attending a two-day Tradeswomen Australia Conference in Brisbane.

The Division’s Human Resources Manager Andrew Groom said about 25 percent of the people who travelled south with the Australian Antarctic Program this summer were women.

“Women are central to Australia’s Antarctic endeavours and we really want our stations to better reflect the gender balance that we see back here in Australia,” Mr Groom said.

“Trades roles such as carpenters, electricians and mechanics, tend to reflect the lower female participation rates in the Australian industries, so we have to work harder to attract women to apply for these positions.”

In the scientific field the numbers of men and women on the ice are more even.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s first female Chief Scientist, Dr Gwen Fenton, said almost 40 percent of scientists this summer were female.

“It’s really encouraging to see more women interested in pursuing a career in Antarctic science,” Dr Fenton said.

“Working at our continental research stations, Casey, Davis and Mawson, as well as on Macquarie Island can be a life changing experience, with scientists undertaking crucial work to better understand the role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the global climate system.”

The first Australian women to travel to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island were scientists Susan Ingham, Isobel Bennet and Hope Macpherson in the summer of 1959–60.

The first woman to visit an Australian Antarctic research station was Nel Law, the wife of the then Antarctic Division Director Dr Phillip Law, in 1961.

Twenty years later the first female expeditioner to winter at an Australian station was Doctor Louise Holliday at Davis station in 1981.

A team from the Australian Antarctic Division will be at the Tradeswomen Conference today and tomorrow.