The Australian Antarctic Medal was established in 1987. It replaced the (British) Imperial Polar Medal and its variations, which dated back to 1857 for service in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
The Australian Antarctic Medal is awarded by the Governor-General with the authority of the Queen to an Australian citizen or other person nominated by the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Antarctic matters, who has given “outstanding service in scientific research or exploration, or in support of such work, in the course of, or in connection with, an Australian Antarctic Expedition”. Recipients of the Australian Antarctic Medal are entitled to use the post-nominal letters “AAM”.
The Governor-General announces the awards in a special Honours List on Midwinter’s Day (21 June). This is a time of traditional significance to all who have worked in the Antarctic.
The Australian Antarctic Medal can be awarded to the same person for a second and subsequent occasion. There is no quota on the number of awards per year. This makes the Australian Antarctic Medal unique among the Meritorious Service Awards.
The last awards of the Polar Medal covered expeditions up to 1980. The first recipients of the Australian Antarctic Medal were announced on 22 June 1987. This group included expeditions from 1981 onward.
The medal is octagonal in shape. The obverse has a stylized map of Australia and the Antarctic, surrounded by the inscription “For Outstanding Service in the Antarctic”. On the reverse of the medal there is a depiction of an expeditioner walking into drifting snow with Mawson’s Hut in the background. Surmounting the medal is a small six-sided ice-crystal device that links the medal to its suspension bar. The medal is suspended by a 32 mm wide white moiré ribbon, edged on each side with three narrow stripes of blue, representing the transition of water to ice as one approaches Antarctica. A date bar is attached to the ribbon, designating the period of service in Antarctica for which the medal has been awarded, or, in the case of consecutive years, the year in which the award was made.
A lapel badge, identical to the ice crystal device, is provided for wearing on any occasion.
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