Icy resting place for Australian Antarctic pioneer

Dr Phillip and Nellie Law interment ceremony at Mawson station

Video transcript

Today we are gathered here to lay to rest Nellie Isabel Law and Dr Phillip Garth Law. On this day, we pay homage to Phillip Garth Law, truly one of the great men in the rich history of Australian Antarctic exploration. His indomitable will, humorous disposition and adventurous spirit has set high standards for those of us who follow him. A minute’s silence, please. “I am the resurrection and the life,” sayeth the Lord. “He who believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live, and whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”. Phil Law spent a major part of his life in the pursuit and promotion of academic knowledge and research in many scientific fields. As a living testimony, he will always be remembered as Phil Law, our man in Antarctica. Unto Almighty God, we commend the souls of Phil and Nel Law departed.

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The Mawson station winterers place rocks on the cairn holding Dr Phillip and Nellie Law’s ashes.
The Mawson station winterers place rocks on the cairn holding Dr Phillip and Nellie Law’s ashes. (Photo: Chris Wilson)
The Mawson station winterers at the interment ceremony for Phil and Nel Law on West Arm.The ANARE and Australian Flag next to the cairn holding Phil and Nel Laws ashes, alongside the graves of other expeditioners who have died at Mawson station.Mawson station winterers in the twilight at the interment ceremony on West Arm.Phil Law leading a party manhauling a sledge to Lichen Island, Prydz Bay, in 1955.Phil Law in powder snow on Arthurson Bluff, Oates Land.

The man known as “Mr Antarctica” has been laid to rest on a rocky outcrop near Mawson station in Antarctica.

Dr Phillip Law’s ashes and those of his late wife Nellie Law were interred at a ceremony at West Arm overlooking Horseshoe Harbour on Sunday.

Dr Law died in Melbourne last year aged 97 and Nel Law died in 1990 aged 75. Their ashes were transported to Mawson station on the icebreaker Aurora Australis in February.

Australian Antarctic Division Director, Lyn Maddock, said Dr Law’s final wish was to be interred with his wife alongside the graves of three other expeditioners who lost their lives on the icy continent.

“Dr Law was particularly fond of Mawson as it was the first Australian station he founded in 1954,” Ms Maddock said.

“He is a giant in Australian Antarctic history and we are honoured to welcome Dr and Mrs Law back to the continent and to their final resting place.”

Mawson Station Leader, Mark Williams, said the ashes were interred at a ceremony attended by the 19 wintering expeditioners.

“We had a beautiful clear day with temperatures hovering around minus 20 degrees and the whole team made the short walk across to West Arm for the service,” Mr Williams said.

“As Mawson expeditioners we have a special bond with Phil Law as this was the first Australian station he founded in 1954.

“His indomitable will, humorous disposition and adventurous spirit set high standards for those of us who follow him,” Mr Williams said.

Dr Law founded Australia’s three continental stations and explored extensive tracts of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

He was appointed as the first Director of the Antarctic Division in 1949 and continued in that role for 17 years.

He also established Australia’s National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) as the forerunner to today’s Australian Antarctic program, with an emphasis on scientific research in the region.

In his 19 years as an Antarctic explorer Dr Law personally led 23 voyages to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic.

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).

Nel Law was the first Australian woman to set foot on the Antarctic Continent when she visited Mawson station in 1961.

She was a talented artist and produced a magnificent series of oil and water colour paintings of her first Antarctic voyage.

Nel Law founded the Antarctic Wives Association of Australia in 1965, later to become the Antarctic Family and Friends Association, and was the group’s first President and later Patron.

The Association provided support and assistance for the wives and families of Antarctic expeditioners during their long absences.