Australia took over Wilkes station in January 1959. Wilkes had been built by the United States as a temporary base for the International Geophysical Year. It soon became evident that Wilkes would be buried by the snowdrifts that threatened building structures. In 1964, Australia commenced work on a replacement station called ‘Repstat’, about 2 km south on the shores of the Bailey Peninsula.
The Casey tunnel
Repstat was officially opened on 19 February 1969. It was renamed ‘Casey’ in honour of the then Governor-General Richard Casey. Richard Casey had been a staunch supporter of Australia’s early Antarctic program in the 1950s and 1960s.
Casey was a novel design for the time. Living and sleeping quarters, and some work buildings were built in a straight line. They were connected on the windward side by an aerodynamic, corrugated iron tunnel. The buildings were elevated on scaffolding pipe to allow the flow-through of the violent winds that are common in the region. The curved edge of the tunnel acted as the passage way that linked the accommodation units. This structure was particularly noisy. In fact, when the wind died down, expeditioners complained that it was too quiet to sleep!
Many expeditioners had a very strong association with the Casey tunnel, and were known collectively as the ‘tunnel rats’.
In January 1976, the first women to visit an Australian Antarctic station in an official capacity worked at Casey station for the summer season.
In many ways, the design of the Casey tunnel worked. However, the materials used to construct the station had limited resistance to corrosion. This, together with the fact that it was built close to the sea, caused extensive corrosion and limited the life of this innovative station.
By the mid-1970s, Australia’s Antarctic stations were becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. A major rebuilding program was planned for the 1980s. New stations were constructed with a steel frame on concrete foundations and an external skin of 100 mm thick panels of steel clad polystyrene foam. Painted in bold colours, they were designed to provide a great degree of comfort and safety. They incorporated state-of-the-art facilities to support scientific programs.
Present day Casey station was officially opened in December 1988.
A small section of the old station continued to be used. As these areas were gradually relocated, the Casey tunnel was decommissioned and demolished. All parts were returned to Australia by 1993.