Celebrating 25 years in Hobart

Twenty five years ago, on April 22, 1981, Prince Charles opened the Australian Antarctic Division’s (AAD) new headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania. It had been a roller coaster ride from the Division’s original headquarters in St Kilda Road in Melbourne. But it marked the beginning of a new era for the Division and for its home port of Hobart.

An influx of Melbourne staff to Hobart, the recruitment of new staff, and a significant rebuilding programme in Antarctica, reinvigorated the organisation and kick started a decade of change across the Australian Antarctic programme.

The move coincided with the establishment in Hobart of the headquarters for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). The AAD’s involvement in CCAMLR drove an increasing capability in marine research, culminating in today’s Southern Ocean Ecosystems programme. Our first major marine science voyage — the First International BIOMASS Experiment — in 1981, marked the first time Australia had embarked on distant-water deep-sea research since Douglas Mawson’s 1929–1931 expedition. The significant refit of the Nella Dan, necessary for the voyage, was pivotal to the development of marine science within the AAD, and demonstrated our commitment to providing data for the management of living resources in the Southern Ocean.

After the scuttling of the Nella Dan at Macquarie Island in 1987, marine science voyages continued on the purpose-built Aurora Australis. These included a series of cooperative ventures with oceanographers and other scientists from CSIRO, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Cooperative Research Centre (established in 1991), and later the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, providing data on sea ice, ocean currents, climate change and marine resources. In March this year the AAD completed an assessment of krill distribution and abundance in the vast CCAMLR management area (Division 58.4.1), surveying over 1 million km2 of ocean between 30° and 80° east. The voyage completes a dataset stretching around one third of the Antarctic coast.

Leaving aside marine science, since arriving in Tasmania the AAD has pursued and supported research into plant, animal and microbial biology and ecology, geology, geophysics, glaciology, human impacts, human biology and medicine, meteorology, and space and atmospheric science. Our efforts have helped encourage other elements of the global Antarctic effort, such as the headquarters of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, to establish in Hobart.

The past 25 years have seen significant changes and improvements in the way we operate in Antarctica and support our scientists. In 1981 Prince Charles spoke with Antarctic stations on a high frequency radio schedule. Today he would have the choice of satellite-based phone, email, internet or fax. Intelsat geostationary satellites and mobile satellite systems let us communicate with ships at sea or with scientists in deep field, and send and receive large amounts of scientific data, medical X-rays and digital images, on a 24-hour basis.

Our rebuilding programme, which ran for over a decade, provided Antarctic expeditioners with modern living and working conditions. Over the years our buildings have become more energy efficient, with better construction materials, a Building Monitoring Control System that precisely controls energy usage, and the installation of wind turbines at Mawson in 2003.