Celebrating 50 years of Australians living and working in Antarctica is the focus of an exhibition that opens today at Parliament House in Canberra.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Australian Antarctic Division, opened the exhibition paying tribute to the men and women who have contributed to the development of Mawson station, the oldest, continuously operating station in Antarctica.

“The station was named after Australian pioneer explorer and scientist Sir Douglas Mawson who had been instrumental in working with the government to ensure a permanent scientific research presence in Antarctica,” Dr Stone said.

"Mawson was Australia's man of the Heroic Age and his name is synonymous with Shackleton and Scott who showed incredible pluck and determination against the toughest odds."

Dr Stone also paid a special tribute to the founder of Mawson station, Dr Phillip Law, the first director of the Australian Antarctic Division.

"Phillip Law played a pivotal role in the establishment of Mawson station and, later, Davis and Casey stations. He identified Horseshoe Harbour in eastern Antarctica as the first priority for a station sited on rock," Dr Stone said.

"His choice was an inspired one as Horseshoe Harbour is one of the safest anchorages in Antarctica."

On 13 February 1954 a party led by Dr Law raised the Australian flag on the rocky shore of Horseshoe Harbour, naming the new station in honour of Australia's greatest polar explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson. By the end of 1954 a rudimentary station had been built and scientific work commenced.

Dr Stone said the exhibition interpreted the many facets of life and work at Mawson station over the past 50 years including establishment, national pride, traverses, huskies, wildlife, weather, atmospheric research, aircraft and the expeditioners who have made it all possible.

The exhibition also showcases the work of two Antarctic Arts Fellows — Jenni Mitchell and Stephen Eastaugh — who recently travelled to Australia's Casey and Davis stations respectively.

Australia is responsible for 42 per cent of Antarctica. The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) leads Australia's Antarctic program and part of its brief is to keep the public informed about the science it does and its efforts to ensure minimal impact on the Antarctic environment.

Each year the AAD invites applications for its Arts Fellowships. These are open to artists, writers, film makers, journalists and others in the media, creative arts, humanities and social to travel south to record their impressions of Antarctica. The program began in 1983 and since then around 80 have participated.

Dr Stone said Antarctic Fellows played a significant role in providing a permanent and tangible record for the broader community.

“Antarctica as a destination is out of reach for most people and the closest they will get is through the images and impressions brought back by Antarctic Fellows,” Dr Stone said.

“These are among our best communicators and perfectly placed to spread the message of Australia's role in Antarctica to the broader public and that's why we place great value on this program.”

“Their work is hung in galleries throughout Australia and overseas, recorded in numerous publications, captured on film and screened in cinemas and through electronic media outlets worldwide.”

The exhibition continues at Parliament House Canberra until 30 May 2004.