The Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, today paid tribute to Dr Phillip Law whose foresight and drive forged the beginnings of Australia’s very successful Antarctic program and who consolidated Australia’s Antarctic interests.
Dr Law died in Melbourne last night at the age of 97.
Dr Law established Australia’s Antarctic presence by founding the nation’s three continental stations and exploring extensive tracts of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
He was appointed as the first Director of the Antarctic Division in 1949 when it was established within the Commonwealth Department of External Affairs.
In his 17 years in that role he was a tireless promoter of Australia’s Antarctic interests and was largely responsible for securing ongoing national commitment to Antarctica.
“While the work of Sir Douglas Mawson led directly to the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Territory, it was Dr Law who forged Australia’s National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) as the forerunner to today’s very successful Australian Antarctic program,” Mr Garrett said.
“Often referred to affectionately as ‘Mr Antarctica', Dr Law is among the true Antarctic pioneers and explorers.”
A firm believer in the scientific opportunities that were to be found in Antarctica, Dr Law led the party aboard the ice strengthened Kista Dan which established Australia’s first Antarctic station — Mawson — in 1954.
He then established Davis station in the Vestfold Hills in 1957 and led negotiations for the transfer of the United States owned Wilkes Station to Australia in 1959. Later he initiated construction of Australia’s third station Casey replacing the Wilkes site which was abandoned.
In his 19 years as an Antarctic explorer Dr Law personally led 23 voyages to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic. His coastal exploration achieved 28 landings at previously unvisited sites and under his direction more than 5000 kilometres of the Australian Antarctic Territory coastland and extensive tracts of the inland were added to the map.
Dr Law retired from the Antarctic Division in 1966 at the age of 55 to return to an academic position in the Victorian education system before retiring in 1977.
He was awarded a CBE in 1961 for his substantial contribution to Australian achievement in the Antarctic. In 1975 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and in 1995 received the highest award in the Australian honours system — a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).