Celebrating 100 years of Australia in Antarctica

This year Australia celebrates 100 years of exploration and science in Antarctica. While Australians, including geologists Sir Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson, had visited the continent prior to 1912, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911–14, led by Mawson, was the first Australian-led and organised expedition to the Antarctic continent.

The landing party of the AAE spent their first night ashore at Commonwealth Bay on 8 January 1912. Their main living hut and workshop were constructed between blizzards over the following weeks, before an ‘annexation ceremony’ on 25 February. On 16 January this year, 26 modern-day expeditioners paid tribute to the men of the AAE and their achievements at the Mawson’s Huts Historic Site.

Australian Antarctic Division Director, Dr Tony Fleming, read a message from the Prime Minister, which acknowledged the significant contribution to science that stemmed from the AAE. The message was sealed in a time capsule, which also contained Australian children’s visions of Antarctica in 100 years time, as well as books and objects relevant to today’s Antarctic program. Dr Fleming, himself a descendent of ‘heroic era’ Antarctic expeditioners, also reflected on the scientific legacy of the AAE, which helped drive and define today’s modern Antarctic program (see Marking a centenary in Antarctica).

This commemorative issue of the Australian Antarctic Magazine focuses on the changes and achievements in Australia’s Antarctic program over the century. Among these is the exploration and acquisition of the Australian Antarctic Territory (42% of Antarctica), the formation of Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition(s) (ANARE), the founding of Australia’s three Antarctic stations, the development of a world-class Antarctic science program, and the emergence of the Ice Class 1 ships which facilitated sovereignty and science. Central to our achievements has been the Antarctic Treaty, and the defining characteristics of Australian Antarctic expeditioners — strength of leadership, commitment to peace and science, and the spirit of adventure.

This issue also looks at the importance of writing, art and photography in communicating Antarctica to the world, and providing a creative outlet for expeditioners during months of isolation and darkness. Almost 100 years since its inception, the AAE’s ‘newspaper’ The Adélie Blizzard has been published for a modern readership. Through the The Adélie Blizzard, through the work of thousands of expeditioners over the decades, and through the conservation of Mawson’s Huts, the spirit of the AAE continues.

In the words of historian Tom Griffiths, during the Commonwealth Bay commemoration ceremony, ‘the voices of the original expeditioners resonate in our hearts and minds with growing power, and their vision continues to inspire us.’

Let us hope that our actions and vision in Antarctica today, inspires those who come after us and who open the commemorative time capsule in 2112.




In the last issue of the magazine we reported that the ‘first letters’ with a Cape Denison postmarker were stamped at Mawson’s Huts, Commonwealth Bay, in December 2010 (Issue 21: 7, 2011). In fact, this was the third postmarker to have been issued and used at Cape Denison. The first two were issued by Australia Post for use by the Project Blizzard teams that visited Cape Denison in the summers of 1984–85 and 1985–86 to conduct conservation work on the huts. The first postmarker was dated 16 January 1985 and referenced Commonwealth Bay, and the second was dated 8 January 1986 and referenced the anniversary of Mawson’s landing at Cape Denison. The Editor thanks Project Blizzard Expedition Leader, William Blunt, for correcting the record and providing copies of the postmarkers.