A dramatic show of snow flurries and helicopter blades heralded the historic touch down of the Queen’s Commonwealth Games Baton at Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica today.

The baton’s arrival marks the end of a 10-day, 3430km journey across some of the roughest seas in the world, and the start of the Antarctic leg of its 180,000km journey across 53 countries and 18 territories of the Commonwealth — the longest, most inclusive relay in the Games’ 76-year history.

The Antarctic leg of the baton’s journey is being coordinated by the Australian Antarctic Division, an agency of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, which fulfils the Australian Government’s interests in Antarctica through its science programme and the Antarctic Treaty system.

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the baton’s expedition to Antarctica was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the work of the Australian Antarctic programme to the world, and to reaffirm Australia as a major participant in the Commonwealth.

“The Australian Government has provided $15 million to fully fund the international and Australian legs of the baton relay,” Senator Campbell said.

“This financial support and the services and support our agencies are providing, demonstrates our strong commitment to ensure the maximum number of Australians have the opportunity to see and participate in the relay.”

The innovative 2006 Australian baton was unveiled by Prime Minister John Howard during a ceremony at Parliament House on 10 February 2005. Accompanied by Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, the Prime Minister also announced the extensive international route of the 2006 Queen’s Baton Relay.

Casey station leader Jeremy Smith and fellow expeditioners who have spent the past year in Antarctica, welcomed the baton and baton bearer Shannon Stacey, after the short helicopter flight from the Aurora Australis across the sea ice.

While a range of ever-changing factors will determine where the baton can and can’t go while in Antarctica — including the weather, the progress of station personnel changeover, scientific needs, and the ‘A factor’ (Antarctic variables) — Dr Smith said several days of sight-seeing was on the cards.

“We have several baton activities in mind including a welcoming ceremony, diving, some photogenic visits to ice cliffs and penguin colonies, a helicopter flight, and an overnight visit to a field hut travelling by over-snow tracked vehicle,” he said.