Australia's artistic Antarctic tractors head south

Traverse tractors

Video transcript

These heavy-haul tractors have had an extreme makeover. 

In Antarctica they’ll endure temperatures down to minus 50 degrees. 

AAD Director, Kim Ellis “So we’ve put heaters in the transmission, heaters in the engines, we’ve double glazed the cab, we’ve closed the engine cowlings off to reduce impact of blizzards.” 

They’ve also been given a glitzy Australiana paint job. 

With vibrant Ken Done designs of the beach, reef, gum trees and outback.

Kim Ellis “Even from a distance it will tell you Australia is here, and then when you get close these snapshots of pieces of Australia represented on the highest and coldest parts of the Antarctic.”

The tractors will lead a traverse train 1200kms inland.

Kim Ellis “It really is a return to this great age of exploration. So we are taking a group of tractors, towing a 500 tonne station, thousands of kilometres across the Antarctic ice, it is the most exciting things you could possibly do.”

The traverse team will initially support scientists drilling for an ice core dating back more than a million years.

All the machinery will be flown to Antarctica over the following months.

[end transcript]

Vibrant artwork on a new Antarctic tractor
Vibrant artwork from iconic Australian artist Ken Done now adorns a new fleet of Antarctic tractors destined to travel across the icy continent on a quest to find million year old ice. The first tractor to head south features an artwork titled Saturday sailing (Photo: Dan Broun)
Vibrant artwork on a new Antarctic tractorVibrant artwork on a new Antarctic tractorAustralian Antarctic Division Director, Kim Ellis with the Caterpillar Challenger tractor before being painted and Ken Done artwork appliedTractors hauling equipment and supplies in a traverse convoyLaw Dome ice campIce core in the drill tent at Law DomeTractor on trailerTractor on trailer behind planeTractor getting loaded onto the plane

The designs of iconic Australian artist Ken Done will adorn a new fleet of Antarctic tractors destined to travel across the icy continent on a quest to find million year old ice.

The first of five tractors will be loaded onto a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C17A Globemaster plane in Hobart today, to fly south to Australia’s glacial runway, Wilkins Aerodrome.

Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Kim Ellis, said Ken Done’s colourful art works on the side of the tractor bonnets embody the Australian spirit.

“The vibrant designs capture iconic Australian scenes such as the beach, reef, gum trees and outback,” Mr Ellis said.

“This imagery will provide a much needed sensory stimulus and slice of home to the Australian expeditioners, as they travel through an entirely white and stark landscape.”

The tractors will lead a traverse train, including three snow groomers and sleds carrying supplies, accommodation and scientific facilities.

The first trip will be a 1200 kilometre journey inland to little Dome C, to support scientists drilling for an ice core dating back more than a million years. 

“At the deep field sites there are often multiple countries working on the one project, with similar tractors and equipment.

“Having individually designed vehicles will mean the Australians stand out from the crowd and provide a colourful morale boost during months of isolation.”

Artist Ken Done, who donated the designs, said he’s thrilled to be involved in the project. 

“Never in your wildest imagination would you think that some of your paintings would end up on Australian Antarctic Program tractors - how amazing!” said Mr Done. 

It’s taken six months to modify the tractors for the harsh Antarctic conditions, with the installation of double-glazed windows, heaters on the engines to cope with the expected minus fifty degree temperatures and bonnets designed to keep the snow out.

All the machinery will be flown to Antarctica in the RAAF C-17A Globemaster over the following months and the traverse fleet will depart from Australia’s Casey research station in January 2021. 

The project is part of a $45 million Australian Government commitment to re-establish an overland traverse capability in Antarctica.